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 5

When Noelle checked in at the main office Tuesday morning, she popped into Tony's office briefly to relay the conversation she had with Jilly Michaels and that she'd like to submit her name to the SAP team for a possible referral. Tony agreed, and he promised to be at the team meeting that afternoon.

Before leaving the office, Noelle stopped outside Molly's door under the pretense of grabbing a couple of mini post-it pads, when all she really wanted to do was see if Molly was in there. She listened for Molly's voice, hearing her talking in a low, intense voice. The voice caused the memories to come alive, and a warm feeling flowed through Noelle as she remembered last night…

The two women somehow made it into the bedroom, not stopping until they reached the bed. Molly kissed Noelle gently, her tongue stroking Noelle's lips softly as she lay with her on the bed.

All of Molly's movements were done with tenderness, and that tenderness became too much… too intense for Noelle. She broke the kiss and turned her head to the side, silent tears suddenly

flowing out of the corners of her eyes.

Molly, not knowing the reason Noelle broke the kiss, moved down to nip and lick the skin at Noelle's neck. She slid her tongue up the side of Noelle's face, stopping abruptly when she tasted the sharp salt of Noelle's tears. She brought her head up to look at Noelle.

"Noelle? Honey, talk to me… what… what's wrong?" Molly asked softly.

Noelle didn't answer, she just shook her head instead, the tears flowing harder.

The silence worried Molly. Afraid that she'd pushed too hard, too far, she caressed Noelle's cheek, her thumb occasionally stroking her lips. Her heart broke when she heard Noelle's breath hitch as she tried not to cry out loud.

"Oh, baby," Molly whispered when Noelle turned on her side away from Molly.

Noelle curled up in a ball on her side, barely registering when Molly scooted up close behind her, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her tighter against her. She rubbed Noelle's belly soothingly, her hand making small circles.

"It's okay, Noe… I'm right here… I'm not going anywhere… I'm here," she mumbled softly to the younger woman, calming her much as one would calm a frightened child. "It's okay… I'm sorry… I pushed too-"

Her words were cut off as Noelle suddenly rolled over, throwing her arms around her neck. "No… it's not… it's… I'm sorry…" Noelle cried softly.

"Shhh… it's okay, baby. I've got you," Molly soothed, rubbing Noelle's back.

It was a long time before Molly felt Noelle start to relax in her arms. The smaller woman had cried silently, not making a sound except for an occasional sniffle, for what seemed like hours. She finally relaxed into sleep in Molly's arms.

Peeking at the alarm clock by the bed, Molly noted that it was after 2:00. She sighed, not wanting to go but knowing that she had to. Gently, so as not to wake Noelle, Molly settled her in the bed and covered her with the quilts. She placed a gentle, tender kiss on Noelle's forehead, noting the frown and tension on her face even in sleep. She left then, locking the front door behind her.

Noelle was shaken out of her thoughts when she heard Molly slam the phone down. She closed the drawer and turned to leave,

running straight into Molly. Noelle looked up and smiled at the taller woman. Her smile faded, however, when Molly brushed past her without acknowledging her and strode into Tony's office slamming the door shut.

Noelle scowled as she left the office heading for her classroom, not saying a word to any of the students milling around. What the fuck… how could she… fuck! How could she be like… THAT last night and act like this now? Her anger soon turned to bewilderment. What did I do? I thought… I… I don't understand. Shit, Noelle swore softly. Well, fuck her. Like I need this crap, she thought fiercely, anger once again taking over. Noelle dropped her briefcase by her desk, and prepared to start the day… with a vengeance.

Noelle slammed through the day, throwing doors open, slamming them shut, slamming papers on students' desks, and snapping at anyone around her. When she was in this type of mood, which was rare at school, Noelle's students knew not to push her. Most bent their heads to the assignments she gave them, not daring to look up for anything.

There were, however, always exceptions to every rule. It was right after lunch, and Noelle was with one of her junior lit. classes. She had just finished discussing Chaucer's "Tales", during which she had to stop no less than three times to ask Robert Parser, one of her more rebellious students, to quiet down and pay attention.

Noelle leaned against the doorjamb, monitoring the students' classwork. She watched as Robert turned around and whispered to the boy behind him. He looked at her insolently as he went back to his work, and she shook her head in warning at him. Not five minutes later, he did it again, and this time Noelle lost her temper.

"Robert," she snapped, "get your things. I want to see you out in the hall NOW." She watched as he slowly gathered his books and sauntered past her, knocking into her as he walked past her.

I swear to God, I've HAD IT, she thought in anger. This kid's out of here as soon as I'm done telling him what the fuck is what. Before leaving the room, she glared at the rest of the students in the class. "Don't even push your luck with me. Just don't," she said in a deceptively calm voice.

Noelle stepped out into the hall and closed the door. She was just about to turn around to talk to Robert… talk, not yell… when he asked sarcastically "What do you want?"

Noelle whirled to face him, stepping close to the bigger boy. "Don't take that attitude with me, Robert! I've not asked you to do a thing more than your classwork. I don't know what your problem is today, bud, but you better get over it quick!" When she saw that Robert wasn't looking at her, Noelle got angrier, if that was possible. "You look at me when I talk to you, Robert," she snapped.

The young man slowly turned lazy eyes on his lit. teacher. "I don't need to listen to you," he stated matter-of-factly.

Molly was monitoring the halls, walking through the school checking passes and the other usual tasks involved with the position. She took the back steps two at a time and was almost to the top when she heard a voice raised in anger. When she opened the stairway door, she saw Noelle talking to a taller, bigger boy.

The boy leaned one shoulder against the locker next to him, his books in his hands. Although he appeared relaxed, Molly didn't trust that for a minute. Noelle stood a small step away, her head barely reaching the boy's shoulder. Immediately, Molly moved to protective mode. As she approached the pair, she heard the boy tell Noelle that he didn't have to listen to her.

"Are you… have you lost your mind?" Noelle asked incredulously. "You will do as I ask, Robert. It's not like it's tough, or different from what I've asked before, so don't give me that crap!"

"Whatever," he said insolently.

"You're getting on my last nerve here, Robert. If you're not going to work-"

"You're going to spend some quality time with me in my office," Molly finished, focusing her attention on the boy she stood next to.

Noelle looked at Molly, anger evident in every part of her body. Her eyes sparked dangerously, her feet were planted firmly on the hall carpet, her shoulders were tense, and her hands were balled into fists at her side.

Wooo. She's pissed, Molly thought briefly before turning back to the boy. "Okay, Mr. Parser, what's the problem?"

Robert turned to talk to Molly and shrugged. "I turned to ask Rick a question about the assignment, and Ms. Potter flipped out on me. I just wanted to ask a question about the work, and she got all mad."

Molly turned to Noelle. "Is that what happened, Ms. Potter?" she asked.

Noelle narrowed her eyes at Molly. How dare she fucking question me? She must be as nuts as this guy. Jesus Christ!, she seethed silently. Aloud she responded, "I asked the class to do work. Robert turned to talk to the student behind him. I asked him to step out here. You walked over."

Molly studied Noelle, taking in the rigid posture and the clipped words. Oh boy. This is going to be tricky here. Let's see if I can get this taken care of without anyone losing any body parts… Molly turned to the boy. "Robert, I'll meet you in my office. Get there NOW and do NOT get lost on the way. Do you understand me?" she commanded.

The boy shrugged again, then walked down the hall. Molly watched him go for a minute. She's really upset… better handle this one delicately, she thought to herself. Molly looked over her shoulder at Noelle and connected with eyes so green that it startled her momentarily. Those green eyes were so sharp and so anger-filled that Molly almost took a step back. Instead, however, she squared her shoulders for the storm that she knew was brewing.

She turned to talk to Noelle, but before she could even open her mouth to say a word, Noelle launched into her.

"How dare you?" she hissed in anger. "How dare you question my authority in front of a student?"

Molly looked at her, dumbfounded. "What?!" What the hell is she talking about? "I did no such-"

Noelle held up a hand. "Don't even make excuses. You questioned my perception of the situation in front of a student, and I don't appreciate it!"

Molly felt the anger surge, replacing the temporary confusion, and she let it wash over her. She crossed her arms over her chest and raised a dark eyebrow at Noelle.

Noelle saw the steely resolve settle in Molly's eyes, but instead of being afraid, like she knew she probably should be, she only got angrier. If she thinks I'm backing down, Molly Cartwright has another thing coming, Noelle thought angrily. "You need to make certain you do your job, Ms. Cartwright, and leave me to do mine!"

Molly opened her mouth to respond, but was stopped once again by Noelle's hand.

"Spare me the platitudes, please," Noelle snapped in disgust. "In my classroom, I'M in charge. Not you, not the students, ME. And it would serve you well not to forget that again," Noelle snarled. Then she opened the door to her class, walked in, and slammed it behind her.

Molly stayed where she was, shock and anger coursing through her. What the FUCK just happened here? Why the fuck is she in such a foul mood? Well we're going to find out pretty damned quick.

Molly opened the door the Noelle's classroom, and stepped inside.

Noelle stared at her defiantly. She gritted her teeth. Now what? She's a real pain in my ass today, for God's sake.

Molly glared at Noelle. "See me in my office after school," she said coldly.

Noelle responded with a curt nod before turning her back on Molly, effectively dismissing her.

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

Noelle strode purposefully to Molly's office after the students had been let out for the day. She walked into Molly's office without announcing herself, and stood in front of her desk with her arms crossed over her chest.

"Close the door," Molly commanded sharply without looking up from her computer monitor.

"No. Give me the paperwork to fill out. I have a SAP meeting in five minutes," Noelle replied just as sharply.

Molly looked up angrily from her work. "In the event that you suddenly forgot, I need to attend that meeting as well," she said coldly.

"I know that. Contrary to what you apparently believe, I'm not a complete idiot."

"I never said you were," Molly ground out through gritted teeth.

Noelle looked down at the floor, her stance becoming less hostile and much more protective. "You didn't have to," she said softly without looking at Molly.

Before Noelle knew what was happening, Molly was out of her chair and closing her office door. Molly leaned back against her desk and tugged Noelle to stand between her longer legs. She gently tilted Noelle's chin up, and when she looked into those amazing green eyes she smiled slowly. "I didn't have to say it because I CAN'T say it," she whispered, her hands rubbing Noelle's arms through the fabric of her sleeves. "You are one of the most brilliant people I know."

Looking deeply into Molly's impossibly blue eyes, Noelle suddenly felt as if she were on an out of control downhill run. Part of her screamed to trim the main so she wouldn't capsize. Another part of her whispered to just hold on tight and hope for the

best. And yet another part wanted so desperately to kiss this woman in front of her.

She listened to that last part.

Noelle brought her hands up and laced them behind Molly's neck. She slowly pulled her closer. Oh, God. I want her so badly… Noelle licked her lips slowly and watched Molly's mouth as she pulled her closer. The instant before their lips connected, Noelle looked into Molly's eyes… and gasped. The look that she saw in them caused her knees to weaken and her heart to beat faster. Ohhh… she wants me… she wants me…

Then their lips touched, and it was as if the wind shifted completely for Noelle. No longer was it a mild breeze, pushing her gently through life. Now it was a tailwind… pushing her along, faster and faster, pushing her out of control.

Noelle gasped softly when she felt Molly's tongue slide slowly into her mouth. She felt Molly's hands clasp her hips tightly, pulling her closer until her hips were cradled between Molly's legs. Noelle could feel Molly's heat through their clothing, and it made her burn that much hotter for the dark woman.

Noelle touched her tongue to Molly's, tasting her, feeling her. When she felt Molly's hands move around to cup her backside and pull her tight against her, her movements became almost frantic against the taller woman.

Noelle's hands roamed restlessly over Molly's shoulders and upper arms, her breathing ragged.

Molly, sensing Noelle's level of arousal, broke the kiss and hugged the smaller woman to her. Her hands rubbed her back soothingly. "Shhh… shhh… easy, baby. I got you. I'm right here. Shhh…" she whispered in her ear. "We'll… continue later. Right now, Noelle, we have a meeting to attend."

Noelle looked up in surprise. "Oh shit! The meeting!" She glanced at the clock. "Shit! I'm late."

"Relax. Let me go get the meeting started, and you stay here and relax for a few minutes. We can do it without you for a short time."

Noelle started to protest. "But what… what will I… what will you tell…"

Molly smiled warmly. "I'll tell them that you were detained in my office filling out the paperwork on this afternoon's incident. How's that?"

Noelle just nodded, grateful for the opportunity Molly gave her to pull herself together.

"Good girl." Molly slipped around Noelle and waited until she was seated then opened the door to go. Before she left, however, she grinned rakishly at Noelle. "We'll finish our… discussion after dinner tonight."

With that, Molly Cartwright left the small office, leaving Noelle to wonder at her words.

After dinner? But I'm going to Mary's…

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

Noelle breezed into the meeting, the picture of serenity and togetherness. She set her things on the table and looked expectantly at the group.

"Well? What'd you do?"

They all looked at each other guiltily, no one saying a word. Noelle spared a glance at Molly, finding her staring at her intently. She raised an eyebrow before continuing.

"What? Didn't you do anything while you were waiting?" she asked, suppressing a chuckle.

Tony Avedo shifted uncomfortably, and spoke for the group. "Ummm… well… actually, we DIDN'T do anything. We just sort of… chatted," he finished lamely, his twinkling eyes in contrast with the contrite words he offered.

Noelle narrowed her eyes. "Hmm. Figures. That's what I get for leaving an… amateur in charge." She grinned widely at Molly as the group laughed. Molly smiled slightly and nodded her head almost imperceptibly, acknowledging the tease. "Okay. Well then, let's get started. Anyone have anything to share before we move on to other business?"

Molly cleared her throat. "Yeah, I do." She turned her full attention to the group. "Tom Kline was arrested this morning for assault. He kicked the hell out of another boy at the bus stop and the other boy's mother called the police. They arrested him, but the charges were dropped after Detective Jameson persuaded the mother to drop them. The other boy needed 11 stitches over his eye and his nose is broken."


"You gotta be kidding."


Noelle put her hand up to silence the group. "Hang on. Let's talk about this for a minute." She turned back to Molly.

"When did this happen again?" she asked as she sat down and pulled out her clipboard and pencil.

"Before school. At the bus stop," Molly supplied, watching Noelle scribble furiously on the paper.

"Do we know what they were fighting about? Why?" she asked as she continued to write.

Molly shook her head. "No. He wasn't in school today because they detained him at the police station." Molly paused, trying to choose her words carefully. "I think we may have a potentially volatile situation on our hands with this student. We really need to get Tom some help… do something to get this situation under control."

Noelle looked up as she spoke. "I talked with Jilly Michaels. She's on the basketball team, and she's Tom's girlfriend. I spoke with her last night at gym, and… I don't think it's good. She seemed frightened, nervous… she didn't want to talk about it." Noelle turned to look at the guidance counselor at her left. "I was thinking that maybe you could talk to her, Sandra. See if she'll tell you what's going on."

Noelle paused for a moment. Then she continued, turning back to the group. "We really need to get a handle on this before it escalates out of our control. We don't want another Columbine."

Noelle let the ominous words hang in the air.

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

Noelle walked into Mary's house and yelled for her mother. "MOM!" she yelled as she kicked her shoes off.

Mary walked out of the kitchen. "Stop your yelling. I'm right here."

Noelle stepped to her mother and kissed her on the cheek. "I missed you, Mare," she told her mother.

Mary smiled gently and caressed her cheek. "I missed you to, Noelle."

Noelle hugged Mary impulsively then stepped back to ask, "What's for dinner? I'm starving."

"Well, I made stuffed chicken breast, salad, peas, and baked potatoes," Mary replied.

Noelle whistled softly. "Wow. Why the big spread?"

Mary turned to walk into the kitchen. "We're having company tonight," she tossed over her shoulder.

"Company?" Noelle repeated as she followed her mother into the kitchen. "And peas? You HAD to make peas. You know I hate those damned things," she complained, making a disgusted face at the mere thought of the damned things.

Mary opened the oven to check the potatoes. "Oh stop your whining. Don't eat the 'damned things' then, for crying out loud."

"But if you know I hate 'em, why make 'em?"

"Our guest likes them," Mary said enigmatically.

Noelle was about to ask who the guest was when they heard knocking at the front door. She looked at Mary who nodded toward the door.

"Get that, please, sweetie. I have to finish setting the table." Mary moved to the table to put the napkins and silverware out.

Noelle opened the door and was surprised to see Molly standing on the porch. It didn't register in her mind that Molly would be the guest, so she opened the door and looked around before asking, "What… what are you doing here?"

Molly smiled slowly. "Your mom called me and asked me to come for dinner tonight. I take it she didn't tell you?" Molly said with a twinkle in her eyes.

Noelle narrowed hers speculatively. "YOU'RE the guest she was talking about?" Noelle asked rather stupidly. "Uh… no. No she didn't." The fink. I'm going to have a little bitty talk with Mary later. Suddenly Noelle started. "Jesus. Get in here. It's freezing out there." She opened the door and stepped aside to let Molly into the house.

Molly walked past her, deliberately brushing her body against Noelle's. Noelle closed her eyes and inhaled sharply, a motion that did not go undetected by Molly.

Good. She still feels it. I'm damned glad, Molly thought wickedly.

Noelle closed the door after her and held her hand out for Molly's coat, which she hung in the foyer closet. She turned in time to see Molly toe off her shoes and stride into the kitchen with the ease of old habit.

What the fuck? Noelle thought briefly as she followed the bigger woman into the kitchen. She watched as Molly went straight to Mary, swept her into her arms, and planted a big kiss on her cheek. Noelle felt the jealousy begin to simmer deep inside her.

Let's not forget whose mother she is, Cartwright. She's MY mother. Not yours. Noelle moved to the counter to pick up the serving bowl of peas. A sudden thought struck her as she looked at the mound of tiny green… vegetables. She made them for MOLLY? she thought incredulously. What the fuck? Noelle repeated.

She walked over to the table with the bowl, set it in the middle, and sat down. She put her napkin on her lap and waited for the two older women to complete the niceties and sit down to eat.

When they did finally sit down, Noelle glared at Molly who looked back at her quizzically.

Wonder what I did NOW, Molly thought briefly. Then she turned her attention back to her hostess.

Mary served the meal and she and Molly carried the conversation while Noelle played with her food. The two women talked as if they were old friends, mentioning things that Noelle had no idea about. It became glaringly apparent to Noelle that in the past couple of weeks, Molly had been to her mother's house on more than one occasion. Noelle felt the irrational anger and jealousy approaching the boiling point. To combat it, she pushed the food around on her plate with a vengeance, unconsciously clinking her fork against the plate.

"Don't play, honey," Mary said absently, never taking her full attention from Molly who was entertaining her with a story from school.

Noelle stood up abruptly, finally reaching her boil over point. "I hate peas… they remind me of green mouse turds. You know that. Yet you made them for her." She looked at Molly, the anger apparent in her voice and eyes.

Molly shrugged. "I like 'em," she said right before shoveling a big forkful into her mouth.

"Whatever. And since you so obviously prefer her company to mine, how about I just leave you two to finish? I'm not very hungry, anyway." She took her plate to the sink and went into the living room.

Molly looked at Mary. "Was it something I said?" she asked in confusion.

Mary shook her head and smiled slowly. "If I know my daughter, and I believe I do, she's… jealous."

Molly looked at her companion incredulously. "Jealous? What… what do you mean? How… why? What'd I do?" Molly asked, more confused than before.

Mary shook her head. "No, it's not you… not exactly, anyway." Mary paused to gather her thoughts. "Noelle… Noelle has never had to… "share" me with anyone. No one, that is, except my husband. She's always had me for herself. And since Joe passed on, it's only been Noelle and me." Mary paused again, lost in thought. "Now she has to share me with you. And I don't think she knows what to do with it," the older woman stated softly. Mary looked directly into Molly's eyes, absently marveling at the color. "I like you, Molly Cartwright. I suspect that there is a depth to you that few people know. And I think you're good for my daughter, but I'm betting she's good for you, as well," Mary finished. Then she stood up and walked around to where Molly sat and wrapped her arms around the dark woman. "Give her time," she said as she stroked the long dark hair. She felt Molly relax into her. "She'll get used to the idea."

Mary placed a kiss on the top of Molly's head. Then she reached to pick up their plates. As she carried them to the sink, she said, "Go talk to her while I do this."

Molly sighed softly then stood up. She walked into the living room, stopping when she saw Noelle moving gently in the rocker, her head resting on the back of it with her eyes closed. Even from where she stood across the room, Molly could see the tension on Noelle's face. She walked silently over to her and kneeled by the chair before laying a soft hand on Noelle's forearm.

Noelle jumped slightly and her eyes popped open in confusion.

"Shhh," Molly soothed, rubbing her forearm with her thumb. "It's just me… didn't mean to scare you."

Noelle rubbed her eyes sleepily. "Sorry… gotta stop doing that to me," she mumbled, closing her eyes again.

Molly smiled at the younger woman. "Mmm… I'll try." She stood and leaned over to whisper to Noelle. "Come on, Noe, let's get you home. It's late and you're tired." She took both of Noelle's hands in her larger ones and waited for a response. When none came, she jiggled the hands slightly. "Come on, Noelle."

A sleepy nod was her only reaction.

Molly raised an eyebrow then grinned at Noelle. She leaned in to capture Noelle's lips with her own, caressing them softly with her tongue. She smiled slightly when she felt Noelle shift in the chair a bit and make a sleepy little moan-y noise. Then she kissed the blonde woman harder, moving her tongue between Noelle's parted lips. She sighed contentedly when Noelle's hand came up to cup the back of her neck, holding her closer.

Slowly Molly began to straighten up, bringing Noelle with her. When both women were standing, Molly pulled back, hugged Noelle closer, and whispered in her ear, "I knew it would work," a smirk on her face.

Noelle took an abrupt step back and narrowed her eyes at the taller woman who stood before her grinning widely.

"Real funny, Cartwright," she started. Then she stopped. She put her hands on her hips before continuing. "Wait a freaking minute… I'm not talking to you," she stated, pointing an accusing finger at Molly. "You're trying to abscond with my mother. Well, it won't work, hon, so you can just wipe that thought RIGHT out of that sexy head of yours. It ain't gonna happen without a fight," Noelle finished belligerently.

>From the words alone, one would ascertain that Noelle was indeed angry at Molly for trying to steal her mother. Molly, however, took not only Noelle's words into consideration, but also her tone of voice, her posture, and, most importantly, her eyes.

And right then, the green of Noelle's eyes was bright with amusement… and something else. Affection? For me? Molly thought. Wow. She's… amazing… Molly decided to go along with Noelle's playfulness, baiting her gently. "Oh yeah?" she whispered menacingly. "Whatcha gonna do about it, toots?"

Noelle's hands slowly slid off her hips and she balled them into loose fists at her sides. "Kick your perfect ass, that's what," she snarled. She started to sway gently back and forth, waiting for Molly's reaction. This is fun, she thought in delight.

She thinks I have a perfect ass, huh? Oooh, boy, this is going to be good, Molly thought an instant before she answered. She curled her lip disdainfully. "You and what army, Potter?" she asked. She, too, let her hands drop to her sides, holding them loosely, watching for Noelle's next move.

Suddenly Noelle's fists came up to protect her face, and she started hopping up and down, dancing around Molly. She weaved and bobbed her head, dodging imaginary blows. She huffed and heaved as she danced, shooshing around Molly. "Don't need an army," she said. "I can take you with one hand tied behind my back… AND both eyes closed!" With that, Noelle DID close her eyes, still dancing and weaving. She thumbed her nose a few times as Molly watched in rapt amusement. She was just about to comment when Noelle tripped over the edge of the coffee


Molly watched in horrified amazement as Noelle fell to the floor, smacking her head on the rug. Ooooh, that's gotta hurt some. She stared at Noelle, who lay in a crumpled heap of humanity on the floor, waiting for her to move… get up… something. When that didn't happen immediately, Molly nearly went into a panic.

"Shit!" She knelt next to Noelle, gently feeling around for any strange bumps on her head. She listened to Noelle's breathing, finding it oddly… catch-y. "Jesus… Noelle… Noelle, honey? Are you okay? Honey? You with me?" Noelle's breathing got stranger, almost like she was holding it then letting it out slowly. "Christ… Noelle?" she said again, louder this time. "Talk to me, sweetheart… come on now… open those eyes for me." Molly rubbed Noelle's arm briskly, talking loudly to her.

Noelle lay with her eyes closed. Oh, this is too damned perfect, she thought gleefully, mentally rubbing her hands together. To add to the effect, she let a low, pain-filled moan escape her lips.

Molly's mind filled again with panic. "Jesus Christ… Noelle… Honey, talk to me…" Her words were cut off suddenly when Noelle popped up, bright eyed and grinning… and not a trace of injury showing.

"About what?" she asked mischievously. Her green eyes twinkled merrily and her face was flushed with excitement.

"Why you little shit!" Molly exclaimed in relief. To Molly, Noelle Potter was stunning at that moment. Her green eyes twinkled mischievously, her cheeks were flushed a delicate pink, and her strawberry blonde hair was sticking up all over head. She was amazingly beautiful.

Noelle scrambled to her feet and bolted past Molly. She stopped at the couch long enough to whip a small pillow at Molly and hit her right in the back of the head.

"Take THAT, you FINK!" she shot at her as she ran out of the living room and through the kitchen, screaming bloody murder as she went.

Molly jumped to her feet and ran after her. "You're DEAD, Potter!" she yelled as she chased the smaller woman through the kitchen. Noelle burst out the back door and down the stairs an instant before Molly pounded through kitchen, hitting the door at top speed and jumping down all the stairs at once.

Mary never even bothered looking up from washing the dishes. She just shook her head. "I don't EVEN want to know," she muttered with a grin. Mary listened to the antics of the two women from her spot at the sink.

Noelle sprinted into the darkness and hid behind one of Mary's raspberry bushes. She tried desperately to calm her breathing so Molly wouldn't hear her. She watched as Molly jumped down the stairs, not bothering to take them at all. Then she saw Molly stop, the only movement her head slowly moving from side to side.

In amazement, Noelle watched Molly zone in on the bush she was hiding behind. Molly slowly slinked toward the bush, her eyes never wavering from it. Noelle shrank back deeper into the shadows, holding her breath, the fear and anticipation almost making her jump out of her skin.

When she saw which way Molly was coming, she waited for her to draw a tiny bit closer. When Molly was almost on her, Noelle bolted past her, almost knocking her over.

Yeah! I did i- Her words were cut off when she felt Molly grab the back of her sweater and abruptly yank her back into her bigger body. She felt both of Molly's arms go around her, securely holding her to her.

Noelle wiggled, trying to get away. Molly's voice in her ears, however, effectively stilled her half-hearted struggles.

"I've got you now, Noelle," Molly's low husky voice whispered close to her ear. "You might as well stop struggling. I'm not

letting you go."

Molly pulled Noelle even closer, if that was possible. She moved her hands up to cup Noelle's breasts through her sweater, kneading them firmly. The need seemed suddenly overwhelming to Molly, so she spun Noelle around and kissed her hard, not giving any warning to the startled woman that it was going to happen.

Noelle gasped at the intensity of the storm that was Molly Cartwright. Her hands came up to grasp Molly's shoulders, anchoring herself to something solid for the duration of the storm.

And what a storm it was… Noelle felt as if she would be washed overboard by the feelings she had for the taller woman. Or worse, that the boat would capsize and leave her floundering in the huge crush of emotional waves.

Noelle took an abrupt step back from Molly. "No…" she said, taking a shaky breath. "I… I can't…" she whispered.

Molly gritted her teeth together. "Why?" she ground out, the frustration evident in every line of her body. Her hands were clenched in fists at her side, her shoulders tense and rigid. "Why do you keep saying you can't? What the fuck is going on with you?" she growled at the smaller woman. "Why do you go hot and cold like that? I didn't know it was so fucking easy for you."

Noelle's mouth opened then closed in shock. The force of Molly's words hit her head on, stopping her emotionally much as a headwind put a boat in irons on the water. Noelle shut down. She withdrew emotionally from Molly, not knowing how to answer or what to feel. All she knew was that she had to take cover from the storm… quickly.

Noelle spun on her heel and ran to the house. She ran inside, past her mother, stopping only long enough to get her coat, shoes, and keys, and stormed outside. She got into the Jimmy and headed home.

Molly let out a growl of frustration as she watched Noelle cut and run. Son of a BITCH! she swore to herself. Way to go, Cartwright, you big fucking idiot. Jesus, now what? How the hell do I fix this? Molly walked slowly toward the house, wanting to apologize to Noelle. Fuck, I'm an idiot…

Molly took the stairs two at a time and strode into the kitchen. Where is No-

"If you're looking for Noelle, you won't find her here. She took off like the hounds of Hades were on her ass," Mary supplied amiably. She poured two cups of coffee, setting them on the table when she finished. "I think she left the country… or at the very least went home." Mary grinned widely at the angry-looking woman before her as she sat at the table. She stared pointedly at the other cup of coffee. When Molly didn't take the hint right away, Mary said in exasperation, "Sit down, Molly Cartwright."

Molly absently sat down, the scowl on her face firmly in place.

"Now what?" Mary asked.

"I… I snapped… at her," Molly began slowly, feeling some of the anger at herself and the situation abate under the older woman's soothing presence. She relaxed slightly, taking a sip of the black coffee Mary prepared.

Molly traced a circle on the tabletop as she gathered her thoughts. "She confuses me, Mare. She seems to run hot and cold, and she goes from one to the other so quickly. I think… I think she likes me to kiss her… she responds, quite passionately, I might add… but the second… the instant it goes any further than that, she panics and runs." Molly let out an exasperated sigh. Then she spoke again, her voice softer and more earnest. "I really like Noelle, Mary. She's… she makes me feel such wonderful things. I know she's never been with a woman, and I know she wants to. God help me, I want it to be ME." Molly

looked down and shook her head. "I don't know what to do…"

Mary sighed deeply. "Has she told you about… before?" she asked quietly.

Molly looked up quickly. "No."

Mary sighed again. "Damn. I didn't think so." Mary scrubbed her face tiredly before continuing, the strain now apparent to Molly. "When she first got out of school and was subbing, before she got the full-time job, Noelle dated an older man for quite some time. She met him at Loggers in Jonesburg. Anyway, to make a long story short-" Mary was interrupted by Molly's words.

"No," Molly said harshly. "Tell me all of it," she demanded. "Please," she amended.

Mary nodded once then continued. "Noelle was fresh out of school… the world was hers to take. She met Ronald at Loggers… have you ever been there?"

Molly shook her head.

"Well, if we were to ever have a meat-market in these parts, Loggers is it. She was there with a couple friends, and she met him there." Mary paused to take a sip of her coffee. "He was very charming, and I never even suspected what he was doing to her." Mary shook her head in self-derision. "I never saw that he was abusing my daughter… physically, mentally, emotionally… he did it all. And I never even saw it."

Mary looked at Molly then, realizing the bigger woman had grown strangely quiet. She almost gasped aloud at the look on Molly's face… the look in her eyes. Mary figured she'd never seen a murderous look in someone's eyes before. At least not for real. But the look in Molly's eyes right then made her fear… something.

Molly's jaw was set firmly. Mary could almost hear her teeth grinding. Her posture was stiff and tension-filled. Her entire body language screamed rage. Yet none of that frightened Mary like the look in Molly's eyes. Her eyes were harder, colder than any eyes Mary had ever seen before. The blue of her eyes was hard as diamonds. Mary shuddered once at the look in those eyes… they didn't look human.

Molly stared intently at Mary with those diamond-hard eyes. "He… hurt her?" she asked quietly.

Mary didn't like the tone of Molly's voice. It was quiet… too


"Tell me what you're thinking right now, Molly. Talk to me."

"I'm thinking I want to kill the bastard," she snarled suddenly,

with such venom it startled Mary.

Mary was taken aback by the force of Molly's words, by the rage she heard in her voice. Whoa. Better bring this down a notch or 20. She reached across the table and grasped Molly's hands with both of hers. "Wait," she said softly. "Your concern, your anger, is probably valid, but it's misplaced here, Molly. Noelle doesn't need you going off half-cocked. She needs you to understand and support her. If… if you're in this for anything more than a romp in the sack, then you'll need to be gentle with her. She's afraid… of lots of things. He…" Mary stumbled, the memory of what that man did to her daughter again fresh in her mind.

Mary let go of Molly's hands and withdrew into the memories of the pain that man caused her baby. "The bastard abused her. He

hit her, put bruises on her body. He belittled her, he screamed at her, he… She would go days without coming to see us so the bruises could fade. I… I never even suspected… and I allowed that man to hurt my baby," Mary continued, her eyes filling with tears at the memories. "One night, she finally came to us. She was bleeding from her mouth and nose, she had bruises just about everywhere you could imagine… she said that that was the worst beating he'd ever given her, but she wouldn't do anything about it! She didn't even talk to us about any of it… I let that man hurt my baby…" Mary finished with a sob, the tears running freely.

Molly heard the agony and pain in Mary's voice, realizing that she herself would never fully understand a mother's love, and suffering, for her child. The look in Mary's eyes was haunting. And it made Molly wonder at the depth of Noelle's pain. If this woman felt such pain at what happened to her daughter, what must the daughter be feeling? Noelle… The name repeated in Molly's head over and over.

Suddenly, Molly knew what she had to do. Abruptly she stood up and went around to hug Mary and kiss her on the cheek. She cupped Mary's face in her large hands and looked deep into her dark brown eyes.

"I'm sorry, Mary," she began softly. "I have to go to her… tell her that it's okay…"

Mary nodded then hugged Molly once more before stepping back and smiling through her tears. "Thank you. It will mean a lot to her that you care enough to… be there."

Mary hugged the younger woman again, then gently shoved her out of the kitchen. She walked with Molly to the door, waiting

silently as she got her shoes and coat on, then watched as she strode purposefully to her SUV and drove off. Mary stayed where she was for a moment, offering up a silent prayer. Thank you, God, for this woman. I think she'll be what Noelle needs in her life. She has such love, such affection and passion to give. God, please help Noelle to open up, help her heal the wounds so she'll accept what Molly is so willingly offering to her.

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

Molly drove straight to Noelle's house, parking outside, not giving a damn what anyone thought. She walked up the stairs to the front door and knocked, praying that Noelle would let her in… into her house, into her heart.

She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Noelle's face peek through the curtain at the door. She smiled tentatively at the woman, noticing that her eyes were shuttered and closed.

She breathed another sigh of relief when she heard the door unlock.

"What do you want?" Noelle asked.

Molly's concern for the smaller woman grew when she heard the tone of her voice. It was hollow… devoid of any emotion… empty. And it scared Molly. Please don't be gone from me yet. Please don't go, Molly begged silently, the fear an almost tangible, living being inside of her.

"Can I come in?" she asked in reply.

Noelle didn't answer, she just turned and walked into the living room, not caring one way or the other if Molly followed her. But follow her Molly did. The dark woman stopped long enough to kick off her shoes and hang her coat on the tree that stood in a convenient corner.

When Molly walked into the living room, Noelle was curled up in the recliner, her arms securely around her drawn-up knees. Her chin rested on her knees, and she rocked the chair gently with her body. Noelle didn't seem to be in the same room as Molly, and Molly became determined to bring her back… even if it meant fighting Satan himself to get her back. Molly set her jaw, mentally rolled up her sleeves, and prepared to do battle.

"Your mother told me about… him." Molly decided that head on was the best tact right now, so she jumped right in with both feet. "She told me about the abuse."

Noelle's head snapped around, her eyes glaring angrily at Molly.

"Shut up," she hissed. "What the fuck do you know?" Then, just as suddenly as she snapped, Noelle retreated back inside of herself.

Oh no you don't, Noelle Potter. Molly, heartened by the anger, pushed Noelle.

"I know he beat the hell out of you, probably on a regular basis, right? It was probably a fairly regular occurrence, him beating you. Mary told me that he hurt you. That's sure something else, isn't it?" Molly watched the anger take over, watched Noelle's posture change from defensive to offensive.

Noelle let her feet slide to the floor, feeling the anger at Molly, and Mary, wash over her. As Molly continued to tell her what she knew about… it, she got angrier and angrier.

"I think you need to go now," Noelle said in a deadly quiet voice, not looking at Molly.

Molly narrowed her eyes, waiting for the explosion she knew was imminent.


Noelle's nostrils flared and her hands curled into fists. "Now."

Molly paused for a second.

"No," was again her response.

Noelle was out of that chair like a shot out of a cannon. She stormed across the small room, into the foyer, and opened the door. She held the door open, oblivious to the cold air that flowed in from outside. Her voice, when she spoke, was hard as nails, her words clipped and biting. "I said get out. NOW."

Molly got up from her seat on the couch and stalked to the door. She slammed the door shut and bent over to get right in Noelle's face. "And I said no."

Noelle backed up a step. "I'm not telling you again, Molly. Get…out…now," she ground out.

Molly stepped closer to her again, almost feeling the tension and anger emanating from her body. It's now or never. Either I fix it now, or I lose her for good…

Noelle turned to flee, but her way was blocked suddenly by a bigger body. "Get the fuck out of my way," she snarled at Molly. "I'm NOT in the mood for this bullshit. Now move!"

Molly took yet another step closer to Noelle. "Too damned bad. I'm staying until we work this out."

"WE have nothing to work out," Noelle said defiantly. "My mother told you more than she had any right to, and I will no longer discuss any of this with you."

"No long- No longer discuss this? Jesus, Noelle, you haven't discussed ANYTHING with me. And the reason your mother told me is because she cares about you… she doesn't want to see you hurt again!" Molly's voice rose in volume until she was almost yelling at Noelle. She had continued to step closer to the angry woman as she talked, eventually pushing Noelle back against the wall by the door.

When Noelle realized that the only means of escape from the woman who was pushing her, was to go around her, she got angrier, if that was at all possible. She brought her hands up and pushed Molly back a few steps. "Back off, Molly. We're not talking about this. Now get the fuck out of my face!" she raged. Then she stormed past Molly and moved once again into the living room.

Molly followed, determined to get Noelle back, not let her leave the conversation that easily. She walked over to where Noelle was standing at the window. Molly stopped a few paces behind the smaller woman. Noelle kept her back turned to Molly, and Molly could feel the tension radiating from the woman in front of her.

Noelle continued to look out into the darkness. Her arms were crossed over her chest. But it wasn't a belligerent stance… it was defensive, protective. And all Molly wanted to do was wrap the small woman in her arms and take her pain and fear away. But she knew that for it to work, Noelle had to come to her, she had to ask Molly for the help. She would let Noelle know that she was there for her… and she was staying. After that, it would be up to Noelle.

Molly took a half-step closer. She didn't touch Noelle, she didn't want to frighten her, but she did want to let her know that she was still there. Still with her.

"Noelle," she said softly. "It wasn't your fault." Her heart broke when she saw Noelle flinch at the simple words. "Some men… some people… they do it for the power. They do it because it's all they know… it wasn't your fault."

Noelle closed her eyes… and, to Molly, seemed to retreat further into herself.

"No," Molly whispered. "Please don't go, Noelle. Please don't leave me," she pleaded in a soft voice, still not touching her. "Let me help you."

Noelle listened to the soft, husky voice, feeling it wash over her like sunshine on a warm spring day. It soothed her, calmed her. And she blindly turned toward the source, finding herself wrapped in a strong, warm embrace. She felt so cold. So cold, she thought over and over, her mind not really registering anything else.

Molly felt the small body start to shiver, so she did the first thing that came to mind… gently led Noelle to her bedroom. Once there, she helped Noelle change into her pajamas and pulled the covers on the bed back. With slight pressure on the small of Noelle's back, Molly prompted her to lay down.

Poor baby, Molly thought, watching Noelle shiver. She took off her sweatpants and lay down next her, clad only in a t-shirt and underwear. She pulled the covers up before settling Noelle closer to her, urging her to roll to her side so she could spoon the smaller, colder body, offering what she could to Noelle.

She shoved one arm underneath the pillow she was using, and the other she wrapped around Noelle's belly and pulled her closer. She bent her knees and fit them behind Noelle's, her thighs tight against Noelle's flanneled ones. She placed a kiss on the top of the blonde hair and sighed deeply. She stayed tight against Noelle like that until she felt her stop shivering and relax in sleep.

Molly felt the emotional fatigue finally catch up to her. I'm going to spend the night with Noelle Potter, she thought in wonder as she drifted off to sleep.

Continued in Part 6.

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