Disclaimer One: This story is mine. These characters are a product of my imagination, which makes them mine. (Raises eyebrow) So, there are really no disclaimers, but I'll make some up anyway. (g)

Disclaimer Two: There is some mention of violence, a little subtext, a little tension that I know all of you love so much.

Dedications: the mother to be and you know who you are; and to Steph a very understanding beta reader.

Summary: This segment takes place a week or so after The Eyes Have It. Cory is just now returning to the office and is planning on going out with Taylor to her world of administration. They are both faced with doubts and awkwardness concerning their forming friendship.

Eyes Wide Shut
(Fourth Installment of Perspectives Series)



Chapter X: To New Beginnings. . . well sort of

Taylor shook inky, wind blown tresses back in place as she entered the air conditioned building. The sound of her heels reverberated through the empty office before feet met the carpeting. Ice blue peered around the office and cocked ears awaited the sound of Shelley's customary bustling. There was nothing but the whir of the fax machine. She stopped within in the sea of empty cubicles and took a deep breath, letting the cool air soak into the light cotton shirt and khakis, which were a testament to the Indiana heat. She looked down at her clothing with a small smile. It wasn't exactly board room attire, but whatever worked.

The admin released the breath. She had a love/hate relationship with board meetings, hating the formality but loving the stage. The only thing she looked forward to was maybe just maybe she would have company. The small blonde had missed a lot, at least in her book. Two new caseworkers had been hired, but fortunately, the admin hoped to show the blonde caseworker something a little more interesting, if she decided to grace the office with her presence. It was time for the other woman to step in her shoes and see through wintry blue.

The raven-haired woman made her way to the back office, but she felt compelled to stop at one cubicle in particular. It had been a good week since her and the blonde formed a tentative friendship. Tentative being the operative word. They had a long way to go. Taylor sighed and wondered if she had the energy or even wanted this new friendship. The constant arguing and squaring off had taken its toll. On both of them, she figured. She fingered the Scooby-Doo mousepad. It had been a bizarre week to say the least. In the short time since she had been here, the admin had gotten used to building up extra thick armor before entering the office. It was strange to leave the bulk of it behind. Taylor bristled, feeling more than a little exposed. The feelings were unnerving, and it left her slightly unbalanced.

All because of one little blonde. Taylor shook her head slowly. With the feeling of unbalance, new ones had seeped out in its wake. She was apprehensive yet curious---yes that was the right word for it--- and concerned. That damned little voice had been urging her all week to ask Barb how the blonde was faring, but the larger part of her consciousness balked at the implications that a simple question of concern would arise. So, it was best to leave it alone. The admin had to admit that she was slightly surprised the fiery young woman had stayed out this long. She had seen the crackle of fire and determination behind the green eyes and thought that the petite woman was made of sterner and more stubborn stuff.

Taylor smiled crookedly, spying the Scooby-Doo pencils. The smile turned pasty, shaky. How had it happened? Where there was only Wendy before now there was Cory sneaking in through the chinks in the Wilson armor. She took another deep breath and held it, feeling the intensifying beat of her heart. Letting it out her mind screamed. 'I'm scared shitless. I'm too old and too set in my ways to let someone new worm their way into my life.' Ice blue eyes narrowed. 'Ofcourse, this could be an elaborate game for this woman to get what she wants. Her job. Her programs.' Nails dug into the rubbery material of the mousepad, leaving crescent shaped dents. 'No dumbass, that makes about as much sense as putting wings on cows. It doesn't fly.' The inner voice interjected.

Long, elegant fingers drummed on the desk, and she let out another sigh in exasperation. Somehow she knew there wasn't a deceitful bone in the blonde woman's body. Taylor closed her eyes in pensive thought. The little woman seemed to garner loyalty from the office without even demanding it. There was something in those green eyes that drew people; made them believe; made them follow; and made them open up. 'Perhaps, that's exactly what you need and that's why you let her in.' The little voice added, sounding remarkably like Shelley. Shocked blue eyes opened, and she slammed a fist against the desk. "No!" Both sounds almost echoed through the empty office. Turning on her heels, Taylor marched quickly into her own office, hoping to outrun the bombarding emotions.

Cory sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the silent phone. Small hands wrung themselves in indecision. She couldn't do it. She didn’t want to face it. It was too much too soon. What had been synonymous with a weeks worth of bloody gunfights of the Old West had turned into small smiles and cordiality in a the span of a few short hours. She had wanted to claw the tall woman's eyes out and wash the ignorance from her brain, but now she felt only. . . tentative, wary. It was those feelings and others that kept her out of the office. Most of the swelling had gone down, leaving only a slight puffiness. She could have been to work two days ago, but she stayed home, hiding.

Part of her was ashamed at her past behavior and part of her was confused as to where all the animosity stemmed. Never had she had such volatile feelings for anyone. It scared her. She couldn't explain it. She couldn't understand it, but deep down she had to admit that she wanted to explore it. The blonde bunched the fitted sheet directly under her hands. She needed something to hold onto while fighting the feeling of being pulled in all directions. All that needed to be done here was gathering courage. The petite woman grumbled, wondering if she had it in her, mentally and otherwise, to deal with the older woman. There was so much to say and do. Then there was also the chance that both of them could be walking on the proverbial eggshells. One misspoken word or phrase could push them back into dueling mode. Especially with this deal still in place. It was her turn to walk in the admin's shoes. 'I don't want things to go back. I don't think I could take it again.'

There was only one question remaining. Did she want to . . .really get to know this woman? She was a mass of contradictions. Growling and firing her one minute and licking her wounds the next. Some part of the blonde caseworker wanted to know, wanted to understand the emotions as well as the woman that illicited them. Still, deep down her stomach fluttered in apprehension at the ramifications of it all. She had never felt this much, this explosive about anybody in her life past or present, even lovers, but this woman made her feel as though she was bursting inside. The spontaneous anger had somewhat halted, leaving unchecked emotion rolling through without a home and with the capacity to end up anywhere, making her feel even more.

'Am I ready for this?' Cory could hear her mother's voice whistling its way through clouded thoughts. "Never run away from anything. No mater how much it hurts or how scared you are." She had gotten past the hurt part and was knee deep in the scared. Scooting back into the bed, Cory hiked her legs up and under, sitting crossed legged. The cotton pajamas whisked against the sheets. Her hands found a worried home in short blonde locks, causing them to stick up haphazardly. She covered her face with strong forearms and let out a frustrated growl. ' I have to go. I need to at least try to make this work.' She was after all a Donovan and her mother's daughter. Stubborn as hell. The small woman hopped from the bed, shedding her pajamas as she headed for the bathroom.

Chapter XI: Advice, Apprehension, and Coffee

Taylor felt the scowl screwing up her features, but it just seemed to be pasted there. That's how Shelley found her long minutes later. The older woman peeked through the adjoining door, catching the baleful glare in blue eyes. The assistant rolled her eyes heavenward and shook her head. Not saying a word, she went to the coffee island, fixing the obviously irritated woman a cup of chai tea. Something was definitely happening. The younger woman had been uncommunicative and reserved for the past week. Her countenance devoid of expression except for the flashing, intelligent azure eyes. The scowl, however, was new. The woman sighed. She had heard about last week's fiasco from Barb, and she had gladly listened with wide eyes and a slight sense of awe. It had taken all of that just to get them to see.

Neither Barb or her really knew what happened at or after the hospital. It was between those two and whatever God who was listening. From the young admin's reserved demeanor, during the last week, and scowling features today, Shelley could only guess that something had drastically changed between them. She shook her head once more. Maybe she was wrong in her assumption. Maybe now their eyes were open, but were they seeing? Never being one to pull punches, Shelley decided it had been long enough. A little more help and a little butting in never hurt anyone did it? She walked back toward the office with a purpose.

Taylor tapped the fingertips of her arched hands together. She could feel the beginnings of a headache, dull and throbbing behind the left eye, and the day had barely begun. The dark-haired woman knew that it would only get progressively worse. Cory. The board meeting. Cory and the board meeting. She had never felt the need to prove herself to anybody to hell with what they thought, but it was the only way here to make an amicable marriage between employee/employer. Baby blues narrowed to blue fire. And prove herself she would to the smaller woman. She relished the opportunity.

Taylor knew the programs in place were flimsy at best with half assed out-dated materials, and she was going to make sure the Board knew it too. With the programs she wanted to end, the admin wanted to make those frequented such as parenting, social skills and family groups all the stronger. With this, maybe Cory would finally understand what she was trying to do, which was the same thing the little woman wanted to make the community stronger, and that would be that. 'Lies,' little Shelley screamed at her. There was something else forming and despite her vehement denial of it. Taylor didn't know how to stop it. Torn from her thoughts by a presence, Taylor looked up as the life size version of the assistant sat the steaming cup of tea on her desk.

"Cory must be coming in today. There weren't any messages on the voice mail."

The older woman watched astutely and almost smiled in triumph when the blue eyes clouded over.

"Mmmm," the admin replied.

"Shall I assume she's going with you today? Going to prove her wrong are we?"

Irritated sky colored eyes snapped up to meet hers. "There's no right or wrong in this Shelley."

"Really? Then what was all the arguing about?"

The older woman almost laughed at the strained expression.

"Uh," shoulders deflated slightly, "I wish I knew."

"Mmm, so is it finally over?" The assistant chose to ignore the look of panic. For now.

"God, I hope so. I don't have the energy to keep up. One of us would have to go."

"I agree, but she is something isn't she?"

Taylor looked up inquisitively.

"The kid. She's in her own class."

"I-I don't really know her," the younger woman remarked, feeling slightly under the knife.

"No, you don't. Open up and try to rectify that. You two could make quite a team."

With that, the assistant turned quietly and disappeared behind the adjoining door. Taylor blinked a couple of times. Subtle. In an economy of words, the older woman had told her plenty. She cocked her head to the side, knowing listening was easy. It was the application, the emotions, and the effort behind it that made it hard.

A short hour later the office was a hub of activity. Standing on the outside looking in, Cory held onto the door handle, taking one last breath of hot, fresh air. She brushed her hand over short green skirt and beige blouse, getting rid of imaginary lint. It was now or never. Upon entry, she smiled at the front office secretaries as they handed her messages. The more she smiled the more genuine it felt. Annette, the small red head, stopped her to say hello and pick her brain for any ounce of gossip. God, she had even missed that. Her laugh carried through the office as new nicknames were thrown at her. Slugger and Karate Kid were her favorites. She had missed this place, and no amount of Scooby Doo could make up for it. Making her way toward the back, she heard Barb before her friend saw her. She was deep in conversation with she presumed to be another caseworker. One she hadn't seen before.

Friendly blue eyes looked up to see what the office murmurs were about and met shining green.

"Hey kid! You look great!" The woman practically screamed.

Cory's smile felt cheek splitting. "Hey yourself, Bard. Did you miss me?"

"Oh God yes. Annette has been trying to lick my ass for information all week."

The blonde's features pursed at the mental picture. "Ew, that's a nasty thing to think about first thing in the morning."

"Kid, that's a nasty thing to think about period. Uck!"

The sandy-haired caseworker standing beside the two chuckled. He looked from the older woman back to Cory.

"Oh, sorry Mike. This is Cory. Cory this is Mike, one of the new caseworkers."

"New? You didn't tell me she hired anyone. Hi, Mike."

The man looked on intrigued by the banter between the women.

"Didn't I?" Barb answered. "Sorry, the boss lady has been very busy while you were away." The woman raised her eyebrows for emphasis. Then bristled at the frown that darkened her friend's features. "Uh, I'll catch you later, Mike."

The man was already forgotten.

"Kiddo? What's wrong? I thought. . ."

"Yeah, I know. I'm just a little weirded out. I don't want to say the wrong thing and end up back in battle square one. Never had a potential friendship start this wary."

"Ah, considering the outcome of the war, I should hope not, but you can't hold back what you think or feel about something. That's not the way to start one either."

"I know that, Barb, but what if. . ."

"Hey, listen if she doesn't understand your views or beliefs try to talk it out. If she still refuses maybe it wasn't meant to be."

Cory sat on the edge of the desk, while Barb herself plopped down in her seat. Green eyes stared at the closed office door.

"Yeah, you maybe right." She pointed her chin at the closed door. "You do know what day it is?"

Barb scrunched her eyebrows confused.

"It's my turn to see what she sees."

"Oh," she paused, "Ohhhh, the deal. Ugh, and I have to abandon you today, Kid. Mike is supposed to be my shadow for the day. You should have told me you were coming in. Well, I guess I should have called."

Cory felt panicky heat suffuse her body, making her feel over-dressed. Her skin felt tight and prickly, and breath came out in a whoosh, as if knocked out. She couldn't breath. She could barely think. Alone. They would be alone. Maybe for a long time. No buffer. No referee. No mediator. The blonde tried to hold in the gurgle of fear before it left her throat.

"Cor? Cory can you hear me?" Barb waved a hand in front of the unblinking woman's face.

The petite blonde shook her head once to clear it.

"Uh, yeah."

"Whoa, I didn't know this scared you so much. Look, just take the chance. What's meant to happen will happen. I've never known you to back down from anything. I know you Cor."

Cory couldn't remember either. The last time she had run away from anything. Never. That was the last time. She had been scared before, but the caseworker had learned to use the fear in her favor. 'I just need to find a way to do that here for both our sakes.'

Barb studied her friend. Eyebrows were drawn inward and green eyes had darkened in concentration. The little chin lifted, and her mouth pursed in determination. The older woman was satisfied with the resolve and tenacity that had replaced the panic. This was definitely the Cory she knew.

"Look at it this way, kid. At least you're going in with your eyes open."

Cory smirked as confidence filled her blood once more. Making it over to her own desk, she sat heavily in her chair. Maybe she could learn something. Maybe.

Ray stirred his coffee slowly, envisioning the melting of the sugar crystals. He took a sip of the hot brew and let the enigmatic smile curve the corners of his mouth. He had heard the buzz and knew the little blonde was back. He liked her, and he would go welcome her. After a couple more sips. He took another sip. This one longer, enjoying the sweet heat in his mouth. His smile became larger as an idea formed. Turning, he poured another cup and headed for the back cubicles.

Cory sharpened her pencils to a razor sharp tip, looking up only when the coffee cup made a thud on her desk.

"Hey, Ray."

He took another long sip before answering. Barb looked on intrigued.

Finally, he spoke. "Hey, kid good to have you back." He took a shorter sip. Knowing about her nose and noticing the slight puffiness around her eyes, he decided to offer some advice. "You know, if you put damp coffee bags under you eyes it will get rid of the rest of the swelling."

Cory looked at Barb from the corner of her eye.

"Magic?" The blonde quipped.

"Right, magic," he answered.

Having done his good deed for the office personnel today, the tall, black man turned to leave. Cory grabbed the coffee cup, moving it toward her. She peered down into the murky liquid then looked across the isle at Barb. The woman's eyes were wide with unshed tears, and her mouth trembled with unreleased mirth.

"Uh, what face would that be?" The blonde asked innocently.

Barb bit the inside of her lip, trying to contain the laughter. "Don't know. It's a new one. I'll get back to you."

"Unh-huh, you do that."

The older woman began to hum the theme to Twilight Zone through a riot of giggles.

"Don't. . ." Cory added with her own laughter, "even go there."

Taylor cocked her head at the sound of laughter. It sounded vaguely familiar. Looking at her watch, she walked slowly to the door. It was after nine, and she should be here. The admin twisted the knob softly, only wanting to open the door a smidge. Baring straight white teeth, she sent up a prayer when the door didn't squeak. Opening the door wide enough for an astute blue eye to look through, she peered at the two back cubicles. Her body pressed against the door to get a closer look. She was here. Laughing. It made Taylor want to join in. It sounded so free, so genuine. She opened the door a little more hoping to get a better view and hear what was being said. At that moment, another set of blues jerked up to meet hers. Barb smirked knowingly. Taylor resisted the urge to squeal as she quickly shut the door.

Barb's smile turned inward. Someone was anxious to say the least.

Taylor leaned against the door, feeling like a kid caught peeking by the principal. She put her hands to her flushed face. That woman saw entirely too much. The raven-haired woman pursed her lips to hide the smirk, even from herself. The feelings of wariness and apprehension had ebbed with Shelley's help and the small blonde's arrival. It was replaced with something just as foreign to her. Nervousness.

Chapter XII: Building and Revealing a Mystery

Cory looked through the messages and deemed nothing urgent. Firing up her computer, she checked the case files to make sure they were properly updated. Groaning inwardly, she realized this for what it was, busy work and avoiding the inevitable. The blonde pivoted in her chair looking at the closed door. She then cut her eyes at Barb, who was talking heatedly into the phone. 'Okay, girlie just go for it. Come on get your ass up.' Without another prevailing thought, she found herself in front of the door, knocking gently and cursing her fluttery stomach.

"Come." The voice said, and she was suddenly reminded of the Great and Powerful Oz. 'Silly girl just go.'

Cory found herself standing in front of the large desk, looking precariously into blue eyes. Taylor tried to hide the surprise. She hadn't expected her to come looking for her. Swallowing, she hid her hands under the desk. Just in case they decided to shake. Sure enough, panic ceased her. Realizing she had no idea what to say, a tight band constricted her lungs and stomach. 'Anything. Just say something!' Little Shelley screamed.

"Uh, you look go-well."

Cory's brows touched in confusion. It almost seemed that the woman was just as nervous as she was at this moment. Her churning stomach settled at the thought.

"Yeah, it hurt for awhile, even with the pain killers."

The blonde offered a tremulous smile. Taylor wanted to return the courtesy, but her facial muscles refused to work.

"Uh, that's good," she replied instead.

Cory flopped down in the chair. They were getting nowhere fast or slow either. Someone had to take the initiative.

"I've seen your degrees on the wall. I'm sure you can manage a longer sentence than that." 'Okay we're gonna try humor. It usually works.'

Blue eyes turned to slits as she eyed the other woman. Letting out an involuntary sigh, internally, she was glad the ice had been broken. Now, on with it. A dark brow shot upward behind bangs as she leaned back into the plush chair.

"You don't pull any punches do you?"

Cory smiled genuinely this time.

"I thought you would know that about me by now. Come on, I know you're quicker than that."

The band of tightness eased, and the older woman smirked despite herself.

"Oh, I am. I just like to put feelers out first."

Cory breathed a sigh of relief. It had worked so far, so why not push a little further.

"Can I ask you something?"

"It's not going to hurt is it?" Taylor answered.

"Nah, we've done enough of that already."

The admin swallowed, remembering the acerbic barbs, digs, and the look on the blonde woman's face when she fired her. "Way too much I'd say. Ask away."

"Were you as nervous as I was, when I came in here?"

The older woman let out a bark of laughter. She had know idea anyone could be that blunt. It was refreshing. "Let me put it this way Cory. I could swear this office was closing in around me."

Green eyes looked at her surprised. "What? You didn't think I would answer you honestly? After what we've been through these couple of weeks, there is no use in adding lying to the list."

The blonde pulled her eyes away afraid she had said the wrong thing. She bit her lip and glanced up again to see inquisitive not angry eyes staring back. "You're right." Cory paused and said hesitantly. "So, you got that stomach fluttery, no breathing feeling?"

Taylor laughed again as she shook her head. "Could feel my hands shaking too." She pulled them from under the desk, showing them.

A momentary silence lapsed between them, but for once it was easy. Cory scratched the back of her neck and arched her brows in thought. 'How could I have been so wrong about her? It's obvious that she's intelligent. She even has a sense of humor to go along with a great laugh. And for God's sake, I've already seen a caring side to her at the Ash house and in the ring. Stupid. Just stupid.'

At first, Taylor watched the emotions chase themselves across the blonde's expressive face. Then she got lost in her own. 'Does she always say what she thinks, despite the consequences? That could explain my first day. It would explain a lot. This is her. Just her. There's not a dishonest bone in her body. She's truthful in her bluntness, and the truth hurt me much more than a lie ever could.'

Cory was the first to glance up, and for the first time, she was met with smiling blue eyes. For some reason, she felt honored. Smiling back, she asked the inevitable question, "So, where do we go from here?"

Taylor nodded her head in understanding. "The deal is still on because it will benefit the both of us. I don't know that much about the field, and you don't about administrative duties. We get to know each other. We work together. We make things better here."

"Sounds like you've been thinking about this."

I've had a week. It was long enough."

"Well, it sounds like a plan I can definitely go with. What's on for today? I don't have much on my plate right now."

"Good. I would like you to attend a board meeting in Merrilville with me, if you're game."

"I can do that. When do we leave?"

Taylor looked down at her watch. "In about fifteen minutes." One car left from the staff parking lot, an Accord.

The ride was filled with quite laughter of previous weeks memories.

"Oh my God, Cory, you were covered in gunk. I didn't know a woman could smell like that!"

"Oh har, har. He was stronger than he looked, and he had a gun."

"Why didn't you use some of that fancy kickboxing stuff on him?"

"I didn't want to get fancy. I was afraid that he was going to shoot."

"You were pretty brave back in that house."

"Ah, it was nothing. I just did what I had to do."

"You do that a lot don't you? Do what you have to," Taylor asked softly.

She got a shrug then an answer. "Somebody needs to care. Everything. All these problems are bigger than anyone realizes, and they just sit on their asses. . .

"Whoa, I know. I'm going to try to rectify that in the meeting."

"God, I'm sorry. I just get carried away sometimes."

"Nonsense. You just care at all." Taylor remembered something Barb had said, maybe the kid does care just a little too much.

They fell into a comfortable silence. Cory was caught by the passing scenery. It never ceased to amaze her. How could two cities be just a few miles apart and in the same county be so different . They had passed through many stop lights and over a few railroad tracks that had signs that worked and warned. She couldn't remember the last time she had seen a train crossing sign work in Gary. Laughing inwardly, derisively, she knew the police and ambulance here came on time not leaving the residents dying, in pain, or in fear. She tried to swallow a ball of emotion. It stuck, as she bit back the tears. How could no one care? Someone had to, and it might as well be her.

Taylor looked over, noticing the tenseness in the turned shoulders and back. Not knowing what this was about and what else to do, she surprised herself by putting a comforting hand on the blonde's shoulder. She was even more surprised when a small hand covered her own, squeezing it. Things had changed between them. Dramatically. Drastically.

Taking her hand away to make a couple of sharp turns, Taylor announced softly to the pensive blonde, "We're here."

The blonde followed the admin into what she finally saw was the huge Merrilville Library. They found their way downstairs to a large meeting room with a round table that took up most of it. Trying to jar herself out of the pensive mood, Cory watched from the vantage point of Taylor's side as the admin talked to the men and two women standing around the room. They all smiled and said how nice it was to see her again, but the little woman had to quirk a brow at the Mona Lisa like grin the admin gave every one of them. She could envision the wheels turning under the dark hair. Trying to hide her amused curiosity, she shook hands with each one of them, completely losing track of the names.

After a while, they were seated. Taylor made sure that Cory had a seat beside her, wanting her to get a good view. Cory watched on as the man who's name she thought was Burton, started the meeting. Her mind wandered as the man instructed someone who was obviously the secretary to read the minutes from last time. She looked around the room then right in front of her, where she stared into amused blue eyes. She had been caught day dreaming. Giving Taylor her best innocent look, Cory was rewarded with a raised brow. The admin leaned over and whispered quietly, "It'll get interesting. I promise." Her breath felt hot and moist against her ear, making the blonde caseworker jump. She vowed to pay attention after that.

Finally, there was a call for new business. Taylor interceded, knowing her proposal should already be on the table. She looked around the table. "I trust that all of you got my figures and proposal?"

She took the quiet as an affirmative and moved on. "While the programs we have in place are good in name they are frail in nature." She smiled inwardly at the small gasp that went around the room. "The group leaders are using shotty and out-dated materials to teach parenting and many other groups. Now, tell me. How can a parent learn about parenting today from some book that was printed in the early eighties? It's ridiculous. We're not helping anyone, just filling their head with archaic ideas."

"Now, Ms. Wilson our numbers show that these materials may still be effective."

"Excuse me Burton, I thought I had the floor." Taylor relished the red, bloated look on the older man's face. "We can't look at the maybe's. You hired me to get definite. It can be done if some of the programs that are barely attended get eliminated. The money we save can be used to buy new materials and get real results." Her eyes narrowed in the direction of the Chairman. "These programs that I propose we end will not be missed because I have made sure that other community organizations have them. We can refer clients out. If you look at the proposal closely, you will see that it's not only feasible but dependable. The people in this community will get what they need." Taylor lapsed into silence and looked back at the blonde sitting next to her. She saw shame, confusion then understanding darken the jade eyes. Complimenting them was a radiant smile. She finally understood. She cared too in her own way. They wanted the same thing.

Taylor tore her eyes away and looked around the table. The whispers and murmurs were as loud as screaming. One of the board members spoke up. "Ms. Wilson, this sounds too risky to me. Community programming is ever changing what if. . ."

"If you will look closely Myra, you'll see that I made a contingency plan for that. This is also a college town, and there are many students getting degrees in psychology, sociology, and social work. They have to do internships, unpaid internships. They can run the groups while we provide the materials. Either way we will have the money and the resources."

There was another buzz. She heard the word 'outrage' and 'implausible' and felt her temper rising. It was a slow burn, inching up her skin and making it red. Cory stared in trepidation. Somehow knowing the woman was about to pop, instinctively, she put a calming hand on the taller woman's forearm, feeling the tension there. She squeezed, kneaded and felt it relax minutely. Taylor glanced down at her confused but accepting and thankful.

She took a deep breath, noting some semblance of calm. "Look people. I know you are used to the status quo, but you have to realize that it's not working. Have you looked around you lately? You hired me to make it work. Now, let me."

There was silence as heads were hung. Burton cleared his throat. "Ms. Wilson, I think you've said what needs to be said." He gave the young woman a small smile. "I think we're ready to get a second on the motion. Any one?"

After a long minute, a hand and a voice raised. "I second the motion to change the programming." The woman smiled widely at both Cory and Taylor. There was another murmur, and Burton spoke again. "All those in favor say I." One by one the votes were given. In the end, there were nine votes of yes and two votes of no. Taylor had her revamped programming.

They walked out the library in silence. Walking by the stoic woman's side, Cory felt like she was about to burst with excitement. Finally, she did. "I can't believe it! You were really something in there. God, I can't believe you convinced them! This is great!"

Taylor glanced at the elated woman. The green eyes glowed, lit from a fire inside. It pulled her in, making her giddy. She couldn't help but return the other woman's excitement with a toothy grin of her own.

"Yeah, it was great wasn't it? Hungry?"

The smaller woman blinked at the rapid change of subject. "Well, now that you mention it. I'm starved."

"Good. Lunch is on me. What do you want?"

Green eyes brightened. "Uh, pizza?"

Taylor laughed again for the third time that day. It was more than she had in a long time.

Once in the car, Taylor waited until the other woman buckled up before starting the engine. Concern colored her features, when the blonde jumped and squealed. Cory's face colored in embarrassment. "Uh, sorry that was my beeper. I had it on vibrate. It scared the shit out of me."

"Oh, okay. You had me going for a minute." Taylor watched as she fished the pager from her skirted waist.

"Crap, it's the office. Can I use your cell?"

"Yeah, sure." The admin waited to start the car wanting to see if it was an emergency.

"Donovan here."

"Hey kid," Barb replied in a hoarse voice.

"Oh, hey what's wrong?"

"You'd better get to the women's shelter on Shore Drive fast."

Fear crept up her spine. "Wha-why what's happened?"

"Just get here."

After hanging up, she turned to look at Taylor. "We need—"

"I heard. Just give me directions."

They got there in record time, only to be greeted by two police cars and an ambulance.

"Cor, I thought this place was supposed to be secret?"

"It is. Something's happened."

The both exited the car to be confronted by the police. With a few well placed words, they were let through. Cory frowned in confusion when she saw a completely covered body being wheeled toward the ambulance. Her eyes swept the perimeter, searching. Her heart stopped when she heard the yelling. The man's voice, it sounded so familiar. She swung around to see James Ash flailing his arms in an attempt to elude the officers that reached for him. The pieces fell into place, and her heart fell to the pit of her stomach. Bile rushed up, sour and thick, into her throat. "Oh, God. . .

Taylor reached out a hand to touch her, trying to understand what was going on. Then she remembered the man's face behind the .38 that he held to her face just a couple of weeks ago. 'Oh no.' Cory pulled away, running for the front of the house. She didn't have to run far. Barb and Mike walked out slowly. One carrying the small baby girl, the other leading the oldest girl with a hand to the back of her neck.

"Oh, God no!" Her plea was hard to hear over the cacophony of the police. "I-it can't be!" She looked forward, catching Barb's eyes. It was a confirmation. Time stopped as she stood still on the sidewalk. Guilty pain ripped through her abdomen. She grabbed her gut in an attempt to stop it. Blood roared through her ears, making her deaf to the people calling her name. Her eyes bobbed rapidly not seeing until they came in contact with dead brown. The oldest child. Her eyes. There was nothing in them. Anger tore it's way through the despair, shaking her. Anger at the world and anger at herself. She had saved them only to let them die at his hands later, and no one cared. The world would go on like Tina Ash never existed. She felt a strong embrace from behind, lifting her. She fought it.

Taylor ducked the sharp blows, lifting and cuddling her from behind with brute strength. She had never seen the other woman this way. It scared her. More than that it terrified her.

Hot tears burned a path down the blonde caseworker's cheeks. She sobbed and wailed as Barb and Mike made their way towards them. A deep rumble started somewhere in her chest, and it exited her mouth as a scream. "Noo!" Somehow breaking free of Taylor's strong hold, Cory ran toward the children. Barb was taken aback by the display. The kid. She hurt for them all. This time it was too much. Saddened, all she could do was shake her head as her friend ran towards them.

She made it to the group as they were about to descend the last stairs. Not bothering to wipe the tears from her face, she kneeled in front of the little girl, making sure they were the same height. The girl stared into her, through her, seeing nothing. With a gentle hand, Cory touched a dry, soft cheek. Leaning in, she kissed the little girl then whispered in her ear, ensuring that only she would hear. "I care." Pulling away slightly, she peered again into the youthful features, but this time there was a difference. Twin tears fell from brown eyes. Somehow she had reached the girl. Barb and Mike watched in awe, unable to believe what they saw. The little girl reached for Cory, and the caseworker picked her up, cradling her in deceptively strong arms. She rubbed the small back and made comforting noises into the sobbing child's ear.

Turning tear soaked eyes to Barb, she asked, "What happened?"

The brunette's mouth moved, but nothing came out. Trying again, she cleared her throat. "Someone with a lot of money posted his bail. We don't know how he found her. The casemanager was sure she didn't call him, but he must have found her by chance and followed her. From what the witnesses say, she was on her way to the door, and they heard loud bangs. Then they saw her fall." Barb pointed with her eyes. "She was holding her hand the whole time."

Cory closed her eyes and felt more tears fall. Silent ones. "We need to make sure they get to a facility right away. I don't want them sitting in a police station."

Barb nodded. Cory turned and made her way back down the stairs toward Taylor. She didn't know why, but that's where she needed to go.

Taylor hands lay at her side, clutching back and forth into fists. Her heartbeat thudded fast and hard. Empathy rolled through her in big waves, slamming into her psyche. Never had she seen such a thing. Cory's pain for the family, for Tina, had released the little girl's. She blinked feeling the tears for the first time but didn't bother to brush them away. She was touched. She was changed. With the help of this woman, she had seen something special, extraordinary. She watched as the little blonde made her way towards her. Looking into the sparkling green wet with tears and bright with pain, she somehow knew what to do. Raising her arms from the side, she enveloped both Cory and the child into her embrace. It all just felt so right.

Well, I just don't know what to say. What a way to solidify a friendship and learn about someone, eh? I'll say it again. I love these characters. Give me a jingle at Minerva. Remember I was gracious enough to give you something to read. Now, it's your turn.

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