Author's Note and Disclaimer: Any recognizable character or setting is the property of the CSI franchise. I don't own any of it. The OC Emerald O'Ryan is my own construct. Updates will be every few days until completion unless life intervenes.

Chapter 1

Detective Mac Taylor and his wife Christine pulled up to the well-cared for and neat little home on a narrow street of other neat little homes. Some showed signs that they used to be neater and better cared for but overall the block was still a nice neighborhood with cars parked here and there, people leaning from one porch to the other speaking, kids playing, and some people out in their postage stamp sized yards trying to keep what little they had planted there nice despite autumn having definitely arrived, though it would be better to say that Indian Summer had arrived. After hesitating a moment Mac turned off the engine.

"Christine, are you sure you want to do this? I don't want to make either of them uncomfortable. Adam is only now getting back to normal - well, Adam normal - on an everyday basis." Even as he said it Mac knew it wasn't completely true. Yes Adam was closer to what he used to be and yet there were some noticeable differences that were nevertheless good though they took some getting used to.

Christine laughed her gentle laugh. Not everyone understood Mac's attraction to the woman at his side, beyond the obvious physical attraction to a beautiful woman. At one time everyone was sure that Mac and his former partner, Stella Bonasera, would eventually test the waters of a physical relationship regardless of office protocol; however, friendship was all either one ever admitted to. Even if there had been hidden, secret moments they shared Stella had moved on with her life; and in a way that is what prompted Mac to take a good, long look at his own. And then he became reacquainted with Christine – the sister of a partner that had died in the line of duty many years earlier. Somehow she would up tying his past, his present, and eventually his future together.

During his near death experience from the pharmacy shooting he "hallucinated" saying good bye to all of his friends with Claire, his first wife, there to comfort and guide him; but in the end death rejected him though it left its shadow behind. During his hallucination Claire had seemed to give Christine her nod of approval. As absurd as his logical mind found it, his hidden, more emotional side felt gratitude and relief from the guilt he'd been feeling. The fact that Christine had stayed by his side during his long and difficult recover and the fact that he'd made an ass of himself afterwards because of a lingering weakness that he didn't want anyone to know about, had been enough to capture his heart in full. It also didn't hurt that Christine didn't resent Claire's memory and even insisted on remembering her and not allowing Mac to shove the memories away in a back closet of his mind to protect her. Christine didn't need protecting, at least about that, because in her own way she loved and missed Claire as well. These thoughts floated in Mac's subconscious as they always did, as if he remained slightly surprised that life wasn't the terrible responsibility and burden that it had been for so long.

Christine was sometimes left wondering what her husband was thinking about, leaving her to be concerned about his introspection, but all she did this time was reach over and gently caress his check before saying, "Adam isn't just your employee Mac, he looks up to you. And knowing him, he's going to be slightly nervous even had we given notice we were dropping by, but not for a bad reason. We aren't asking ourselves to dinner Mac, I just want to thank Emi for the lovely portrait. I've only met her once and yet … Mac, I've got regular customers at the restaurant that work in the art world that have seen it and asked who the artist was."

Mac relaxed. Christine was right. And it might go some distance to helping Emi get her self-confidence back. Adam had let slip that the strength in her left hand was slow to return and that sculpting in the clay required for the commissions she made a living at sometimes left her gasping in pain at the end of the day … and depressed that the weakness was jeopardizing her primary source of income.

With a smile letting her know she was getting her way, and ever the gentleman, got out of the car and came around to open her door. They were half way up the walk to the front door when they heard a crash from inside through the windows left open to air out the house. The crash was followed by a yell, not of fright but of extreme irritation. Mac also heard a lot of running feet and then Adam all but bellowed in exasperation, "That's it! New ground rule! No ladders for you!"

"What?!" That was Emi's highly agitated squawk. "How am I supposed to reach the ceiling if …"

"Ceiling?! You're hanging from the crown molding Emi! No! Don't move! I'll get you down!"

Another familiar voice yelped, "C'mooooon Emi! Cut us guys a break. This is the third time in two days. You just got that boot thing off of your foot. Adam, grab her legs and Hawkes and I will get the ladder."

Christine looked at Mac with surprise at his quiet chuckle. "Mac?"

"I told you that Emi gets into … predicaments. But it sounds like Adam has this one under control."

He took a couple of steps to the right of the front door and looked through the open window. "Need some help?" he asked through the screen.

All four people in the room yelled, "Mac!"

"And Christine," his wife added looking around to also peer into the room.

Adam ran to the front door and let them in. "Mac, you gotta help. Tell Emi she can't get on ladders anymore."

"Oh no, you're not getting me in the middle of this one. I learned my lesson last time. Besides, I'm sure Emi has sense enough to know, that now she's made the attempt for herself … three times … that she needs to be careful of straining her knee and ankle so she doesn't have to go back into the boot."

Emi gazed at him and knew Adam would be reminding her of Mac's words far too often. Mac knew that he was walking a thin line and quirked an eyebrow at Emi who was nearly ready to capitulate until Adam said helpfully, "Like a car with too many unpaid tickets."

Emi yelped in indignation, "Is that a crack about the size of my … trunk?!" Emi had been forced to do a lot of sitting as she healed and it wasn't her imagination that jeans that were once baggy fit tighter in a couple of places she wasn't happy about.

Nonchalantly Adam answered, "I like the size of you … er … wait … what has that got do to with … never mind." Adam shook his head slightly to get rid of the minor confusion that wanted to grow there from Emi's habit of shifting conversational topics too quickly. "Emi please. My hair follicles are begging you."

"Stop worrying about your hair follicles – honestly, men and their weird phobias about balding – and tell me, if I am being restricted from using ladders, just how am I supposed to finish painting this room?"

Adam, Danny, and Hawkes all said at the same time, "We'll do it."

Just then a timer could be heard going off in the vicinity of the kitchen and Emi took off in that direction at top speed. Danny squinted after her before saying, "I swear if I didn't know better that she planned this."

Just then a delicious aroma wafted towards the front of the house. Emi yelled out, "Just in time! They're ready!"

Adam and Danny suddenly got the zombified and drooling look a hungry man gets when a pan of cookies comes fresh out of the oven. Hawkes got a hopeful look as he too had gotten mildly addicted to the cookies that Adam brought to the office once a week or so. Even Mac's stomach gave a polite growl. Christine grinned and then started to laugh quietly. She'd heard about Emi's cookies and had even managed to taste a few when she visited Mac at the lab, which wasn't often and only when he had to work late and would need dinner. Seeing the men that worked for Mac staring at the hallway reminded her of how her brother Stan and his friends, including Mac, used to be when they came over and she'd baked a cake or similar. It brought a warm nostalgic feeling and made her even more inclined to like this young woman whom Mac had credited with being so good for his protégé. He'd also told her, though no one was to know, that Mac was trying to mentor him so that when the current Lab Supervisor retired – in the not too distant future – he'd be able to move Adam into the position.

At that moment Emi walked in with a platter of cookies in her hands … which suddenly moved as if levitated as all of the men "helped her" take them to the folding table set up in middle of the room where only crumbs remained of the previous platter of cookies.

Christine saw Emi shake her head fondly and mutter something that sounded like "bottomless pits" and "hollow legs". Christine smiled quietly agreeing with her as even Mac, despite the fact they'd just eaten an early dinner, took his share as well.

Turning in Emi's direction Christine said, "We won't keep you but I asked Mac to drive by so that I could thank you in person for the lovely portrait. Mac had it framed for me and I hung it at the restaurant."

"What?! Oh … uh … um …"

Christine smiled at the red-faced woman and said, "We've gotten several compliments and several requests for the name of the artist. I haven't said anything yet however as I wanted to ask you first before I gave your name to those that would be complete strangers to you. I wasn't sure if you would be interested in taking commissions."

Emi relaxed. "Thank you. I … I used to do portraits when I … well, before I got married. It was a way to pick up pocket money and pay for bus passes and the like. I'm … I'm not sure that …" Emi stopped and looked down at her left hand as if perplexed as to why it wouldn't do what she wanted it to do after so many years of faithful service. Haltingly she said, "Let me think about it. If … if other work doesn't turn up I may … anyway, just let me think about it." Then she smiled and said, "You and Mac were easy subjects. You both have great bone structure and interesting faces, lots of character. And I saw you when you looked at each other … it completed the picture in my head so that I could get it down on paper."

"You know," Christine said with a great deal too much understanding for Emi's comfort. "Mac took longer to heal than he expected as well. He just couldn't understand why force of will alone didn't work." She smiled gently and added, "Give yourself some time. And even if you have to learn a new way of plying your trade, that's not necessarily a bad thing." Christine looked at her own right wrist and Emi saw a thin scar and stitch marks. "Carpal tunnel from too many years of repetitive action. The adding machine and keyboard got me."

Emi looked at her own thin and still healing scar. "It's just … numb in places. Not as bad as when the cast first came off but bad enough. Especially the tip of a couple of my fingers. I can't feel the clay and have to hold my hands differently to get the effect I need." She looked over at Adam from beneath her lashes. "Adam says to stop worrying about it but I hate that he has to carry so much of the burden for our upkeep. I haven't relied on someone like that since becoming an adult and moving out on my own. It's … it's …"

"Scary." When Emi gave her a startled glance Christine nodded. "Oh believe me, I know. Being independent, the one in charge, the holder of the wallet, and everything else. Knowing that you are the one that sits at the desk where the buck stops. And then suddenly, learning to trust someone in a way that is almost alien to you at that point. Trusting a man with your body seems infinitely easier on some days than trusting a man with what feels like bits of your soul … even when you love him. Those life lessons are harsh … having to learn total independence, then to suddenly discover that you need to go further and learn that sometimes to gain independence you have to give part of it up. I'm still learning it … and the men in our lives have to learn their own lessons as well which occasionally leaves us working at cross purposes."

Emi really looked at this woman and realized that though they were several years apart in age, they shared many of the same compulsions … independence, the drive to succeed, and the need to be needed to name a few. The primary difference between them was that Christine's life, despite the things that had happened to her, had formed a gentle soul. Emi could be gentle but it wasn't her natural state of being. In fact most of the time Emi considered herself unnatural.

Emi's ability to interact with the world around her took real effort on her part. She had set boundaries and rules and practices that helped her to do so as constructively as possible … that left as little damage in her wake as she could. It wasn't always enough. The rules that reminded her how she could and should not treat those around her. Sometimes there aren't enough or they aren't strong enough.

Emi shook herself. No need to go down that path again, you've already worn a rut in your brain over it.

It was at that moment that Mac's phone rang. He frowned at the caller ID before answering. "Taylor."

Everyone in the room was expectant and as surely as tummy aches come from too many little green apples Mac hung up and said, "We have a case."