Taught By Love

by Zoe

Disclaimer: Let's see. I'm not exactly sure how to proceed with this part, so I will simply say that Xena and Co. belong to MCA/Universal. But my girls aren't their girls, so I should be okay, right? Anyway, that's that. Oh, yeah, you can't have them.

Violence Warning: There are scenes of violence in this baby. And school violence, to boot. This story deals with violence in American schools (think Littleton, et al, and you got it) and the aftermath of that violence. Rather than present the facts of what has happened in our schools in the last 3 years or so HERE, why not just email me and I'll tell you, okay?

Language Warning: There is some potentially objectionable language, but nothing too darned bad (See? I don't even say anything bad here. Wow.). Well, at least I don't think it's all that bad, but I may be world-weary, or used to it… Nah. But don't say I didn't tell you.

Other Stuff: There isn't any, really. WAIT!! How about my addy so you can tell me if you like it or not? Whaddaya say? Here it is just in case-- zoe_c71@yahoo.com . Oh, okay. I can thank my beta-reader for her help… but she won't let me mention her name so I'm hoping she'll know that this is for her.!

Now, without further ado…

Part 11

Noelle took a step back from the woman who held her. "What did you just say?" she asked in a whisper, feeling the panic start.

Molly stepped toward Noelle. "Noe," she said softly. "I love you." She watched as the blond woman shook her head. "Yes I do, sweetheart. I love you."

Noelle backed into the couch, almost falling onto it. "I, uh, have to go now." She turned to flee the room, but was stopped by a strong hand on her arm. She looked with some alarm at the hand. Her eyes snapped to Molly's blue ones when the taller woman started speaking.

"Please don't go," came the whispered plea. "I love you. Don't go yet."

Noelle swallowed nervously. She stared into the brilliant blue eyes in front of her. "I'm afraid," she whispered without realizing it.

"Oh, baby," Molly crooned as she gathered the smaller woman in her arms and held her tightly.

Noelle allowed the contact for a brief moment before she pushed the other woman away. "No," she said, the panic in her voice now evident. "No," she repeated as she looked frantically for an escape passage.

Molly stepped in front of the panicked woman. "Oh no you don't," she said firmly. "You're not running again. We're going to talk about this right now." Molly leaned over to look into Noelle's frightened green eyes. "We're going to talk about all of it right now," she reaffirmed.

Noelle shook her head again. "There's nothing. Nothing to talk about," she blurted out.

The dark woman nodded. "Yes there is. There's so much we have to talk about, so much I need to hear from you. Now let's sit down, okay?" Molly flopped down on the couch, trying to keep the atmosphere as light as possible. She stretched out her legs, crossed them at the ankle, then patted the cushion next to her. "Come on, sit down here with me," she coaxed. She grinned engagingly. "Sit with me, Noelle."

Noelle just shook her head again and stood perfectly still, staring at the dark woman with haunted eyes.

Suddenly Molly sat forward, and her heart lurched painfully when she saw the small woman flinch.

"I won't hurt you, Noelle," she said softly. "I promise." Not getting up, Molly slowly reached a hand out toward Noelle, silently urging her to take it. "I won't hurt you," she whispered again.

Noelle closed her eyes as she heard the words, but it was another voice saying them to her, a deeper masculine voice.

"I won't hurt you, Noelle," he said calmly. "But if you don't do what I want, if you don't do what I'm asking you to, then it'll be your fault when I do. And I don't want to do that. I love you, you know that. Now show me how much you love me." The big man took a step closer to the cowering woman, unbuttoning his pants as he did. "Don't you love me, too? Don't you want to make me feel good?"

The young woman nodded desperately, not wanting to make him angry.

"Good girl," he said softly. "I knew you'd want to do that for me. You know what I want you to do. Do it. It will make me feel very good. Otherwise you'll force me to hurt you. You know I don't like to do that, but you make me do it."

The fear and revulsion raced through the young woman the instant she realized what the man was asking her to do. She shook her head. "No," she whispered.

"I want you to do it," the man demanded. "Now."

"No… please, no…" she pleaded. "I don't want to…"

"It's not about what YOU want," the big man yelled. He stepped right in front of the terrified woman and grabbed her hair hard. He brought his face right to hers. "I said do it," he snarled before forcing her to her knees in front of him.

The woman put her hands on his thighs, trying to push him away. And that's when the beating started. He hit her where it was easy for her to hide it. He never hit her in the face, it was always where she could cover it, most of the time on her upper body, places that her clothing would cover.

She curled into a ball to try to protect herself, but it was to no avail. He beat her mercilessly, until finally she told him she'd do what he wanted.

He grabbed her by the hair again and yanked her to her knees. "I told you you'd do what I wanted," he said in that calm, cold voice, his eyes closing in pleasure…

Noelle gasped and her eyes snapped open. "No! Don't say that. Please don't say that," she whimpered.

Molly was next to her woman in a heartbeat. She didn't touch Noelle, but she spoke to her in a calm, quiet voice.

"Talk to me, Noe. Where are you right now? What are you thinking? Tell me. Let me in," she coaxed gently.

Noelle closed her eyes again and swallowed the bile that rose in her throat. "Don't say that," she whispered raggedly, her breath catching in her chest. "You can't love me… you can't," she breathed, her body shaking badly.

Molly's brilliant blue eyes filled with tears at the torment the small woman was experiencing. She desperately wanted to take the woman into her arms and wipe all the pain and fear from her eyes… and her soul. The hatred she felt for the man who did this to Noelle, who made her hurt and fear this badly, surged through her, almost overwhelming her.

Noticing suddenly that Noelle was getting ready to bolt, Molly started asking questions to keep her there and keep her from retreating into herself.

"Tell me why I can't love you. Why can't I love you, Noelle?" she asked softly, grasping at the first thing that popped into her mind.

"No… I don't want to talk about… you just can't," Noelle whispered, refusing to make eye contact with Molly.

"Don't shut me out, Noe. Tell me why. Why can't I love you?" Molly persisted. Slowly, Molly reached a hand out to touch Noelle.

Noelle shook her head, the fear emanating from her body palpable to the other woman. Molly was afraid she couldn't help the terrified woman.

"Noe, talk to me," she urged again. Molly laid a gentle hand on the trembling woman's shoulder.

"No!" Noelle gasped. "Don't touch me. Please don't touch me," she pleaded in a whisper, taking a step backwards.

Oh, Noelle, Molly thought. She felt helpless, powerless to do anything to ease the other woman's pain. She didn't know what to do or say to soothe the distraught woman. But Noelle unwittingly helped her know what to do.

"I have to go," the blond said hastily. "I need to go now."

"Wait. Why? Why do you have to go?" Molly asked, somehow sensing that to let Noelle leave would be the worst thing she could do. "Stay with me. Don't go."

Noelle shook her head again. "I need… I need to take a shower. I have to go," she babbled, not thinking about what she was saying.

Thinking quickly, Molly offered, "Take one here. You can take a shower here while I clean up. Whadda you say?" she asked, her tone light and even.

Noelle turned hollow green eyes to the dark woman, at first not recognizing her. She looked around quickly, finally understanding where, and with whom, she was. "Oh, God… Molly…" Noelle unconsciously reached for Molly, but stopped herself and let her hands drop. "No. I have to take a shower."

Seeing the anguish on the drawn, pale, beautiful face, Molly's heart broke for Noelle. "Oh, honey," she said softly. "Stay here with me. Take a shower here," she coaxed. Seeing the blond hesitate the slightest bit, Molly urged gently with her words. "Come on. I'll even let you use my bathroom," she said with a grin. Moving slowly so she didn't frighten the smaller woman, Molly stepped around her toward the hall. "Why use all your hot water when you can use mine?" she asked lightly, not really expecting an answer.

Noelle said nothing. But she followed Molly down the hall and into her bedroom, her movements slow and almost painful. She wrapped her arms around her torso as if to protect herself from something… or someone.

The two women walked into Molly's bedroom, the incongruous sight not having any effect on the blond this time. Molly stopped outside the partially closed bathroom door to look sheepishly at her companion. "I didn't… I mean I don't usually… hell," she sighed. "I didn't straighten it up, okay?" she finally told Noelle, hoping the conversation would take the blonde's mind off the situation.

Noelle just looked at the woman with empty eyes and followed her into the bathroom. It was a beautiful room. Or would have been if not for the clutter. It was a bright, cheerful bathroom, a sky-light allowing moonbeams to filter into the bathroom. The shower curtain, rugs, and toilet seat cover were dark blue with brightly colored tropical fish swimming on the background, reminiscent of a seascape. The lower half of the walls was papered with an ocean scene that matched the curtain and rugs. Tropical fish swam through coral reefs and waving seaweed.

There was a dark blue hamper overflowing with clothing in a corner near the toilet. On the sink's counter was all manner of stuff, a tube of toothpaste, a hairbrush, and a hair dryer to name just a few.

Molly looked at the clutter and was tempted to just start swiping stuff into the small trashcan. Instead she just sighed and grabbed a clean towel from the linen closet and laid it on the closed toilet seat. "It's clean," she said in mock seriousness. "I swear it." The taller woman broke out into an engaging grin, hoping to entice the smaller woman out of herself. She stood there awkwardly for a moment before giving a little shrug. "I'll go clean up now. Take your time, Noe." Then, with a worried backward glance, Molly left the blond alone.

After the door closed, Noelle stood in the center of the small, bright room, nothing registering in her mind except getting clean. In a flurry of movement, she quickly turned the water on in the stall, the steam from the incredibly hot water rising to fill the bathroom and fog the large mirror over the sink in only a few seconds. Noelle shed her clothing, letting it fall in a heap by the hamper. Then she stepped into the shower, the hot water immediately turning her skin an angry red.

When she had finished straightening the living room, carrying the remains of their dinner to the kitchen and taking care of the clean-up, Molly went to stand outside the closed bathroom door, uncertain about her next actions. It took the tall woman only a moment to decide what to do. Gathering a pair of sweatpants and a flannel shirt, Molly slipped into the bathroom, the shower muffling the sounds of her movement. She had planned on just putting the clothing on the counter by the sink, but as soon as her ears detected the almost inaudible keening coming from inside the shower, her plans changed. Before she could think about what she was doing, Molly was stepping into the tub with Noelle, not giving her clothing a second thought.

The blonde's back was turned to her and her arms were wrapped around her torso again. She was rocking herself gently, the water from the shower running down her reddened skin. Molly reached out to touch the woman, take her in her arms, but she thought better of it. She didn't want to frighten the small woman anymore than she already was.

Instead of touching the other woman, Molly put her hand under the shower spray, snatching it back immediately. Jesus! That's freaking hot. Gotta tone this down some.

"Noelle," she said softly, wanting to alert the woman to her presence.

Hearing the voice, Noelle shook harder, moving farther away from the voice. Remembering another time, another shower, she feared the worst. She did what she'd always done… retreated further into herself.

Sensing what was happening, and determined not to let it, Molly stepped up close to the smaller woman, her clothes soaked by this time. She pressed her bigger body comfortingly against Noelle's, her heart aching when the woman struggled briefly.

"Shhh, Noe. It's me. It's Molly. I won't hurt you. I won't hurt you," she repeated, drawing the woman back against her body.

Firmly putting aside the stinging pain from the hot water, Molly wrapped her arms around the tense body, rocking Noelle gently, trying in the only way she knew how to give her strength to the frightened woman.

"Please don't. Don't touch me," Noelle whimpered. "I have to get clean." She moved as if to step away from Molly, but Molly tightened her arms a bit, feeling the sodden cloth of her shirt tighten around her arms.

"It's okay," she murmured into Noelle's ear. "Shhhh… it's okay, Noe. I'm right here with you. I'm not letting you go."

Again Noelle didn't answer. She simply stood under the spray of the shower. Then, unconsciously, she rested her arms on Molly's, bringing them from her waist to her chest. She didn't lean back against Molly's body, but she did pull the arms tighter around her body.

The two woman stayed like that for some time… Noelle not moving, Molly holding tightly, until Molly whispered to Noelle, "You don't have to do this alone. I'm right here, Noe, right here with you. I'm not going anywhere. You can lean on me," she encouraged gently. "You're not alone," she repeated softly.

It was a long moment before Noelle responded. When she did, she let out a deep, shuddering sigh. Not turning, not looking at the woman holding her, she told her story.

"When I saw him at the club that first night, I thought he was the most beautiful person I ever saw," Noelle began, her voice a detached monotone. "He's tall, dark, big. And he was so nice. He looked at me and I smiled… and I noticed his eyes. They were such a deep, intense brown. You'd have been amazed. He was very handsome. I went back again alone just to see if he'd be there. He was. He asked me to dinner. We went and he was the perfect date… attentive, kind, witty… soon we were together and I brought him home to meet Mary and Dad."

Noelle paused, shuddering at the memories. Then she continued, her voice softer, more hesitant.

"It wasn't long before he started demanding… things, things I didn't want to do. But I knew that I was supposed to-"

"That's crap!" Molly exploded, but Noelle continued as if she hadn't heard her. And perhaps she hadn't.

"Then one night he hit me. He was really sorry about it, and I knew that if I hadn't made him mad, he wouldn't have done it. I tried to hide the bruises from Mary, but she noticed them right away," Noelle said. "She told me to get rid of him, but I couldn't. He said he loved me. I thought I loved him. I was supposed to do what he wanted, and when I didn't, I deserved the… I deserved it."

Noelle paused again, her breathing ragged. She swallowed once before continuing.

"Then he started hitting me more often. And then he… he… hurt me," Noelle whimpered, her voice breaking.

Dear God, Molly thought. She drew the small woman even closer to her body, steadying the shaking body with the solidness of her own. "Oh, honey. I'm right here. I'm right here, Noelle," she whispered. "I've got you."

There was silence then, the only sound made by the shower. A thousand thoughts raced through Molly's brain as she tried to process what Noelle had just told her. What do I do to help her? What do I say? A good place to start would be to kill the bastard who hurt her. Then Molly heard a small, soft voice.


"Right here, love."

"I'm so cold," Noelle said, the shivering of her body supporting her words.

Knowing that it wasn't a physical thing, Molly said, her voice cheerful and light, "Then let's get the heck out of here and get warm, okay?"

Noelle nodded and shifted to allow Molly to reach around her and shut off the water. Then she accepted the towel the taller woman handed her. When she just stood there, though, Molly stepped in to help.

Seeing Noelle just standing there with the towel in her hands, Molly gently took it from her and began to dry her. She kept up a steady stream of nonsense, using the words and her tone to relax and calm the shivering woman.

When she was finished, Molly wrapped the towel around Noelle and stepped out of the shower. She reached a hand out to the blond woman, letting her make the first step.

Green eyes, eyes that were filled with immeasurable pain an hour ago, now looked into soft blue eyes with a new trust… and something else. Tentatively Noelle reached her hand out and grasped Molly's larger one, holding it tightly.

Then she stepped out onto the bathmat.

Suddenly she smiled a bit at the dark woman. "You're all wet," she commented, a teasing tone peeking through the words.

The smile that washed over the beautiful, heart-shaped face nearly stole Molly's breath away. It was a smile of love and trust. And it was directed at her. She wanted to grab the woman in a fierce hug and never let her go. Yet she refrained from doing it.

Instead, she looked down at herself then back at Noelle, a self-deprecating smile on her own face. "Yeah, I guess I am."

Noelle turned her back on the other woman, effectively telling her to get out of the wet clothes, which Molly did. After she wrapped a large, fluffy towel around herself, she deposited her wet clothing into the hamper. She scooped up Noelle's things and tossed them onto the tank of the toilet. Then she turned with a big grin to Noelle.

"Here are some things. I know they'll be big on you, but they're warm. I'll just leave them where they are and go find something dry to put on. Come out when you're done?" she asked.

Noelle nodded, a small smile on her lips… and in her eyes.

When she had finished dressing and rolling up the sleeves of the flannel shirt, Noelle opened the door and peeked her head out. She spotted Molly lying on the bed, dressed similar to her. She stepped out of the bathroom and just stood there, her eyes on the floor and her hands absently playing with the long hem of the shirt.

Molly, sensing her, opened her eyes and smiled lazily at Noelle. "C'mere, love." Once again, Molly offered her hand, praying that Noelle would take it.

And she did. The small woman walked to the bed and took the hand, lying carefully next to the bigger woman. Noelle felt herself being tugged gently closer to her bed-mate. Then she heard the contented sigh, and something inside of her, some last vestige of self-preservation, melted away at the sound.

Molly almost jumped off the bed in exultation when she felt Noelle snuggle closer to her and wrap an arm around her middle. She relaxed and tucked a hand behind her head and absently ran a hand through the still-wet gold around her fingers. She combed her fingers through the hair rhythmically, as much to soothe herself as to put Noelle at ease. She grinned when she felt a small hand playing with a button that lay in the middle of her chest.

Silence reigned for quite some time, both women content to be wrapped in the warmth of their growing trust and feelings for each other. It seemed fragile, that bond, yet, as time passed, they both sensed it strengthening. Sometime later, Noelle spoke.

"Molly?" she asked softly, not looking at the woman.

"Mmm?" Molly responded, not opening her eyes.

"Thank you," Noelle said hesitantly. "Thank you for listening… and caring."

At that, Molly opened her eyes and turned warm blue to her companion. When she saw that Noelle wasn't looking at her, she leaned back a bit and tilted the small chin up with the hand from behind her head.

"No, Noelle. Thank you. Thank you for trusting me enough to share with me what you did, thank you for talking to me. I can't tell you what that means to me."

"A lot. I know. To me, too." Then Noelle sighed and closed her eyes, her face still turned up towards Molly.

Molly smiled and kissed Noelle's forehead. Then she settled back and closed her eyes, too.

Noelle thought she heard the woman whisper "I love you" but she couldn't be certain. With a smile on her face, and in her heart, Noelle slept.

Noelle didn't know what time it was when she woke up, so she slowly rolled over to peer at the alarm clock on the stand next to the bed.

"Shit!" she exclaimed in a whisper, sitting up in the bed. It was almost 2:00 am, and she needed to get herself home. She turned to wake Molly up to tell her she had to leave, but when she saw how comfortably the woman slept, she decided against it.

Noelle reached over to stroke the soft skin of Molly's cheek, taking the opportunity to study the woman fully. She slowly traced a single finger along Molly's strong jawline, then up along her thin, expressive eyebrows.

As she touched the woman, as she connected with her, she thought about her. I don't know what to think about all of this. Something inside me is telling me to trust you, to hold on to you. But what if you turn out like… like him? What I feel for you is already so much stronger than what I ever felt for him. It would kill me if… hell, I can't even think it, it hurts so much. What if you leave me? I think I lo- Her thoughts were interrupted by a sleepy, husky voice.

"Like what you see?" Molly asked without opening her eyes.

Noelle grinned. "Very much," she answered softly. Then she poked the woman in the side, causing her to flinch. She's ticklish? Oh, too cool… Then she poked Molly again, and this time Molly snorted, trying not to laugh out loud.

"So, big," poke "tough," poke "Molly Cartwright" poke, poke "is ticklish?" As soon as Noelle finished speaking she launched herself at the woman, taking her by surprise. Noelle was able to get in a few good tickles before Molly could react. But as the bigger woman grabbed for her, Noelle darted off the bed and skittered over to the window.

Molly slowly got off the bed and stalked toward her, a feral look on her face. Noelle backed up, putting her hands up in front of her to ward off the coming attack.

"Now, Mol… I was kidding… I swear… I swear I won't do it… again. Not ever again," she pleaded, the huge grin on her face and the bright sparkle in her eyes belying her words. Just as Molly was about to pounce, Noelle squealed and turned to flee… and ran right into the big window behind her. She got a quick glance out the window… and stopped dead in her tracks.

"Hot damn," she said softly, not moving a muscle.

Instantly stopping her flanking maneuver, Molly stepped up close behind the shorter woman and peered out into the night.

"Oh wow," she breathed. "It's… oh wow," she repeated, at a total loss for words. Then suddenly she was galvanized into action. She grabbed Noelle's smaller hand and dragged her out of the bedroom and to the foyer where she threw her coat at her and quickly donned her own.

"Come on, let's go play," Molly yelled, sounding much like a child would.

Noelle chuckled and slipped into her coat and shoes. Then she followed Molly down the hall and out the back door, taking the steps a bit slower than Molly who jumped off the deck.

And into the snow.

"It's snowing!!" the dark woman shouted, scooping the snow up, what there was of it, and throwing it into the air. She whooped and hollered like a kid on the last day of school, dancing around and kicking the white stuff into the air.

"It's snowing, Noe!"

Noelle shook her head. "It usually does around these parts, goofy. We're in the mountains, for God's sake." The amusement lacing the words and the smile on her face took the sting away from otherwise harsh words.

Noelle stood quietly watching the antics of the other woman. Molly's reaction to something that would soon be cursed and bemoaned amused her.

Then Molly stopped and stood still, tilting her face up to let the snow fall directly onto it. After a few moments of feeling the cold wetness hit her face, Molly turned her head to look at Noelle.

"It's snowing," she whispered, her voice barely above a whisper.

"It doesn't do it very much in Pitt."

The wonder and awe in Molly's voice and on her face enchanted Noelle and she slowly walked to the woman. They stood next to each other, both tilting their faces to the sky.

Molly's heart lurched almost painfully when she felt Noelle's smaller hand creep into hers. She felt the love she had for this one woman grow a bit more at that moment.

They stayed that way until Noelle felt Molly shiver slightly. "Come on, city-slicker, we're not exactly dressed for frolicking and mirth-making in this winter wonderland, you know. Besides, wouldn't want your delicate city self turning glacial and stuff." Noelle tugged on Molly's hand, pulling her toward the house. She let go and headed to the deck.

City-slicker, huh? We'll see… With that thought lingering in her head, Molly bent to scoop up a handful of snow. There wasn't much on the ground, but she managed to pack enough for a small, soft snowball.

"Oh, Noeeeelllle," the dark woman called softly, smirking wickedly to herself. City-slicker, my ass…

Knowing exactly what was going to happen, Noelle reacted quicker than either woman expected. As she whirled around, she scooped a handful of snow from the deck floor, which sat at chest-level to her, packed it, and hurled it at Molly… and hit her right in the face.

"BULLSEYE!!" she crowed, deep green eyes sparkling brightly. The blond was so busy laughing and gloating that she never noticed when Molly, after wiping the snow from her face, packed her own snowball even bigger and launched herself at the smaller woman.

"Aaaaaggghhh," Noelle screeched when Molly's arm wrapped around her, pulled her close, and washed her face with the snow. She struggled valiantly, but it was a losing battle. Molly effectively had her hands pinned between their bodies, so they were of no use, and there were only so many ways she could thrash her head around. So she did the only left to her.

She screamed bloody murder. Noelle Potter screamed so loudly and for so long that Molly finally slapped a hand over her mouth and stared dumbfounded into her laughing green eyes.

"Shut up, will you?" she hissed, looking around as if the neighbors were coming at them with pitchforks and shovels. "You'll wake up the whole damned neighborhood!"

Noelle raised an eyebrow and waited for Molly to remove her hand. "Cut it out then," she answered simply when Molly finally did, a Cheshire-cat grin on her face. Then she placed a small kiss on those full red lips and went inside.

Molly stood with her mouth gawping like a dead fish before she snapped it closed and followed Noelle inside. She's absolutely wonderful.

Once in the kitchen, the two women stood looking at each other in a moment that would have been awkward between to other people. But with them, they were simply enjoying each other's company, savoring the time they shared. There was no need for words.

Finally Noelle spoke. "I guess I'd better go. It's late," she said unnecessarily.

Molly smiled gently. "Thank you for tonight," she said simply.

Noelle stepped to the tall woman. She reached up to cup a cheek and run her finger across Molly's eyebrow, watching her hand as she spoke. "No," she stated softly. "Thank YOU, Molly Cartwright. Tonight was absolutely wonderful. I thank you from the deepest part of my heart." When she had finished speaking, Noelle stood on her toes, slid her hands around to tangle in Molly's hair, and kissed her.

When Noelle felt Molly's lips part, and she gently touched her tongue to the other woman's, the feelings coursing through her… trust, desire, warmth… felt so good to her.

She broke the kiss, stepping into Molly's waiting arms. "Oh, Molly," she whispered. "You make me feel better than I have in… a long time. I can never thank you enough for that."

"Mmm… there's no need for thanks," Molly replied as she ran a hand through Noelle's soft, gold hair. She desperately wanted to tell the woman again that she loved her, but she didn't want to push her anymore that night.

Noelle looked once more into those eyes, feeling as if Molly could see straight into her soul. She wanted to open herself to the woman, wanted to let the other woman inside, but something, some small thing, still held her back.

Instead, she smiled gently. Cupping the smooth cheek of Molly's face, she said, "Thank you." Then suddenly she yelled, "I have to go now!" With a final poke of the ribs in front of her, Noelle turned on her heel and let herself out the front door.


The following morning at school Noelle buzzed into the office to check in, then she headed to her classroom to prepare for the day, on time for a change. When she turned the light on in her room and walked to her desk, she found a note on top of the various and sundry papers. Looking around quickly, as if she'd really find the leave-er, Noelle read the note. A pretty pink blush suffused her cheeks, feelings warming her inside and out.

Noelle refolded the note and tucked it in her bag, a smile touching her lips. Finally she sighed, picked up her copy of the novel her senior philosophy class was studying, and moved to the chalkboard to jot down a few things before the bell rang.

After she'd done that, the small woman went to stand in the hallway outside her room to greet the students as they wandered through the halls after the bell rang.

When she felt someone stop next to her, Noelle turned and smiled warmly at the young girl.

"Morning, Jilly," she greeted her.

"Morning, Coach. Can I, umm… talk to you?"

Noelle turned fully to the nervous girl. "Sure. Want to go inside?" she asked, wanting Jilly to feel comfortable.

Jilly nodded, then looked quickly up and down the hall, an action that Noelle noticed. Noelle sat in the first desk she reached and smiled up at Jilly, hoping the girl would sit down with her. But she didn't.

The teenager looked down at her hands as she played with the hem of her long sweater. Finally she looked up at her teacher and coach and blurted, "I can't play thing year." Then she turned to leave.

Noelle was out of her seat in a flash, putting a hand on the girl's shoulder to stop her. "Wait, Jilly," she said gently. "Why can't you play?"

"I… I just can't, okay?" Jilly whispered.

"Tell me why," Noelle urged. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. It's… playing ball's just getting in the way, you know?"

"In the way of what? You're grades aren't suffering, are they? You need a tutor in something?" Noelle asked the girl.

"No… it's… it's not that," Jilly stammered.

Noelle put her hand on the girl's slender shoulder. "Come on, Jilly. What's up? What's going on?" she asked again, this time softer.

Jilly turned scared eyes to her coach. "He doesn't like all the time it takes. I don't want to make him mad," she said in a whispered rush. Then, without another word, the girl hurried to her first period class.

Son of a bitch, Noelle thought in anger. She's too young, goddamn it! We're going to get this taken care of today, damn it. Today, Noelle swore to herself.

After school that day, Noelle walked into Tony's office without so much as a "by your leave" and asked him angrily, "Do you plan on doing something about this asshole, or what?"

"Excuse me?" Tony asked in confusion.

"Tom Kline," she said by way of an explanation. "Do you plan on doing something to stop the bastard?"

Seeing how angry Noelle was, Tony tried to placate her. "We're doing all we can, Noelle. You know that."

"Like hell we are!" she exploded. "We're not doing a damned thing to keep him from hurting Jilly or anyone else, for that matter!"

"Sit down, Noelle. Let me call Molly in here so we can discuss this further," Tony tried again.

"Discuss what further?" a familiar voice asked from the door.

Not turning to look, yet knowing exactly who it was, Noelle kept her attention focused on the principal. "I'm tired of "discussing" every goddamned thing. We need to do something!"

"Remember to whom you're speaking, Ms. Potter," Tony warned. "We are doing every thing possible to stop this student. Our hands are tied until he does something to harm another student or faculty member."

"It'll be too late then! Jesus, Tony, he's beating her, he's controlling her! She's too damned young to have to deal with that."

"Ms. Potter," Molly interjected, "we really are doing all that we can. We're monitoring his behavior, we've got a handle on the warning signs… we're watching him."

Noelle finally turned angry green eyes to the dean of students. "You're talking as if he's a 9 year-old," she said incredulously. He's a grown man, for Christ's sake, and he's terrorizing that girl!"

"We're doing all we can for now," Molly said softly.

"BULLSHIT! We're standing by waiting for him to kill her, that's what we're doing!"

"That's enough, Ms. Potter," Tony said, anger now evident in his voice and carriage.

Noelle just stared at the two of them. Finally she whispered, "I hope you both can sleep at night." Then she left the office, brushing past Molly as if she wasn't standing there.

Tony looked at his dean in bewilderment. "What the hell was that all about?" he asked.

Molly sighed. "I think I know, but it's not my place to say anything. Let me go talk to her." The tall woman headed first to the faculty lounge knowing Noelle would have retrieved her coat before leaving. Peeking her head in, she noted that there were no coats on the rack.

That was quick. She must have hustled here then left. Stopping to get her own coat in her office on the way out, Molly glanced quickly around the near-empty lot. She's gone. Okay, I'll just go to her, then.

Molly made the short drive to Noelle's house, relieved to see the Jimmy in the driveway. She took the steps two at a time and knocked on the door. When she heard Noelle's "It's open," she let herself in. Molly walked directly into the kitchen to see Noelle standing at the open refrigerator, staring at its contents.

Without looking at the dark woman, Noelle shut the door. "Not a damned thing in there. I don't know why I even bother looking half the time." Then she moved to the pantry, opened the cupboard door, and repeated the process. "Nothing."

Throughout the routine, Molly just leaned against the doorjamb and watched.

Finally Noelle looked at her. "I suppose you've come to ask me what that was all about," she stated.

Molly laughed, unknowingly easing the tension in the room. "How'd you know?"

Noelle shrugged, trying not to smile. "Just did, that's all," she said off-handedly.

There was silence for a few moments. Then Molly spoke. "She's too young for that."

"Good deduction, Sherlock. What gave you your first clue?" Noelle returned sarcastically.

"There's no need to take it out on me, Noelle. I'm not the one hurting her," Molly said quietly.

"You might as well be," Noelle shot back. "We all might as well be beating her."

"That was uncalled for."

"Why? Because it's true?" Noelle asked. "It IS true. We're just as guilty of hurting her as he is."

Still leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe, Molly asked, "Why are we just as guilty? I haven't hit her. Have you?"

"Don't play this stupid game with me, Molly Cartwright. You damned well know what I mean!"

"No. I don't. Explain it to me."

"Fine," she said angrily. "We know he hits her. We know she's scared out of her mind. And, because we just stand by and let it all happen, we might as well be giving that bastard our fucking blessing! 'Sure, Tom, we know what you're doing, but we're not about to stop you. Go right ahead and beat the hell out of her, we'll just look the other way.' Well, fuck that, Molly. Fuck that…" her voice trailed off, and she left the kitchen, not bothering to see if Molly would follow her.

Molly did. She followed Noelle into the living room and sat on the couch with her. Not looking at the woman, she asked, "It's like what happened to you, isn't it?"

"What do you know?"

"I know you're hurting. I know you're angry right now. I know you want to beat the hell out of this guy."

"Whatever," Noelle said, wanting to end the conversation.

"I know it's exactly how you felt when it happened to you."

"You don't know anything!" Noelle hissed. "It's not the same thing, now drop it."

"It is too the same thing. Tom is doing to Jilly exactly what Roger did to you. Right?"

"You don't know what you're talking about, Molly."

"You're angry because he's hurting her just like you were hurt, and you're angry because no one's helping her just like no one helped you. You called out for help and no one helped you. And that pisses you off, doesn't it?"

"Fuck you, Molly. You don't know a goddamned thing, so get off it now!"

"If I don't know anything, then tell me why you're so angry. Why do you give a crap about some kid who's going to be out of school in another year or two. Why the hell do you care?"

At that, Noelle exploded off the couch and turned on Molly. "She doesn't deserve it, that's why! She doesn't deserve to live in fear and pain! She's too young, goddamn it! Too goddamned young to know the pain and fear and shame of living like that! She has her whole life ahead of her, and to have some fucking asshole take it from her because it makes him feel more like a man… it's wrong! Do you hear me? It's WRONG! I don't want to live like tha-" Noelle stopped herself when she realized what she was about to say.

Seeing the woman she loved about to crumble, Molly was there in an instant, taking the upset woman into her arms and holding her tightly.

"I'm right here, Noe. Right here, honey. I'm not going anywhere. It's okay to let it out now. It's okay to cry. I won't hurt you." Molly mumbled incoherent words of love and encouragement to the small woman in her arms as she stroked her hair and kissed her cheek softly.

Without thinking about it, Molly somehow got them both to the couch with Noelle seated in the crook of her arm.

"It's okay to cry," she whispered again.

Noelle shook her head. "No. It's not. I won't."

"You don't have to be strong anymore. Let me help you. I'm not going anywhere. Let it go now," she repeated soothingly.

Again Noelle shook her head. "I… I can't… I don't know how."

"You've done such a good job by yourself, sweetheart, but you don't have to do it alone anymore. Let me take some of it from you."

Long moments went by without a word from either woman. Then Noelle burrowed deeper against Molly. "I'm afraid I won't be able to stop," she whispered. "I'm afraid… I don't want to go there again."

"Shhh… you don't have to stop this time, love. And I'm right here to bring you back. You're not alone anymore."

Molly stopped talking then and just held the woman, communicating more with her actions than she ever could have with words. She felt small hands creep inside of her parka and up under her shirt. She knew it was Noelle's way of connecting with her, skin against skin, heart against heart.

And when Noelle suddenly pulled her parka off and unbuttoned her black silk shirt, she didn't say a word. When Noelle pulled her own sweater over her head, she didn't say a word. When Noelle moved to straddle her lap, bringing their naked chests against each other, she didn't say a word.

Molly just wrapped her arms around the smaller woman again and held on to her for all she was worth. When she felt goosebumps raise against Noelle's skin, she grabbed her jacket from the floor where Noelle dropped it earlier, and draped it around their bodies. She pulled the small body closer to hers, hoping her body heat would warm Noelle. Noelle's head rested just above her heart, and Molly rubbed her back.

Molly ached for Noelle when she felt the splash of hot tears against her chest. She wished, more than anything, that she could take the pain from this woman. Yet she also knew that the memories, the pain, was something Noelle had to work through before she could put it behind her. But she hated to see Noelle hurting.

The silence with which Noelle cried was almost unnerving. Molly expected the tears, she expected the anger. But the silence was totally unexpected.

The small body shook with the force of her tears, but not a sound came out of her. She simply held onto Molly with a vise-like grip and cried silently.

Molly wasn't aware of how long they sat like that, but the sun was setting low in the sky when she felt the last of Noelle's tears dry on her chest. She heard Noelle sigh, and felt her relax more into her body. At first, she thought the other woman had fallen asleep, and she was incredibly touched by that. Therefore, when Noelle spoke, it startled the other woman somewhat.

"I'm not sleeping."

"Oh. I thought you were," Molly said softly, not wanting to dispel the mood. She hugged the woman still closer, and kissed the top of her head. Then she chuckled gently. "How'd you know I was thinking that?" she asked in a low voice.

Noelle shrugged one shoulder. "Just did, that's all."

"And don't you dare thank me or apologize, Noelle Potter," Molly stated, her voice still soft and undemanding.

It was Noelle's turn to laugh. "Okay. I won't. You want to get wet with me?"

Molly sat up, taking Noelle with her. "'Scuse me? What did you just ask?"

Noelle looked at her in confusion. "I asked if you wanted to go swimming with me. Why? What did you think I asked?"

For a brief instant, Molly looked slightly embarrassed. "Ummm… nothing. Never mind." Then she looked at Noelle suspiciously. "I can't swim, remember?"

Noelle smiled engagingly. "I remember. I'm going to teach you," she stated matter-of-factly. "Like I said that day… no person in the freaking new millennium should not know how to swim."

It was Molly's turn to look at her in confusion. "Huh?"

Noelle let out a long-suffering sigh. "Suffice it to say that you're going to know how to swim before the new year, Cartwright." And with that, Noelle climbed off Molly's lap, wiped her face, and collected her sweater. "Go get your suit and I'll meet you at school in… twenty minutes." Turning to see Molly still sitting there, Noelle threw her shirt at her and waved her hands at her. "Shoo. Go on. Go get your suit." Still not getting the reaction she wanted, Noelle put her hands on her hips and scowled at the dark woman. "Get a move on, Cartwright. What the hell are you doing still sitting there? GO!"

Molly stood up then and stepped to Noelle. She leaned over and kissed her on the nose and chucked her under the chin. "You are so cute."


"There you are trying to be all bossy and dictatorial… naked. You don't have a shirt on, Potter," Molly teased.

Noelle looked down at herself. "ACK! Jesus, Molly, get out of here," she squeaked as she held the shirt to her chest. Then she pointed to the door. "Beat it. Twenty minutes, pal. Don't be late."

Continued in Part 12

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