Part 21

Noelle was very tempted not to go to Molly's after school, but the tall woman stopped her briefly in the hall outside the office and told her quietly that she'd meet her at home as soon as she finished up a few things at school. There was no way now that the blonde could bow out. But she didn’t really want to.

Noelle sighed, feeling much like a kid being called on the carpet. Well, she thought as she walked through the brisk afternoon air to her Jimmy, I should've said something when it happened. Please God, don't let anything happen to these kids because of my stupidity. Please keep them safe, was her fervent prayer.

It was days like these that made her wish she'd gone into …law. I should've gone into law. I could've been making a whole lot of money, and I wouldn't have to worry about dying. At least not from a school shooting, Noelle thought saucily. Boredom, maybe, but not a school shooting.

Her thoughts turned darker as she unlocked and walked into Molly's house. Maybe I ought to take the attitude that most of the other teachers take. I can't help them, they're not my kids, I'm just there to teach them literature and grammar and that's it. Forget the rest of it. Screw the whole lot of them. I don't care. "I don't care," she repeated out loud, letting her shoes fall to the floor.

"You don't care about what?" a familiar voice asked behind her.

Startled, the small woman turned to Molly. "Jesus Christ! You really have to stop doing that," she griped. "What'd you do? Lurk in dark corners waiting to scare me?" So caught up in her own thoughts was she, that Noelle hadn't heard the tall woman come into the house.

"Sorry," Molly replied, not at all apologetic. "Can we talk, please?"

Green eyes looked into blue. Without a word, Noelle nodded. She followed the bigger woman into the living room and sat nervously at the opposite end of the big couch.

With a heavy sigh, Molly gently tugged the other woman closer to her. "Why do you always do that?" she asked, shaking her head as she stroked the small hand she held.

Sitting stiffly next to her, Noelle asked, "Do what?"

"When you think I'm mad at you, you always expect the worst. We might not agree on every last little thing, and we certainly will argue about things, but that doesn't mean I don't like you. Noe, I…" the husky voice faded to silence.

"Is this where we get serious?" Noelle asked in a whisper after a moment, her heart unknowingly shining in her eyes. She could feel herself melting into Molly, soaking up the warmth and solace that the other woman offered.

"Yeah, I guess it is," was the chuckled reply. Then the smile slipped from Molly's face and her blue eyes stared intently at Noelle. Her big hands reached up to cup the face in front of her. "You are so beautiful, do you know that?"

The open, vulnerable eyes dropped.

"No, don't do that. Look at me," Molly whispered. She waited until Noelle looked at her before she continued. "When I look at you, when I see you, I see… everything. I see my whole world in your eyes. Your face, it's the face of love and warmth and comfort to me. Noelle, I… I love you. I know you don't want to hear that right now," she added when she saw the other woman open her mouth to protest. "Or maybe can't hear is better. But I'm going to say it, so you keep it inside your heart for when you're ready to take it out and hear it, okay?"

Molly paused, waiting for Noelle to respond. When she felt and saw the nod, she continued. "I haven't loved anyone as deeply or as completely as I love you. Not in a long, long time. When Eli died, I thought… I thought that part of me, the part that was capable of love, died with him. I thought my heart was buried with him. I didn't want to love another person ever again, not if I would maybe lose that person someday. But you changed that. When you sailed into my life like a whirlwind, all charm and bravado, I was helpless. I could feel myself falling in love with you from the moment you told me your name." Molly drew in a deep breath, willing her emotions under control.

"Noelle Potter means love to me. She means life and happiness and joy. I want to spend the rest of my life showing you just how much I love you, Noe, just how much you mean to me."

"Why? Why are you doing this now?" the blonde whispered. Noelle closed her eyes against the tears that threatened to fall.

"Because I waited long enough. Too long, maybe. Today, when you told Tony and me about Tom and what he said, you know what went through my mind?" Without waiting for an answer, Molly continued. "I just wanted to keep you safe. I wanted to take you far away from school, away from people, and keep you safe from all that the world threw at you. But then I realized something. I can't do that to you. I can't protect you from everything. It's not possible, and it's not right. I can only let you know that I'm always right here for you, waiting to hold you and love you."

"Now," Noelle whimpered. "Hold me now, Molly. Please."

Silently, the dark woman opened her arms, and her heart, to the other woman. Strong arms closed around Noelle, pulling her close. And an equally strong heart beat softly, gently for the woman.

Blindly, Noelle's lips sought Molly's, and when they connected, she put everything she was, everything she felt for the tall woman, into that kiss. Her hands moved to the buttons of Molly's black shirt, and she unbuttoned it with unwavering accuracy.

In only a few seconds, both women were naked on the couch, skin touching skin, soul touching soul. As Noelle touched Molly, she spoke softly to her. She spoke the words that she had kept hidden in her heart for a very long time. "Sometimes, when it's darkest, when I'm most afraid, I hear something… I hear you, your soul. After Ro- after him, I didn't think I'd ever hear the singing again. But I do. Your soul sings to me, sings to my soul… and I hear it."

Effortlessly, Noelle slid her tongue into the warmth of Molly's mouth. Her hands gently teased firm breasts, then trailed their way slowly down a silky soft belly. Small fingers stroked warm wetness before sliding deeply inside.

Molly groaned, opening herself to the woman who desired entrance. Automatically, she buried her big hands in Noelle's hair, pulling the woman up for another soul deep kiss when she hesitated.

"Shh… it's me, Noe. It's just me," she whispered, nipping and licking the pink lips. She spoke softly to Noelle, bringing her back from the memories she knew would be haunting the small woman.

Noelle felt Molly's hips keeping rhythm with her fingers. She alternated the speed, first slower, then a bit faster, until she felt Molly's body start to tighten around her fingers. She traced a wet circle around the pebble-hard nipple and sucked it hard into her mouth, nipping it with her teeth, then soothing it again with her tongue.

Then she slid lower, trailing her tongue down the same warm skin her fingers had skimmed only moments earlier. She caressed Molly's stomach with her tongue and lips, taking a moment to lick around her bellybutton before moving lower still. Noelle paused to take a deep breath, breathing in the scent of the woman she was touching.

"You smell so good," she murmured, continuing the maddeningly slow rhythm with her fingers.

Then, with her free hand, the small woman separated the dark hair she found in the cradle of Molly's hips and lovingly kissed the dark woman in the most intimate way possible. She drew her tongue along the folds, pausing for just a moment to watch the movement of her fingers.

When she felt Molly's hands move over her shoulders and hair with a new urgency, Noelle bent her head to the task, intent on making the tall woman feel good. And she did make her feel good. It was only a matter of a couple seconds, a few more deep thrusts, before Molly was crying out her pleasure.

"Whoa," Molly finally said weakly. "C'mere, you." The sated woman tugged Noelle back up on the couch with her, holding her tight to her chest. "Thank you. Let me touch you now. Please."

The blonde head shook. "I just want you to hold me, okay?" When she felt Molly's arms squeeze her tighter, she snuggled in closer and closed her eyes, basking in the feelings she shared with the tall woman.

Molly held the small woman even tighter, stroking her hair softly. She started humming a song when she remembered something. "Hey," she said softly, shifting a bit to look at Noelle.

Green eyes looked up at her contentedly. "Hmm?"

"I need to get up for a minute. I have to go get something."

"'Kay. I'll wait here," Noelle mumbled drowsily.

Molly watched as a bare arm reached up to grab the quilt from the back of the couch and cover the equally bare woman. Then she padded to the bedroom where she rooted around on the closet shelf until she found what she was looking for. Grinning nervously to herself, she carried her treasure back to the living room.

Taking a deep breath, Molly knelt down by the couch and stroked Noelle's soft, warm cheek. "Hey, Noe?" she asked uncertainly, not sure if the other woman was awake.


"I, umm… I have something for you. Will you look at it for me?"

Hearing the almost unnoticeable quiver in the familiar, husky voice, Noelle immediately opened her eyes and looked at Molly. "You have something for me? But… but I don't have anything for you. It's not my birthday. It's not… anything." Noelle's words faded into silence and she just waited.

"It's not for any occasion, really. It's just because, well, I love you. And I want you to know it," Molly began, her voice gaining confidence. "Now I know you can't wear anything on the outside, but I thought maybe this would work." Then, quite abruptly, the dark woman shoved a small black velvet jeweler's box at Noelle.

In a state of complete confusion, the blonde took the box and, looking at Molly for confirmation, opened it slowly when she nodded.

Inside, nestled amid black satin, was a diamond ring. But it wasn't just any ring. It was a tiny ring on a delicate, yet sturdy chain. In the low light, the perfect little diamond sparkled and seemed to dance on the satin.

"It's nothing big, I know, but I figured you could still wear a ring, and your clothes would hide it."

Luminous green eyes gazed at Molly, the sparkle in them rivaling the diamond's. "It's a ring from you, and I'd rather wear it on a necklace. It's closer to my heart that way, Molly." She looked again at the necklace. "It's perfect," she whispered. "Thank you."

"So you'll… wear it?" Molly asked hesitantly.

"Oh yes. Will you put it on me, please?" Noelle asked breathlessly.

With fingers that fumbled only slightly, Molly leaned around Noelle and hooked the clasp, fingering the feathery soft hair for a moment before straightening and looking at Noelle. Seeing the emotion shining in the green eyes that looked at her, Molly's throat caught and her eyes smarted. Suddenly a little wink caught her eye and she was drawn to the perfection of the tiny ring nestled between beautiful breasts. The freckles that dotted Noelle's skin were the same gold color as the necklace and ring, and her skin was the same white as the diamond that seemed to take on a life of its own.

Knowing where the other woman looked, Noelle opened her mouth to again thank the tall woman, but instead, she took Molly's face gently in her hands and kissed her. Then, suddenly, she sprang off the couch and raced out of the room, leaving Molly crouching on the floor in confusion.

"Hey! Where are you going?" she yelled after the departing woman.

"I want to see, too!" came Noelle's voice, presumably from the guest bathroom in the hall.

Molly shook her head in amusement, a happy grin on her face and in her eyes. She got up and followed the smaller woman, seeing her standing in the muted light of the bathroom looking at herself in the mirror. Molly stood behind her, pressing close to Noelle.

A small hand reached up to delicately finger the ring. "It's so beautiful, Molly."

"Yes, beautiful."

Something in the deep voice made Noelle look up into the blue eyes reflected in the mirror. Instinctively, she knew Molly wasn't talking about the ring. When she felt warm hands cup her breasts, her eyes drifted down to see darker hands covering her lighter skin. Slowly, she brought her own hands up to cover Molly's hands, her eyes never leaving the mirror.

"Beautiful," Molly reaffirmed.

As long fingers teased hardening nipples, Noelle swallowed convulsively. "Re- remember when you wanted to… touch me before? How about… now, instead?" she whispered, the pulsing between her legs becoming more demanding.


"Good! Let's go!" Noelle exclaimed, spinning around and heading out the door.. She grabbed Molly's hand and dragged the laughing woman into the bedroom, kicking the door shut when they breezed in.

***** ***** *****

Two weeks went by without any incident or word from Tom. The weather was warming slightly and the sun was shining much more often as March came in like a lamb rather than the usual lion. The girls' basketball team was gearing up for regionals, and things were going smoothly everywhere. Everyone was starting to breathe a little easier, and perhaps get a bit more relaxed in their vigilance.

Noelle found herself dreaming of the summer, and how she and Molly would spend the lazy days. And she couldn't help smiling when she felt the tiny ring bump against her as she moved. Often, she caught herself fingering it or rubbing it, almost as if for luck. Or love.

Early one morning, Molly was standing in Tony's office door talking with him about and upcoming parent conference they had, when Carl Rahn stepped into the office. "Excuse me," he interrupted. "Is there some reason why the fire exit by the back stairs is propped open? I just came by there and it was open. I've shut it, but I just wanted to let you know," the gym teacher informed them.

Molly's blue eyes snapped to Tony. "Is ServiceMaster working out there?"

Tony stood up abruptly and shook his head. "I don't know. I'll go find Darren and ask him."

"I'll check outside and see if I find anything." With that, Molly headed out of the office at a fast walk.

Tony clapped Carl on his broad shoulder as he stepped around him. "Thanks, Carl. We'll look into it." On his way out of the main office, the principal was stopped by words from Joan Gooding.

"Mr. Avedo, the bell's about to ring."

"Hold it until we get back. If anyone buzzes in, just tell them we're working on it." Then the big man left to find the custodian.

"Will do," the secretary answered, moving to turn the bells off.

Molly opened the door to the office to find Tony and Carl waiting for her. Seeing the questions in their eyes, she shook her head. "Nothing. Servicemaster?"

Tony's head shook, as well. "Darren said they weren't scheduled for any outside work until Tuesday."

"Let's keep holding the bell while we take a quick walk-through." Molly turned to Carl. "You take downstairs, I'll go up, and Tony, you check this level."

"If anyone stops you and asks, tell them it's a glitch with the bellsand we're working on it. If you see a student in the halls, for whatever reason, tell him to get back to class immediately."

The three adults exited the office, each going to his designated area. It wasn't long before the three of them were back in the office, no one having found anything.

"I don't like this, Tony. I have a bad feeling about this whole thing. There's no good reason why that door should've been open. Someone propped it open and I don't like it one bit."

"Let's get the bell going so we can move these kids to their next class."

"No, that's not a good idea. We can't have a thousand kids moving around in the halls, not if somethin-"

Molly's next statement was cut off by a student who sprinted into the office, out of breath and looking completely panicked. "Mr. Avedo," he panted. "Mr. Simms sent… me… Tom's in… Mr. White's class…" the boy stammered, trying to catch his breath.

"What? Wait a second. Take a deep breath and tell me again," Tony instructed.

After taking a few breaths, the student was able to better report what Randy Simms sent him to report.

"There was some loud noise, a bunch of yelling and stuff coming from Mr. White's room, so Mr. Simms went to see what was going on. He came back into the room, grabbed me, and told me to come tell you that Tom is in there. He told me to use the back stairs and to run."

"Jesus Christ," Molly muttered, her adrenaline starting to flow hard and fast. "Where is Mr. Simms now?" she asked the student.

"He took the rest of the class to the… the library."

Smart move, Randy. "Okay, we'll walk you there."

"Let's go," Tony commanded, leading the group out of the office and to the library. He called Randy into the hall.

"He's got a shotgun, Mr. Avedo," the teacher immediately informed him. "And he's wearing a trenchcoat, so there's no telling what else he's got."

"Goddamn," Tony swore, running his hand through his hair. "Let's call 911, and get law enforcement in here."

"We have to call an alert, Tony," Molly said, her voice low as they trotted back to the office.

"I know."

There were no more words until they got back to the office. Instead of asking Joan to do it, Tony went to the intercom board and held down the appropriate button for a full 20 seconds. Then he picked up the phone and dialed 911.

As the principal placed the call, Molly searched out the master copy of the school's floor plan. She brought it into the conference room and spread it out on the table. She was staring at it grimly when Tony walked in and stood next to her.

"I called the mother house. Bernie's on his way down."

"Great. Like we need that. It's going to turn into a zoo real quick."

"I know," Tony said, his voice tight with strain. "The police are on their way, and they're sending Bernie from up there."

Molly snorted, then turned her attention to the plan. "Okay, this is how I see it… we can do a couple things while we wait for them, the first being to evacuate the rooms closest to Tim's." Even before she finished speaking, they were both leaning over the map.

"Christ!" Molly exploded when she saw which rooms were around the hot spot. Noelle… I forgot she's up there… goddamn it! She's out of here right now, Molly thought, the panic, for the first time that day, almost overwhelming her. "We're clearing them out now, Tony. We're not taking a chance while we wait for this party to start. We'll clear them out to the aud, and keep the rest of them in their rooms until we decide what we're doing," Molly ground out, the panic surfacing again at the thought of Noelle near the danger. She'll be okay… she'll be okay…

Tony nodded. "We'll escort them down two classes at a time, as quietly as possible. We can use the back stairs with this room and this room," he pointed out. "That'll be the fastest and safest for those two."

The dark head nodded, but Molly's thoughts were on how to get Noelle out of school and at home the quickest way possible. But the dean visibly shook herself and brought her mind back to the problem at hand. "Let's pull Tim's class list this period, see how many hostages we're talking. Joan can do that while we go get the first group of kids."

"Good idea."

It didn't take the two of them long to get the first group of students into the large auditorium. While the students seated themselves and chatted excitedly, Tony and Molly gave the two teachers the minimum on the situation, telling them to keep their students there and busy until further notice.

By the time that was finished, Bernie Walker, the assistant superintendent, as well as three police cars, had arrived and were waiting in the office. As soon as Tony walked in, Bernie started bellowing about going up to the room and talking the boy down, getting the students, and a host of other garbage.

Finally, after hearing about 30 seconds worth of hot air spewing from the man's mouth, Tony rounded on him. "Listen to me very carefully, Bernie, because I've got time to say it once, and that's it. These are my kids. Mine. Not yours. You will do nothing to endanger their welfare. Not while I'm still alive, anyway. If you want to keep your nose in the middle of it and stay here, that's just fine. You go right ahead. But it better only be your nose because I don't want to hear anything out of your mouth. And before you start throwing the authority around, you can fire me. After I take care of my kids." What started as a calm, rational speech, ended in a roar.

At the speech's end, there was a momentary stunned silence. Molly stood behind Tony, her arms crossed and eyes narrowed, her thoughts never far from Noelle. Finally, as the silence seemed to drag for hours, the one thought that stayed in her mind galvanized her into action. I've got to get Noelle out of there.

"We still have other classes to move, Mr. Avedo," she prompted.

"Let's get to it, then. You take the two officers with you while I brief the sergeant and Mr. Walker on the situation."

Molly rested a hand on a broad shoulder and looked her principal steadily in the eye. "They'll be okay, Tony," she assured him.

He nodded. "Go get them."

Noelle's class was the next to be escorted. Molly rapped loudly on the door then simply opened it.

The English teacher looked up in surprise, having been reading the same Shakespeare play as her students.

"Excuse me, Ms. Potter. Can I see you outside please?" Molly stepped out into the hall and waited for Noelle. When the small woman stepped into the hall, Molly unconsciously stepped between her and the other room, trying to shield the small body with her own.

"What's going on? Why the alert? Whoa, why the police?" she asked when she saw the two uniformed, armed officers flanking the tall woman.

"We've got trouble. We need you to move your class to the aud right now. Have them get their thin-"

"Wait. What the hell is going on?" Noticing that the other classrooms around her were empty, Noelle asked, "Where the hell is everyone? What's going on?" she demanded.

"There's not time to explain right now. I need you to have your kids get their stu-"

"Molly, please, you're scaring me. What's going on?" The look in Molly's eyes, and on her face, did nothing to reassure the teacher.

Casting a glance over her shoulder at the officers, the tall woman took a step closer to the woman she loved. "Listen, Noe," she began, her voice soft, soothing. "Tom's in Tim White's class. He's got a gun."

"Dear God!" Noelle gasped. "What does he want?"

"Please, honey, I know you want to know, but we have got to move those kids right now. We need to clear the area."

"Umm… yeah, okay. Sorry. Give me a minute."

Molly grinned quickly. "Thirty seconds is the best I can do."

Once inside the room, Noelle instructed her students to gather their things. "Field trip, gang. Let’s go."

"Library?" one of her students queried.

"No. The aud this time."

Molly stepped into the classroom. "You will go as quietly and quickly as possible down the back stairs and to the auditorium. Not one word from any of you," she said tersely.

When everyone was ready, they proceeded as a group down the stairs. Noelle hung back to talk with Molly. "You okay?" she asked quietly.

"I am now, yeah." The dark woman smiled briefly at the woman at her side.

"He won’t do anything. I know he won’t." But Noelle’s body language belied the confidence her words held. Her slim shoulders were bowed, and she repeatedly ran her hand through her short hair. Her other hand played nervously with the pocket on her corduroy jumper. Green eyes turned to look at Molly. "He won’t, right?"

Molly sighed. "I don’t know. We can only pray that he won’t, I guess."

"That’s reassuring," the blonde retorted.

"There is only one person I care about in this entire building, and she’s walking with me to a safe place right now. Once you’re safe, I don’t much care about the rest."

Even as her heart swelled at the words, Noelle shook her head. "Yes, you do care," she disagreed softly. "You’re just as worried as the rest of us."

"No, I’m thinking of the paperwork involved in this whole thing," the dean grinned.

Noelle looked at her askance. "That’s not funny!" she sputtered, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh.

They arrived at the big auditorium doors. "Please stay put, okay? I can’t be worried about you, too."

"See?" Noelle whispered. "I knew you were worried. I’ll stay here."

With all the love she felt for that one small woman, Molly asked, "Promise?"


Molly smiled and watched Noelle get her students settled. Then she turned on her heel and strode to the office. The room was buzzing angrily with activity and noise. More police and administrative suits were present, as was another, more disturbing addition. The local TV news crew was on hand, trying their level best to get some kind of comment from Tony or someone else in authority. The phones were ringing non-stop, and everyone was talking loudly, trying to be heard over the shrill noise of their ringing and each other.

"Christ, it’s a circus in here," she muttered, loud enough for Tony to hear.

"I know," he agreed. "You want to clear some of these clowns out of here for me?"

"Will do." Deciding to take the kid gloves off, Molly raised her voice to gain the attention of everyone present. "Excuse me, folks. If you are not a key player in this situation, then I’m going to have to ask you to leave the building. Now," she said pointedly. Blue eyes pinned every member of the news crew, and she crossed her arms over her chest commandingly. "I’ll escort you to the door." And Molly did. She hustled the non-essential people out of the building and left them on the sidewalk.

"Excuse me, but when will Mr. Avedo be giving the press a statement?" a woman dressed in a pants suit asked, holding a microphone under Molly’s nose.

"When he has time," she growled. "Now please stay out of the way."

Before turning to go inside, the dean saw the familiar line of bright yellow school buses coming down the long driveway. Good, he’s sending the kids home.

In the next 15 minutes, Tony dismissed first those students who rode the buses, then, as soon as the buses were out of the way, he sent the kids who drove home. With the those students out of harm's way, the authorities were better able to focus on getting the others out of that classroom as quickly as possible.

Molly stood next to Tony, never leaving his side as the faculty gathered in the auditorium while the SWAT team went over the floor plan of the building.

"Okay," he began quickly. "The Readers' Digest version… we have a hostage situation up in D-12. Don't believe anything you hear on the news. Go home and stay by the phone. That's it. Be careful."

Without another word, Tony turned to go back into his office. Molly stayed long enough to look pointedly at Noelle, then she, too, went into Tony's office.

There was nervous, muted conversation, but everyone gathered the few things they had with them and left the building, heading home to be with their families.

Everyone except Noelle, that is. The small blonde woman strode to the office door and stood in the doorway.

"What can I do to help?"

"Go home," both Tony and Molly answered at the same time.

"No. Now wait," Noelle said, seeing them both start to protest. "Maybe Tom'll talk to me. He's always talked to me before, he's always liked me, so maybe I can… I don't know, talk to him."

"It's not a good idea," Tony responded immediately.

"Tony, you know yourself that Tom likes me, probably more than any other adult in this building. If all those big guns go blazing in there, someone's going to get seriously hurt. We can avoid that. Let me talk to him," she urged the principal.

"Yes, I know he likes you, but-"

"What's it going to hurt talking to him over the PA? I'll just use that, that's all."

Tony looked like he was about to argue, but then he nodded his head in resignation. "You're right, it won't hurt. You can do that while I call his mother, see if I can get her here."

Noelle dared to look at Molly standing next to Tony's desk, then wholeheartedly wished she hadn't. The dark woman stood with arms crossed, a forbidding, closed look on her face. But her eyes told a different story. They told of her fear for the woman she loved, her anger at Noelle for still being there, anger at Tom for doing something to put Noelle in danger, anger at herself for not being better able to protect Noelle.

But underneath all of that anger and fear, Noelle saw love. Love that shone clear and bright and steady. As she walked past the other woman, she said for her ears only, "I'll be okay."

Noelle didn't see the blue eyes close, see the body tremble slightly. Nor did she see Molly take a deep breath and open her eyes, acceptance now in the forefront.

The English teacher stepped around the many other people in the main office, not bothering to say a word to any of them. She stepped in front of the PA system, catching bits of conversation around her.

"… 27 kids, 2 absent…"

"… shotgun and probably other firearms…"

"… take out the perpe-"

"No!" Noelle whirled around to glare at the sergeant. "No! He's just a boy! You can't do that! Give him a chance. He won't hurt anyone. You can't shoot him, for God's sake!"

"I'm sorry, ma'am. The perpetrator has a gun and he's holding 26 people hostage up there. We'll do what we have to," the sergeant replied firmly.

"Perpetrator? He's just a kid like the rest of them."

The officer shook his head. "He's an adult, and he's armed. We'll act accordingly." Without saying more, the officer turned to continue briefing his men.

Noelle stared hard at the man's back, Asshole. She sighed and turned to

The PA, reaching to flip the switch to D-12.

"Don't touch that!"

The hand froze, then Noelle slowly turned her head to look over her shoulder at the officer who just yelled at her. "Excuse me?" she asked quietly, the only tell-tale evidence of her anger the snap in her eyes.

"Just what do you think you're doing? You can't do that. We have a protocol we have to follow, now ple-"

"Just one goddamned minute, Officer." The blonde turned around to pin the bigger man under green lightning.

Molly, who had just walked out of Tony's office to be with Noelle, saw the look on her face. Oh boy, she's going to blow… The dark woman almost cringed as she watched Noelle take a deep breath.

"I don't know who you think you are, waltzing in here with your big gun thinking you're going to just shoot the place up. But let me tell you this, Officer, you don't know this boy. You don't know the first thing about him, or any of these kids. So why don't you do us all a favor and step off?"

At the noise, Tony came to the door of his office. "What's going on?"

Not sparing him a glance, Molly simply said, "Don't ask. And don't bother trying to stop her. You can't."

The principal shrugged. "I know." Then he went back into his office.

Molly would have grinned had the situation not been so critical.

"Now," Noelle was finishing, "I'm going to talk to Tom, see what he wants, and see if he'll come out of there. If you're smart, you'll stay out of my way."

Then the small woman turned back to the system and buzzed into D-12.

"What the fuck do you want?" a young man's panicked voice bounced through the office. At the sound, everyone, to a man, stilled, listening to what was being said.

"Hey, Tom," Noelle began softly, her voice low and soothing. "It's Ms. Potter. How's things?"

There was a long moment of silence before he answered. "Go away, Ms. Potter. I told you to be careful. Now go away."

"I can't do that, Tom, I'm sorry."

"I don't want you to get hurt!"

Noelle nodded, even though the boy couldn't see her. "I know. And I don't want you to get hurt. I don't want anyone hurt, Tom."

Again there was a pause, its weight filling the office. Noelle could hear small sounds in the classroom, but there was nothing concrete to latch onto.

"Why are you doing this, Tom?" Noelle finally asked.

"None of your fucking business!" he screamed, a huge bang, not of a gun, but like a book being dropped on a desk, following his words. A girl whimpered in the background.

There was a collective gasp in the office, and Noelle looked around quickly before continuing. She stood up straighter, gathering her wits, and her courage, about her.

"Tom Kline, do not ever talk to me like that again. I don't use that language with you, don't you dare use it with me," the English teacher instructed sternly.

"What the hell are you doing?" the sergeant hissed in her ear, the anger evident in his words.

Putting a hand over the microphone, Noelle turned to him, equally angry. "Can it, Officer."

"I… I'm sorry, Ms. P. I won't say it again," Tom said contritely.

Noelle glared at the officer in question before answering Tom. "That's okay, Tom. I know you're upset. This is pretty… upsetting, isn't it?" she ended with a small chuckle. Get him talking… keep him talking…

When she felt a body behind her, Noelle turned her head slightly, sighing when she saw Molly. I’m so glad you’re here.

The tall woman leaned in, her lips practically touching Noelle's ear. "You're doing great," she said, her voice a scant whisper. "Keep the PA on so we can hear, and see if you can keep him talking. His mother is coming in."

The blonde head nodded. "Hey, Tom, your mom is coming in."

"Fuck," he whispered. "I… tell her to go home."

"Why don't you tell her?" Noelle asked gently.

"I don't want to talk to her. Tell her to get out of here!"

"No. I'm not going to tell her anything." Then, in a sudden change of subject, Noelle asked, "What do you want, Tom? Why are you doing this?" As she spoke, she kept her voice low and soothing, not wanting to excite Tom into doing something even more stupid.

"I'm tired of people pushing me around, that's why! And I won't take it anymore. I'm pushing back now."

Tony came out of his office and stood silently beside Noelle. He tapped her on her shoulder to get her attention and nodded when she looked at him. Then he turned to Molly, pointing to his office.

When they stepped into the inner office, Molly stood silently, arms crossed and legs splayed. "What do we know?"

"Not a whole hell of a lot," Tony responded. "But, being as there's only one rather small window in the room, that's going to pretty much rule out the sharpshooter."

"My man could take him from the soccer field," the sergeant began, "but we don't want to risk one of the other kids getting in the way accidentally."

"Damn," Molly swore. Then she looked up at Tony. "So what's the plan?"


At the word, there followed a silence so profound that the heartbeats of the three people in the room were clearly audible.

"Not a chance," Molly ground out. "We're not going to put another person in danger." Dear God, not Noelle.

"It's the only way we see of not losing anyone," the sergeant was saying. But Molly wasn't listening. She was in another place all together.

They're crazy. She's going home. Noelle is going home right now. There's no way… God, no. Please help her to have enough sense…

"We're going to call her in and see what she thinks."

Molly rounded on Tony, blue eyes blazing. "You damned well know what she'll say. Because of her love for these kids, for that… boy, she'll say yes. You goddamned know it!"

"Excuse us, Sergeant," Tony instructed. When the officer had left, Tony laid a hand on Molly's shoulder, feeling the tension there. "I don't want to do this anymore than you do. Swear to God I don't, Molly. But there's no other way. There's no other way to get those kids out of there without someone possibly dying. We need her."

Just then there was a knock on the open door. "Hey," a familiar, soft voice said. "You wanted to see me?"

Both Tony and Molly looked at Noelle, neither saying a word. Finally Tony spoke up. "We want you to go talk to him. I know it-"

"Okay," Noelle interrupted. "I’ll do it. Do I go now?"

Serious brown eyes blinked at her in surprise. "Well… I… yes. Tell him you’re coming up the front stairs." Tony was all business then, telling Noelle the plan. She was to go upstairs and talk with Tom, try to draw him out into the hallway. Molly was to lead the SWAT team up the back stairs so they could apprehend Tom.

"No, wait," Noelle protested.

"Just a goddamned minute," Molly swore at the same time. Talking over Noelle, the tall woman began to argue. "If the SWAT team has to fire shots at this guy, I don’t want her anywhere near him. No way."

The English teacher turned to face Molly, her green eyes narrowed. "And what I was going to say is that I don’t want any shots fired, period. He’s just a kid."

Tony sighed. "Listen, you two. I’ll make sure Sergeant Kearns tells his people not to shoot to kill. I’ll tell him to give orders only to shoot to disable."

"But wha-"

"That’s the best I can do, Noelle."

The blonde nodded, understanding the importance and the weight of Tony’s decision. "I understand. Should we do it now?"

The principal stepped to the door and nodded. "Yes. I’ll talk to the sergeant first, then we’ll get Tom on the PA." Tony looked straight into Noelle’s eyes. "Be careful. If it starts to feel hairy, get the hell out of there. The team will be up there in about two minutes."

It took only minutes to set the plan into motion. As Noelle walked through the deserted halls of the school, an eerie feeling came over her. Although the halls were carpeted, she imagined that she could hear her footsteps, and more than once she glanced over her shoulder, sure she heard someone behind her. When she hit the stairs, she bolted up them, taking them two at a time.

She slowed to a walk when she cleared the top step, not wanting to talk to Tom while she was out of breath. She gave herself one of her famous pep talks as she walked the last few steps to D-12.

Okay, Potter, listen up… ain’t no one gonna get hurt here. Not you, not Tom, and certainly not Molly. So relax. Don’t show him that you’re scared shitless, even though you are. Be friendly. Be prepared. Be all that you can b-… oh wait, wrong talk. Whoopsy. Noelle giggled, a near-hysterical sound because of the situation. Straighten up, Potter! Okay, what else… Get him out into the hall. Keep him turned away from the back stairs. Stay out of the way when the team gets here…

The door to the hostage room was shut, something the sergeant of the team had warned her. And, just as he had advised, she stood to the side of the door and knocked, not wanting to be directly in front of it should Tom throw it open. She jumped when he suddenly appeared through the small glass window, taking a second to make eye contact.


When their eyes did connect, Noelle mustered her courage and… grinned. "Hi, Tom," she said, even though he probably couldn’t hear her through the door. She waved him out into the hall, stepping away from the door so he could see she was unarmed and so he’d understand she wanted him to open the door.

Tom’s wary brown eyes looked around, searching the area he could see for police. Seeing none, he slowly, cautiously opened the door. He edged out, keeping the rifle he carried at the ready.

"Why are you here?" he asked immediately.

"I came to get you and those other kids out of here," Noelle answered truthfully. "I don’t want to see anyone get hurt, Tom, least of all you."

"Yeah, well, no one’s gonna hurt me anymore. I’m freakin’ sick of it."

"I bet you are," she said softly. "I would be, too. But hurting others isn’t the way to stop yourself from hurting, or being hurt. This isn’t the answer."

At the words, the young man bristled. "The hell it ain’t. It’s the only way to get attention around here."

"The hell it isn’t, and don’t use that language with me." Green eyes widened at the automatic response. Oh shit… Her tension eased a millimeter when he only half-grinned sheepishly, a glimmer of the boy she knew in his eyes and demeanor.


"Come on, Tom, let’s just go downstairs, you and me. No one will hurt you ever again. We can get you some help, get your mom some help. This isn’t the way," Noelle cajoled.

The attitude once again showed in Tom’s face and body language. "Leave my mom out of this. Once I get what I want, I’ll-"

"What is it that you want, Tom?" the blonde interrupted. Come on, come on. Turn toward me, turn away from the stairs… come on!

"Right now I just want to let my mom know that I won’t let him hurt me… hurt us anymore. Once I’m done here, I’m gonna find the fat bastard and kill him. He won’t ever hurt us again," he growled, looking like a hardened, street-wise criminal.

If only I can reach the Tom I know is in there…

"Tom, there are people who can make him stop. You don’t have to kill him. The police will take care of him, he won-"

Noelle caught the movement out of the corner of her eye at the exact moment Tom did. Molly, to the side of one of the SWAT members, had just stepped up the last stair.

"BITCH!" Tom screamed, raising the rifle.

Noelle stood in horror, transfixed by the scene unfolding in front of her. Just as Tom raised his rifle and fired, the lead member of the SWAT team raised her rifle and fired.

It was in slow-motion that Noelle watched both Tom and Molly fall, blood spewing from both their bodies.

She screamed, racing to the inert body.


She fell to her knees next to Molly, tears streaming down her face. She was unaware of the activity around her, the SWAT leader requesting an ambulance, informing the office that the situation was under control but that there were people down.

"Oh, God… Molly! Molly, please… don’t leave me!" Shocked at the amount of blood on the bigger woman’s chest and on the carpet around them, Noelle frantically looked for a pulse. Feeling a faint pulse in Molly’s neck, Noelle cradled the dark head in her lap.

"Oh, God, please… please don’t take her, too," Noelle cried, turning her face up to heaven. "Please! Not her, too!"

Hearing the breath grow more shallow, Noelle’s attention again focused on the woman in front of her. She pulled Molly’s head to her chest, rocking her gently. "Please… please don’t leave me," she pleaded, the strain and tears causing her voice to be no more than a cracked whisper.

Suddenly, Tony was kneeling beside her. "Noelle. Noelle, let them take her now. Let them help her."

Anguished green eyes turned to Tony. "Please don’t let her die."

He shook his head. "She’s not going to die. She’s too damned stubborn." Gently Tony lifted Noelle to her feet, making room for the medics to work on the unconscious woman. "We’ll follow them in my car," he offered softly as the medics carried the stretcher holding Molly down the stairs.

Again Noelle turned to Tony. "She’s going to be okay, isn’t she?"

"We can only pray."



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