Chapter 6: Blind Man's Buff

. . .

Mac entered Christine's restaurant and looked around, but he couldn't see her anywhere. He moved to the counter.

''Hi, Carol. I'm looking for Christine...''

''Hi, Mac.'' The young woman smiled at him and added, ''She's in the kitchen, preparing food.''

Mac considered walking into the kitchen for a moment, although he knew Christine didn't like him being in there when she was working. But before he made a decision, Christine showed up with two plates in her hands. She smiled lightly at him and moved to one of the tables. Then she walked to the counter.

''Hello, dear.'' Mac greeted her and placed a quick kiss on her cheek.

''Hi. What are you doing here?'' She asked him.

''Well... I want to visit Rick in the hospital and he asked me to bring him something to read.'' Mac explained. ''But I don't have any idea what kind of book I should choose and I thought... that maybe you could help me?'' Mac asked her shyly. ''Of course if you can get out from work for an hour or so.'' He added quickly.

''It's not a problem. I can watch the business for a while.'' Carol offered. Christine looked at her and frowned slightly. ''There are not a lot of costumers today anyway.'' She added. ''You know, the weather is nice, they're all probably sitting in parks or somewhere else outside.''

''Yeah.'' Mac nodded and waited for Christine's response.

''OK, then.'' She finally agreed. ''Let me get my coat.''

They left the restaurant and drove to the hospital, stopping only at the small bookstore. Much to Mac's disappointment Christine told him she had no idea what 8-year old boy likes to read. She quickly moved to the section with cooking books, so Mac had no choice, but to ask a shop assistant for advice.

They were entering the hospital room about a half an hour later. They found Rick sitting on the window sill and watching the street below.

''Hi, Rick.'' Mac greeted him and he smiled as he saw how boy's face lit up upon seeing him.

''Hi!''

''This is Christine.'' Mac said and Christine smiled at Rick, but he just glanced at her and didn't say anything.

''Shouldn't you be in bed?'' Mac asked and furrowed his brows slightly.

''I guess...'' Rick sighed and slid off the sill.

''I got something for you.'' Mac told him.

''What?'' Rick asked as he looked at him with sparkling eyes.

''Go back to bed and I'll show you.''

''Oh, OK...'' Rick agreed and jumped into the bed. Mac covered him with a duvet and placed the bag from the bookstore on his lap. He pulled out two books and gave it to him.

''I bought you these.''

'' 'The Chronicles of Narnia'.'' Rick read slowly and then he looked at Mac.

''The first two volumes.'' Mac told him.

''The first two? How many are there?''

''Seven.'' Mac said and watched how Rick turned the book in his hands. ''I hope you'll find it interesting. I did.''

''Did you read it?''

''Yes. When I was a kid.'' Mac told him.

''They are that old?'' Rick asked as he looked at him with his eyes wide opened. Mac smirked and Christine chuckled slightly upon hearing him.

''Yes, the first one was published in 1950.'' Mac said and Rick nodded.

Suddenly, Christine's phone began to ring.

''Excuse me, I have to take this.'' She said and left the room. Mac followed her with her eyes and then he looked back at Rick. He was watching Christine talking on the phone for a moment. He glanced at Mac and asked, ''is she your wife?''

''She's my girlfriend.'' Mac answered.

''She's... pretty.'' Rick said with a slight hesitation. ''How about the dark-haired lady?'' He asked Mac.

''The dark-haired lady?'' Mac repeated after him.

''Yeah, she visited me this morning. She didn't stay long though, she was in a hurry.'' He added with sadness. ''But she brought me this.'' He pulled the book from under his pillow and showed it to Mac, who looked at the title, '1001 Riddles for Children'. He smiled slightly as he remembered how much fun he had had with this book when he was a kid.

''It's really cool!'' Rick continued. ''Some of them are really good. She also brought this.'' He added as he opened the drawer to the nightstand. Mac glanced inside and noticed the huge bag of 'Jelly beans'. ''Can you see how big it is? I haven't seen such a big bag of 'Jelly beans' in my life!'' Rick told him with excitement and Mac couldn't help but agree. He didn't know they were selling them in such a big packages. ''She told me they are her favorite sweets.'' Rick said and it made Mac smile. He knew at least one dark-haired lady, who was crazy about 'Jelly beans'. ''I like them, too.'' Rick said and took some beans from the bag and studied them. ''I don't like the black ones, though. I have no idea what they are made from, but they taste awful.'' Rick said and wrinkled his nose in disgust.

''It's liquorice.'' Mac told him and smiled slightly as he saw Rick's expression. ''It's the root of a plant that gives this... interesting flavor.''

''So you don't like it either?'' Rick guessed.

''No, I don't.'' Mac laughed. He watched how Rick ate a few beans he had in his hand and put the liquorice flavored ones back into the bag.

''You want some?'' Rick offered.

''Yeah, thanks.'' Mac answered. He took three beans from the bag, carefully avoiding the black ones.

''So you know her?'' Rick asked.

''Yes, she works with me. Her name is Jo.''

''She's really nice and so funny.'' Rick said and smiled widely. ''Do you like her?''

''Sure.'' Mac answered, unaware of the fact that his smile matched the one Rick had on his face. ''Everybody likes her.'' He added truthfully. ''Including your little sister.''

''Lily knows her?'' Rick asked, surprised.

''Yes, she's staying with her right now.''

''That's cool.'' Rick smiled. ''How is she?''

''I think she's fine. Jo's taking a good care of her.''

''Will I be able to see her?'' Rick asked pleadingly.

''Sure. Maybe tomorrow?''

''Oh, tomorrow...'' He sighed, slightly disappointed. ''I was hoping to see her today.'' He admitted.

''You know what? I'll go to visit them in the evening and check how's Lily doing. I'll let you know if everything is fine. OK?''

''It's a deal.'' Rick smiled at him.

Mac glanced at Christine. She was finished talking on the phone and now she was making some notes in her personal organizer.

''I'll be right back.'' Mac murmured and left the room. He stood in front of Christine and patiently waited until she finished writing.

''I have to be back in the restaurant in 40 minutes. The delivery is coming earlier.'' She sighed.

''OK.'' Mac nodded. ''I can give you a lift on my way to work.''

''That would be lovely.'' Christine said and offered him a beautiful smile.

''So... what do you think about Rick?''

''Umm... he seems like a nice kid.'' Christine answered, somehow mindlessly, as she was checking something in her organizer again.

''Listen... I wanted to talk to you about him.'' Mac said as he tried to catch her attention and she finally threw her organizer into her handbag and looked at him.

''What about him?'' She asked in an urging tone.

''I'm... well...'' Mac hesitated for a moment. ''I'm considering adopting him.'' He uttered.

''Adopting him?'' Christine asked and he could see how her eyes widened. ''You can't be serious?''

''I am.'' Mac nodded. ''Just think about it – he doesn't have anyone who could take care of him and I could do it. He's such a great kid.'' Mac said as he looked inside the room and then at Rick, who was already reading the first volume of 'The Chronicles of Narnia'. He smiled as he thought about how the salesman in the bookstore told him to pick up something else, as in his opinion this one would be too difficult for an average 8-year old to read. It seemed Rick was anything but average. After the little time Mac had spent with him, he could already tell that the boy was really smart and quick-thinking. That's why Mac thought he needed a really challenging book – interesting and adventurous.

''I'm not saying he isn't a great kid.'' Christine blurt out. ''But adopting him? That's a huge step.''

''I know that. I've done a lot of thinking about that over past two days, so it's not like this decision is hasty.'' Mac told her calmly.

''So you already made up your mind?'' Christine asked as she slumped down into the chair. ''And you weren't interested what I might think about it?'' She asked bitterly.

''I'm telling you now...'' Mac started, but she cut him off.

''Now? When you've already decided that you want to adopt him? Well, thank you, that's really thoughtful.'' She said with irony.

''It's not like I already started the procedure, or anything.'' Mac murmured. ''I just felt like it would be a good idea for him to stay with me.'' He explained in a quiet voice.

''With you or with us?'' Christine asked poignantly. ''We've never talked about kids, so what exactly made you think I want any?''

''Well, we haven't talked about it, as I always thought I'm too old to have a child of my own.'' Mac told her as he cast her an unsure glance. Her arms were crossed on her chest and her lips pouted. Mac frowned slightly as he thought she looked like a spoiled child who was told she wouldn't get the toy she wanted. ''But that doesn't mean I don't want to be a father.'' He added sadly. The thought of Claire instantly came to his mind. She would have been a perfect mother, but they always thought they still had time for that. Until they suddenly, without any warning, had been ran out of it.

''But I don't want to be a mother.'' Christine told him. ''It's not every woman's dream, you know?'' She added with an evident anger in her voice.

''I'm aware of that.'' Mac murmured.

''I've never wanted any kids and that's the one of reasons why I thought you were so perfect for me.'' Christine told him and he noticed how her voice suddenly softened. She rose to her feet and moved towards him. She wrapped her arms around his waist and looked up at him. He instinctively locked his arms around her and she sighed happily as she placed her head on his shoulder. ''I thought we were happy like that. Just the two of us.'' She purred and added, ''I don't want to share you with anybody else.'' She added.

Mac guessed that it was supposed to sound playful and endearing but somehow it didn't. In his mind, it sounded almost egoistic, as if she didn't care about anyone else but herself. Over her head he looked towards the hospital room again. Rick was completely engrossed in the book that he was reading and Mac smiled slightly at the sight. Then he sighed deeply as he thought that now it was even harder for him to make the decision about adopting Rick. He knew what he wanted, but life seemed to be unbelievably cruel as it was showing him that he couldn't have it all and was forcing him to make a choice.

. . .

''Hi, Jo.'' Mac greeted her when she opened the door for him. ''Did I come at a bad time?'' He asked as he glanced at her shirt, which was wet at the front. Jo followed his gaze, then looked up at him again and smiled.

''I'm giving Lily a bath. She's going to bed in half an hour, so we can talk then. Can you wait?''

''Sure.'' He smiled at her. They heard splash of water and Lily's giggling from the bathroom. ''Seems like she's having fun.'' Mac noted and he couldn't stop his smile from growing.

''Oh yeah.'' Jo laughed. ''Just come in and see.'' She told him and opened the bathroom door.

''Errrm, I don't know...'' He hesitated and Jo instantly sensed what he was concerned about.

''It's okay. There are so many bubbles in there you can barely see the top of her head.'' Jo told him and he nodded. ''But you better leave your suit jacket outside.'' She advised.

She entered the bathroom and Mac followed her. She wasn't exaggerating, when she said that Lily was taking a very bubbly bath. There were so many bubbles in the bathtub that they were even overflowing onto the floor. In the middle of this big cloud of foam, he finally spotted Lily's head. She had a huge grin on her face and she looked like she was in seventh heaven.

Jo sat on the edge of the tub, in a spot that looked reasonably dry. She took some foam in her hand and blew into it, which caused a series of squeals when she sent a small cloud of bubbles floating towards Lily.

''Are you coming out?'' Jo asked her.

''Nope.'' Lily told her and shook her head vigorously. Then she held her nose and dived into the water and disappeared completely below the thick layer of bubbles. Jo laughed slightly and put her hand into the water.

''Liiilyyy!'' Jo called her. ''Wheeere aaare yooou?'' Then she gasped theatrically. ''I think she disappeared!'' She added with a mock sadness that was just loud enough for Lily to hear her.

Suddenly a small head, completely covered with foam, appeared very close to Jo.

''Booo!'' Lily exclaimed happily.

''Oh my! You scared me!'' Jo told her as she pressed her hand against her chest. ''I thought that it was a shark!''

''A shark?'' Lily repeated after Jo as she looked at her with her eyes wide open. ''Jo! A shark's too big to fit the tub!'' She pointed and Mac smirked.

''How about a small shark?'' Jo asked as she raised her eyebrow. ''Like a baby shark?''

''But a baby shark ain't scary!'' Lily told her with a laugh. ''Babies don't have any teeth.''

''Actually baby sharks are born with a full set of teeth and can be dangerous from their very first day.'' Mac said seriously and both, Jo and Lily, looked at him. He chuckled lightly as he realized their expression were very much alike as they showed total amazement. Jo was the first one who got her voice back.

''Mac Taylor, is there anything you don't know?'' Jo asked as she shook her head in disbelief.

''Oh you know, how it is.'' He said shyly and smiled a little as he really liked the feeling of his ego being tickled like that. ''It's good to know something about everything and everything about something.'' He explained and Jo smiled at him. Then she turned to Lily.

''You can't be a shark, you're too cute.'' She told her and put a bit of foam on her nose. Then she stood up and grabbed the big fluffy towel. She held it stretched in front of the tub. ''Come on, we have to take you out of this bath finally otherwise you'll look like a raisin.'' Jo told her with a smile and picked her up, wrapping her in the towel at the same time.

''What kind of fish could I be then?'' Lily asked.

''A cuddlefish.'' Jo answered without hesitation and nuzzled Lily's neck with her nose, which caused her to giggle as it was her ticklish spot. Jo sat Lily on top of the washing machine and began to towel her dry.

''Do cuddlefish like to cuddle?'' Lily asked, addressing her question to Mac. He looked into her big blue eyes that were fixed on him and was just about to start a little lecture about how cuttlefish, which was the correct name for it, neither cuddled, nor was a fish, but decided not to when he saw Jo's look. She tilted her head and cast him an amused glare, like she knew what he was thinking. He cleared his throat and said, ''Well.. everybody likes it, I guess cuddlefish isn't an exception.'' He glanced at Jo, but she was busy with drying up Lily's hair.

''Do you like to cuddle?'' Lily asked again and Jo froze. She looked up at Mac and smiled widely at the thought that she was just about to hear this slightly somber and emotionally withdrawn man admitting he liked to cuddle.

Mac glanced at Jo and noted her silly grin. He was sure that if he answered Lily's question positively, Jo would tease him about it to no end. But then he glanced at Lily and felt a little tickling in his chest at the sight of her looking at him so expectantly. He didn't want to disappoint her. He sighed softly and said, ''Of course I do.''

''Can you say it with a full sentence, Mac?'' Jo asked in a playful tone, but he just narrowed his eyes at her. ''Please.'' She added and made a sad face. Then she gently poked Lily and nodded towards Mac with her head. Lily of course immediately caught up by what she meant.

''Please.'' She echoed and Mac rolled his eyes.

''You're impossible. Both of you.'' He said in a serious tone, but it didn't stop them.

''Pleeease.'' Jo and Lily asked again unanimously.

''Alright, alright.'' Mac told them and raised his hands in a surrendering gesture. ''I like to cuddle.'' He made a statement they were waiting for. ''Happy?'' He asked, although he already noted the matching grins on their faces.

''Very much.'' Jo told him. Then she glanced at Lily and lightly combed through her wet hair with her fingers. ''Mac, could you bring me a hairdryer? It's in one of the drawers in the kitchen.''

''Sure.'' He said and left the bathroom. When he was back with the hairdryer, Lily was already dressed up in her brand new pajamas with cute teddy-bears printed all over them. He watched how Jo dried Lily's hair. During the process Lily closed her eyes and he could see how she was fighting to keep her head up. Finally Jo turned the hairdryer off, unplugged it and placed down on the washing machine. She picked up Lily and headed to the bedroom. Mac followed them without even thinking.

''Oh, darn...'' Jo sighed. ''I haven't made the bed.'' She turned to face Mac. ''Can you hold her for second?'' She asked and before he had a chance to answer, she handed Lily to him.

''OK.'' Mac agreed. Lily laid her head on his shoulder with a soft sigh and he smiled lightly. Jo glanced at them and smiled as well.

''She's half asleep.'' Jo noted as she folded the bedspread and placed it on the armchair.

''Yeah.'' Mac murmured. He looked at Jo as he waited for her to be done with the bed. He felt slightly awkward. Jo glanced at him again and stopped what she was doing. She took a closer look and he was sure that his strange expression didn't escape her notice.

''What is it?'' She asked.

''Nothing.'' He answered quickly and forced a smile, but it didn't fool her.

''Are you feeling uncomfortable holding her?'' Jo asked and Mac sighed.

''I don't have much experience with kids, you know...'' He admitted. ''Especially with such a small one.''

''She's not that small.'' Jo noted with a smile.

''Well, OK, she's not a toddler...'' Mac agreed. ''But she's still so tiny...'' He looked down at Lily and smiled as he saw her little head with dark-brown hair that had already twisted into lovely curls. ''I'm concerned that I would hurt her somehow or I don't know, drop her.'' He said and cast Jo an unsure glance.

''Mac, you won't drop her.'' Jo assured him with a smile. ''Believe me, if she didn't like to be held by you, feeling uncomfortable or scared, she would give a voice to it.'' She moved closer to him and placed her hand on his shoulder, stroking Lily's hair lightly at the same time. ''Just look at her. She's sound asleep in your arms.''

Mac glanced at Lily again, suddenly becoming aware of the weight and the warmth of her small body. Only then it struck him that what he was actually holding in his arms was someone else's life. A little human being that had to be taken care of. He thought about how close she had been to being harmed and he subconsciously tightened his hold on her. She was so vulnerable, so fragile and so trustful as she slept calmly in his arms. He knew she felt safe like that and it was making him feel exactly what he had wanted to feel all his life – needed. He wondered how it was possible to actually miss something that he barely knew. It was strange as if he had been looking so blindly for something that he was not even able to put a name on. Only now he felt like he had hit the wall, as he suddenly realized that there was another possible way to fulfill this empty void that used to be his heart.

He smiled softly as he thought it didn't feel awkward anymore but quite the opposite - it felt so right and so natural. He wasn't sure how long he stayed like that, as suddenly it seemed like time was not measured by the ticking of the clock, but by the steady beat of the little heart and the soft breath that was tickling his neck.

Jo watched him carefully and she furrowed her brows at the thought of how his expression had changed. Only a moment ago he seemed so nervous and uncomfortable, yet now his features were so soft and relaxed. She noticed how he slightly adjusted Lily in his hold, instinctively making it cosier for her.

''Mac?'' Jo called him and he looked at her slightly surprised, like she had pulled him out from some dreamy state. He cleared his throat.

''That's funny... I could swear she smells like bubble gum.'' He said slowly.

''It's because the bubble bath smells like that.'' Jo explained to him.

''Oh, that's good. I'm not losing my sanity then.'' He joked and gently laid Lily on the bed. He covered her with the violet blanket that Jo bought for her the other day and Lily let out a soft sigh. He straightened himself and looked at Jo again. He noticed her smile and he thought that she probably had never suspected him of enjoying taking care of a small child.

''And where is this gray, sad looking creature?'' Mac asked and Jo laughed quietly. She reached for Mr. Whiskers and handed it to Mac, who placed it next to Lily. Then he cast Jo a questioning glare. She only rubbed his back and told him, ''Come on, I'll make us some tea and you'll tell me what happened.''

''What makes you think something happened?'' Mac frowned.

''Mac, come on.'' She turned her head and cast him a warm smile over her shoulder. ''I may not be an expert in marine biology...'' She quipped. ''… but I'm quite good at reading people and I can tell without any doubts, that something is eating at you.''

They moved to the kitchen and Mac sat at the table. He watched Jo as she prepared tea for them, humming something quietly.

''So... Ellie's back from her trip, hmm?'' He initiated. Jo smiled to herself as she was sure he wanted to talk about what was on his mind but, as usual, he was very reluctant to openly talk about himself.

''Yes, she is.'' Jo answered as she placed a cup of tea in front of Mac. She sat down across the table from him and wrapped her hands around her mug. ''I have to tell you that she surprised me a bit, as she's really excited about Lily staying with us... for those couple of days. They played together the whole morning, doing a puzzle and watching some cartoons.''

''That's really sweet.'' Mac smiled at Jo's words. ''Listen, Rick was asking about Lily again today. Do you think you could take her to the hospital tomorrow?'' He asked. ''Not for long, but I'm sure they would be happy to see each other.''

''Sure. Lily is asking about him, too.''

''So, how about I pick you up in the morning? Your place is right on my way from work to the hospital.'' Mac offered.

''That would be great.'' Jo agreed with a smile. Then she furrowed her brows slightly. ''But didn't you say you have a day off tomorrow?'' She asked.

''I do.'' Mac answered before he even realized where she was heading with it.

''So what will you be doing at work in the morning?'' Jo asked as she fixed her eyes at him.

''Errr... Well...'' He stumbled and glanced at her. He knew that look very well. There was no chance she would allow him not to answer this question now. He sighed deeply. ''To be honest, I was planning on spending a night on the couch in my office.'' He told her quietly.

''What?! Dear heavens, why?'' Jo exclaimed. ''Can't you just keep away from work for one night, Mac?''

''Jo...''

''I probably shouldn't tell you this, but you look quite awful. Not getting enough sleep, not eating properly...''

''Jo!'' He finally made her stop talking. ''I appreciate your concern, but work isn't really a reason here.'' He explained. ''I had an argument with Christine and I don't really feel like coming back to my place.'' He murmured.

''Oh...'' Jo gasped. ''Well, that's understandable but I'm sure that you'll find a way to patch things up between you two. And then make up, which can be even more fun than having a fight.'' She joked, but he didn't even smile. His eyes were fixed on his cup and he was stirring his tea with a spoon, even though he drank it without any sugar. ''Mac...'' Jo said softly and touched his fingers to get his attention. He looked at her and she asked, ''is it something more serious? If you don't mind me asking.'' She added quickly as she didn't want to seem nosy.

''It's the same thing over and over again.'' Mac sighed. ''Christine gets mad about my work quite often. She thinks I work too much.''

''If that's it, I have to agree with her.'' Jo stated firmly. ''You do work too much.'' She told him and leaned closer to him as she wanted him to hear her better. ''Even when you're dead tired, you refuse to go home and get some rest.'' She shook her head as she recalled plenty of situations like that. ''You never think about yourself and I'm really surprised it haven't impinged on your health yet.''

Mac looked at her and winced as he was sure it wasn't exactly what Christine had on her mind while she was making scenes about him getting home late or not being able to meet her for lunch during the day.

''Jo...''

''Mac, she's just worried about you. Can you blame her? I understand it pretty well, I'm worried about you, too. Sometimes.'' Jo added quickly. ''I can already tell from your dark circles how many shifts in a row you had.'' She joked to cover her emotions.

Mac smiled lightly at her. For a moment, he wondered how Jo would react if he came home a few hours late. The last time that he did it, Christine was sitting in front of the TV, skipping over channels like crazy as she was mad that he couldn't make it home earlier to have dinner with her. He was dreaming only about placing his head down and falling asleep, but she started to remonstrate him.

He was sure Jo would never do that. It wasn't the first time when he thought about it and he always came to the conclusion that she was so different from Christine, because she knew exactly what his job was like. But it was so much more than this. Seeing how Jo was taking care of Lily made him realize she was the most caring woman he had ever met. She seemed to have inexhaustible warmth inside her and she always thought about others before herself.

He couldn't keep his imagination from playing with the image of her waiting for him that night, instead of Christine. She probably would let him lay down, with his head on her lap. She would turn the TV down and stroke his hair, while he would slowly drift off to sleep...

''Mac?''

He looked at Jo and blinked a few times as he tried to focus.

''Yeah?''

''Listen... I just thought... if you really don't want to go back to your place and face Christine tonight, why don't you stay here?'' Jo offered shyly. ''Although I don't have a guest room, you could take Ellie's room, as she's out for a slumber party.''

''Jo, I don't want to cause you any trouble.''

''Don't be ridiculous, what kind of trouble is that?'' Jo told him with a smile. ''Going back to the department and sleeping on the couch only to come back here in the morning to pick up Lily and I and drive us to the hospital seems rather silly.''

''Well...'' Mac hesitated. She did have a point there, but he wasn't really sure if staying for a night at Jo's place was such a great idea.

''Not to mention that we could have a nice breakfast tomorrow morning.'' Jo added with a tempting voice. He narrowed his eyes at her and said, ''Oh, I know what it's all about. You want me to make you pancakes again.''

''Ahhh, you saw right through me.'' Jo laughed. ''I truly fell in love with them. I can't stop thinking about them. I see them in my dreams. No other pancakes could ever top yours...''

''Oh right, oh right. I get it.'' Mac laughed. He knew she could go on like this for some time. She stopped and smiled warmly at him. ''You really want me to stay?'' He asked and instantly realized that his voice sounded slightly too soft than it should be. ''I mean...'' He cleared his throat. ''You sure it won't be a problem?''

''Not at all.'' She assured him.

''But I think I'll take the couch. I'm not sure if Ellie would be happy if she found an old man sleeping in her bed.'' Mac quipped.

''Probably not.'' Jo agreed with a chuckle

. . .

Mac tossed and turned on the couch as he tried not to fall off of it and pressed his head to the small pillow, sighing quietly. He was just about to drift back to sleep again but then he heard something. He frowned for a moment, as he wasn't sure if he was dreaming or if it was real. He raised himself up on one elbow and listened carefully. Someone was signing a song, quietly and really beautifully. The sound floated calmly through the silent apartment and when it finally stopped, Mac found himself being disappointed that it had already came to an end. And he wasn't the only one.

''One more time!'' Lily asked, sounding anything but sleepy. Mac chuckled, but then the singing started again and his mouth dropped open when he realized that it was Jo who was signing.

Hush-a-bye, don't you cry,
Go to sleep, my little baby

Her voice was low and velvety soft, so soothing. Just perfect for the lullaby.

When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little horses

Mac closed his eyes and thought about his home. About his mother, who loved to sing and she always did it while she cooked for the whole family.

Dapples and greys, pintos and bays
All the pretty little horses...

Jo's voice slowly faded away, but it was still ringing in his ears. He wished she would sing some more, so he only smiled when he heard Lily.

''Once... more...'' She said quietly.

''Maybe something else?'' Jo asked.

''No... this one...'' The girl murmured.

And then Jo started to sing again. When she finished, Mac waited for Lily to speak again, but there was only silence. He slowly rose from the couch and carefully pushed the bedroom door open. He saw Jo sitting in the armchair, with Lily on her lap. Her little arms were wrapped around Jo and her head was cuddled in the crook of her neck. He looked at Jo and saw that her eyes were closed. They were both asleep. He smiled at the sight of how truly adorable they looked together.

But there was no chance for Jo to get proper rest sleeping like this. He moved closer to them and gently took the child from Jo's lap. Lily murmured something, so he looked down at her face. She was still asleep. He carefully laid her on the bed, placed her head on the pillow and covered her with a fluffy blanket. He spotted Mr. Whiskers and moved it closer to Lily. Then he turned to Jo. She slid down on the armchair and curled herself into a ball. For a moment, he considered waking her up and telling her to move to the bed but he didn't want to disturb her sleep, as he knew she was tired. He gently placed his one arm beneath her legs, the other on her back and he slowly lifted her up. Her head leaned against his chest and he froze for a moment, as he thought he woke her up. He glanced down at her face and saw that her eyes were still closed. He smiled lightly, as it seemed she was a really heavy sleeper. He probably could carry her out of her apartment, to his car and drove her to the other state and she wouldn't wake up. He lowered her on the bed and she shifted slightly as she found the most comfortable position. She placed her arms around the pillow and hugged it tightly. He watched her for a couple of minutes, mesmerized by how endearing she looked when she slept. He noticed how she shivered and that brought him out of his dreamy state. He reached for the other blanket that was placed on the bed and carefully covered her with it. Then he glanced at Lily. She was sound asleep while she cuddled Mr. Whiskers to herself with both her arms. He smiled and left the room. Before he closed the door, he glanced at them one more time. Suddenly he felt a great sadness. If things had turned out differently in his life, he could have had a home, where his wife and his daughter would have been sleeping like that in a bed. But life was, as it was.

. . .

A/N So before this year is over here comes another chapter :)

Again Jessica made a great work with correcting it and also provided so much support that I'm already in a mood to write some more! Thanks a lot for that, hon!

I really hope that it won't give you diabetes, as it's oh so sugar coated with whipped cream on top ;)

Anyway, enjoy and have fun while saying goodbye to year 2012! I really hope that 2013 will be better, after all 13 is a lucky number, isn't it?

Cheers!