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 6

Noelle burst into the office Tuesday morning just as the ten minute warning bell rang. "Sorry I'm late, Tony," she panted, still out of breath from the run from her vehicle to the building. "Overslept…"

"Slow down. It's only the ten minute bell," Tony replied with a grin. It wasn't often that Noelle was late in the mornings. Other times, yes, but not usually in the mornings, so Tony excused Noelle's tardiness with only some light-hearted teasing. "Decided to sleep in, eh?"

Noelle grinned back, jumping right on the teasing bandwagon. "Couldn't get the old motor started in this cold. Who knew it'd be so cold so early in the season? But you'd know about being old and hard to start, right, Tony?" Noelle shot back.

Tony laughed and nodded in agreement. "Old… right. Darn cold already, isn't it?" he said, deliberately changing the subject.

"Too darn cold," Noelle concurred, smiling mischievously.

It was then that she noticed Molly standing behind the waist-high counter that ran almost the entire the length of the main office. She stood with her arms crossed, her hip against the counter, her eyes not wavering from Noelle. Her black hair spilled freely down her back like a dark waterfall. The woman wore a white silk shirt that was in stark contrast to her dark hair and olive-colored skin.

She's stunning, Noelle thought, offering a quick, shy smile to the taller woman.

Molly winked in acknowledgement of the smile, her expression not changing. As Noelle talked again with Tony, Molly drank in the sight of the other woman, occasionally looking at the students filing into the building so as not to appear too obvious in her study of the woman.

But study Noelle she did. And what she saw pleased her beyond measure. Noelle's blond hair was in wild disarray from the early morning wind, all over her head with no style in sight. Molly had to will herself not to act upon her suddenly strong feeling to bury her hands in those red-gold locks to feel its silkiness. Her nose and cheeks were rosy from the chill of autumn that was in the air, and her eyes sparkled with good humor and mischief.

She looks rested, Molly thought. I'm really glad. Molly had stayed the night, curled up with Noelle in her bed, holding her close until she left at 5:00 that morning.

Just then, a tall, gangly young man walked sullenly into the office. His eyes were hard… hollow… and he was dressed completely in black. He had on a black t-shirt that had some sort of symbol on it, but that was difficult for anyone to see very well because it was covered by his coat. He wore a black military surplus pea-coat that was unzipped but closed, and a tight black knit cap on his head. The ensemble was completed with black BDUs, combat boots, and a heavy black leather belt.

The boy looked briefly at Tony before focusing on Noelle. He smiled a tiny smile, transforming his face from that of an accused felon to that of a young boy unsure of himself. "Hey, Ms. P," he greeted her, his voice not at all what one would expect from his appearance. The boy's voice was soft, hesitant almost, and it held a certain warmth as he spoke to Noelle.

Noelle smiled at the young man, but just as she started to speak, Molly interrupted.

"Sit down, Mr. Kline," she commanded, her words harsh and curt. She walked around the counter to stand in front of Tom, crossing her arms across her chest. The dislike and distrust she held for this student was glaringly apparent in her posture and tone of voice.

"I don't have to," he said menacingly, the tone of his voice changing. It went from the voice of the boy Noelle remembered, soft, shy, quiet… to the voice of a young criminal. It was hard and cold… not anything like the one he used with Noelle.

"I said sit down," Molly nearly snarled, her voice hard. She took a half-step closer to Tom, dropping her hands to her sides. "And I suggest you do it… NOW."

The boy stood there staring defiantly at the dean, his hands curling into fists. He made no move to sit down, and Noelle could feel the tension escalate. Before it went any further, Noelle stepped up next to Molly and put her hand on Tom's shoulder. "Tom, please, sit down. You'll only make it worse for yourself," she encouraged earnestly, looking him in the eye.

Tom looked at her, glared back at Molly, then answered softly, "Yeah sure, Ms. P." He smiled at the shorter woman, then sat in the chair, slumping down sullenly, his hands buried deep in his pockets.

What the hell happened to you, Tom? she asked silently, looking at the boy seated there. What made you like this? How the hell do we help you?

Noelle was shaken out of her thoughts when she felt Molly shift behind her. Now that her concentration was focused on the other woman, she could feel the tension rolling off of her.

She turned to look at Molly, noting the set of her jaw and the hardness in those impossibly blue eyes. Shit. What do I do now? She looked up intently at the woman standing in front of her, trying to get Molly to focus on her instead of on Tom. Come on, Molly… look at me… look at ME. Don't do this. Look at me, she pleaded silently. And, as if reading Noelle's mind, Molly slowly turned her eyes to look into Noelle's. Noelle almost gasped at the look that she found in her companion's eyes. It was hard… and so distant. There was no trace of the usual warmth, no trace of the woman Noelle knew was in there.

Noelle continued to look into those eyes, trying to reach Molly. Her brows knit in confusion, Noelle shook her head once, the movement barely noticeable to anyone else. Please, Molly… don't do this, she begged again.

Molly raised an eyebrow, and Noelle smiled in return. When Molly winked and relaxed imperceptibly, Noelle released the breath she'd been holding during the confrontation.

They both turned back to the young man seated in front of them. "Tom," Molly began, her voice still hard, but not combative like it had been earlier. "I'd like to see you in Mr. Avedo's office."

Noelle watched as the three people walked into the office and closed the door.

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

That afternoon, Noelle called an emergency meeting of the SAP team to

discuss the pertinent issues in the Tom Kline situation. What resulted was

a debate of biblical proportions about potentially violent students in

the public schools.

"What do you mean he doesn't belong here?" Sandra asked, the question directed at Molly.

"Exactly what I say… that student does not belong in our building," Molly replied. "In the 1997-98 school year, according to the National School Safety Center, there were forty two recorded deaths in public schools. Forty two! That's forty two too many! I don't want our school becoming another statistic."

"Last year there were only nine," Sandra retorted.

" "Only" nine?" Molly asked in disbelief. "You spout that fact like we should be PROUD. For Christ's sake, Sandra, our kids are dying!" she nearly shouted. "The only reason for the lower number is because schools are tightening security… they HAVE to, to protect the students. We need to do all we can… and I don't think we are right now!"

"But we have a responsibility to provide a free, ADEQUATE education to all of the children, even the "bad kids"," Carl Rahn added.

Molly turned those diamond hard eyes on the phys ed teacher. "We also have a responsibility to each child, and his parents, to keep ALL children safe while they are in our building under our care," Molly shot back. "How the fuck do we do that when we have criminals in the building?"

"He's not a criminal, for God's sake!" Sandra exclaimed. "He's-"

"Simply because he's not been convicted," Molly interrupted heatedly, "does not mean he isn't a criminal or that the potential isn't there."

Sandra scowled at the big woman before continuing. "Tom's obviously been through something fairly traumatic recently. It's causing his behavior to go outside the boundaries of acceptable societal norms. I don't think he should be penalized because of it."

"Please," Molly snorted. "Spare me the psychological bullshit, Sandra. Now we have to make excuses? Allow him to beat the hell out of other kids?" she asked incredulously.

"It's not making excuses or allowing anything!"

"The fuck it's not. You're telling me that he doesn't have to deal with the consequences of his behavior because there's the POSSIBILITY that something traumatic happened to him? That's the biggest load of bullshit I've ever heard," Molly growled. "Would you want your fourteen year old son or daughter in the same building as a seventeen year old potential criminal?"

"You're speculating on him becoming a criminal. We don't know for certain that he will."

"Jesus Christ!" Molly exploded. "He beat the hell out of a younger, smaller boy… and he's showing no fucking remorse about it. He constantly rebels against people in positions of authority. If that's not proof pointing towards him heading to worse offenses, then I don't know what is!" Molly paused to get herself under control, taking a deep breath and expelling it before continuing. "Again I ask… would you want your son or daughter in the same building as this kid?"

"It's not ethical to exclude him from receiving the best possible education he can get simply because of his potential for violence," Sandra answered quickly.

Molly stood abruptly. "And it's not fucking MORAL to willingly

subject our children to people like Kline. It's not MORAL to knowingly allow a violent individual to socialize with our children." Molly paused again, looking at each individual assembled around the table. "We need to think about the greater good… what is the best action for the general student population? What the fuck do we do to keep our students safe? How do we help them be less afraid?"

Molly picked up her pad and pen and strode to the door. She stopped and once again looked at the group. "I'll be DAMNED if I let that fucker hurt another one of these kids," she snarled before slamming through the door.

Everyone, Noelle especially, sat in stunned silence at Molly's outburst. None of them had ever seen their dean of students lose her control like that. They all sat looking at each other for some time until Noelle finally broke the silence.

"I think we can adjourn until tomorrow," she said quietly. In silence, the group filed out of the room.

All except Noelle.

Noelle stayed seated at the table, questions running through her head a thousand miles an hour. How the fuck did it get out of hand so quickly? How did I let that happen? What the hell just happened here? What do I do now? Should I go find her? What the fuck do I say?

So lost in her thoughts was she, Noelle didn't hear the door open quietly.

"Hey," a familiar voice called softly.

Noelle jumped, startled by the voice. She turned to see Molly standing in the doorway, holding the door open and looking intently at Noelle.

God she's beautiful. The thought came unbidden into Molly's mind as she gazed at Noelle. Her eyes, although troubled, were clear and bright. And they looked at Molly with a mixture of confusion and… desire? Is that desire there? Molly smiled slowly, the sexy grin spreading to her eyes, darkening the blue of them to a deeper, more primeval color.

Noelle could feel the blush start to crawl rapidly up her neck and onto her cheeks. Her eyes dropped to a spot near Molly's left knee.

"No don't," Molly whispered. "Look at me," she commanded gently.

Noelle's eyes came back to connect with Molly's blue ones.

"I'm… sorry."

"For what, Noe?" Molly asked.

Noelle shrugged and let her eyes drop again.

"Please. Look at me."

Instead of doing as Molly bid her, Noelle asked "Why?"

Molly smiled. "I like to look at you. When you look like this, I like to look at you, look into your eyes." Molly stopped speaking, waiting for Noelle to look at her.

Noelle brought her eyes up to look at Molly uncertainly, not sure if she meant what she said.

Molly smiled again, the desire and feelings that she had for this woman evident in her eyes and on her face.

Noelle felt the now familiar sensation of racing out of control under a strong wind as she looked into Molly's eyes. I hope I don't get tossed overboard, she thought briefly before closing her eyes to break the contact.

"Come on. Let's go, Noelle," Molly said. "I'll walk you to the Jimmy."

Noelle nodded then gathered her things before slipping her coat on. She looked suspiciously at Molly. "Where's your coat, Cartwright?"

Molly grinned at the turn the atmosphere around them just took. "I don't need one. What's it to you, anyway, Potter?" she goaded the smaller woman good-naturedly.

"It's freaking November! In northwest Pennsylvania! For God's sake, you'll freeze you're a… butt off," she amended hastily.

Molly laughed loudly. "Don't worry," she said as they walked toward her office. "It's not going anywhere."

As they reached the door to her office, Noelle muttered, "Damn good thing, too. I kind of like it."

When they stepped into the office, Molly turned abruptly and pushed the door closed. Then she pushed Noelle back against the door, using her body to hold the smaller woman in place as she nuzzled her neck.

"Do you have any idea what you do to me," she growled huskily.

Noelle moved her head, giving Molly better access to her neck. "The same thing you do to me?" she guessed breathlessly.

"Uh-huh." Molly pushed the sweater Noelle wore aside to reveal more milky white skin to her mouth. She nipped the exposed skin gently. "You make me… hot… wet… You make me… ache…" she whispered hotly between nips. "You make me want to… touch myself… have you touch me…"

"Ohhh," Noelle moaned softly, her heart beating wildly. "Oh God… I want… you." Her hands moved to Molly's hair, stroking the dark satiny locks. As she touched Molly's hair, she could smell the sweet apple scent of the woman's shampoo. Noelle moved her head to bury her face in that hair, her hands sliding around to rub the strong back gently.

Molly gathered the smaller woman in her arms and held her tightly. When she felt Noelle's hands move to her face, Molly blindly sought, and found, Noelle's mouth with her own. She slid her tongue into Noelle's hot depths, tasting her, feeling her.

The kiss brought the image of a sweeter, more intimate kiss, and she pulled away abruptly, not certain of her control. She stepped away from Noelle, shaking her head ruefully.

"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I can't do this." At Noelle's look of confusion and embarrassment, she immediately explained. "No, honey, wait. It has nothing to do with you… I mean it DOES but I don't… oh hell." Molly sighed in frustration. What do I say here? The truth? I suppose that's all I CAN say. "I want you so badly that I'm damned close to taking you right here in this office, and I don't want to do that. I mean I DO want… fuck," she finished lamely, closing her eyes and shaking her head.

She opened them again at the sound of the delighted laughter coming from her companion. She smiled slowly, liking that sound.

Oh… that smile… trim the main… Noelle thought, the laughter fading. "I… we… better go," she stammered, feeling terribly flustered.

Molly continued to smile, not moving. Her eyes looked deeply into the green ones looking back at her, mesmerized at the beauty of Noelle's eyes. They were the color of new grass in May. The color of the green crayon in a box of Crayolas. The color of a daisy's stem. Then suddenly Molly winked and the moment was over.

They both laughed shakily. Molly grabbed her case and locked the door after they stepped out of the office.

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

Noelle blew her whistle the following evening, calling the girls together to warm them up. She noticed again that Molly was late. Jesus, it's only the second practice and she's late again. These girls are going to hate her, Noelle thought.

As the girls gathered for the first laps, Noelle looked hard at Jilly Michaels. The girl looked unusually pale and withdrawn. And, oddly enough in the hot gym, she was wearing a heavy, long-sleeved sweatshirt. Noelle was just about to comment when a few of the other girls starting moaning like zombies… "Run laps, run laps, run laps." Noelle smiled and shook her head, promising to check on Jilly before she left after practice.

"Hey!" she called. "Now THERE'S an idea… why don't we RUN LAPS?"

Noelle smiled at the good-natured groans that came from some of the girls.

As she was getting ready to start the laps the gym door opened quietly and Molly slipped in. Noelle ignored her and lined the girls up for the laps. As they started jogging with Noelle off to the side, she looked back and grinned at Molly who had surreptitiously fallen in at the end of the line.

"Ladies," Noelle called as the rounded the far baseline, "seems Coach Cartwright is late again. You know the drill, so we'll be adding 5 laps and 4 whistle sprints."

At the proclamation, some of the girls groaned aloud while a few screamed outright in frustration. Noelle smiled to herself, enjoying the camaraderie the team had.

"Way to go, Coach Cartwright!"

"Get here on time!"

"Why me?"

Noelle laughed out loud at the calls to Molly. She knew the girls didn't really blame her, but they weren't happy about having to run… again. Noelle continued to chuckle as she dropped back to jog next to Molly.

"Better be on time, Cartwright, or they'll mutiny," she advised the taller woman before moving back up to the middle of the line.

Molly growled in frustration. SHIT, she thought as they ran. She's tough. Once, just once, I'm going to catch HER doing something wrong, Molly thought. And I'm not showing her any sympathy, either. That'll fix her. Soon all thought faded from her mind as she concentrated on her breathing.

Twenty laps later, as the girls and the coaches were rounding the baseline for the last time, Molly was still wondering if she'd get her chance that night or if she'd have to wait. The group slowed and gathered at the end of the court, taking a minute to catch their breath a bit before moving on to the next drill.

After the whistle sprints, Noelle lined the girls up for some easy lay-ups. If anyone missed, however, she had to run a line sprint before getting back into line to continue.

"What the hell's the point of that?" Molly asked her in a fierce hiss, coming to stand next to her before getting in line.

Noelle turned to the lines and asked loudly, "Why the sprint, ladies?"

Jenny yelled for the group, "BECAUSE IT'S THE EASIEST SHOT TO MAKE!"

Noelle smiled and nodded. "Eyup. That'd be it." Then she looked over her shoulder at Molly and smiled sweetly. Too sweetly. "Surely someone with your ability and height would have no problem with a little bitty lay-up, Coach Cartwright," she taunted gently. "Don't be nervous. You won't have to run that often, I'm betting. But run you will." The smile turned into a full-fledged grin.

Molly narrowed her eyes. "We'll see who runs more sprints, Coach." And she got herself in line with the girls. Noelle got into the rebounding line, and before long, she was into the drill, yelling encouragement and tips to the girls. She watched in delight as Molly missed a lay-up and had to run. As Molly sprinted past her, Noelle crowed "Two to one, Cartwright," referring to Molly's number of sprints compared to Noelle's own. She laughed loudly when she heard Molly swear under her breath.

As Molly hit center court, a brilliant idea came to mind, and she grinned widely during the rest of her suicide. When she got into the rebound line, she saw Noelle just a few girls back from the ball.

"Hey, gang!" she yelled to the girls. Everyone stopped at the unexpected sound of Coach Cartwright yelling to them. They all looked at her expectantly, waiting to see what was so important that it made Coach C. raise her voice.

"I think, because Coach Potter and I are older and have played much longer, the two of us should have to do a more… difficult lay-up. I say the two of us have to do ONE-HANDED lay-ups from here on out."

The suggestion was met with cheers and whistles from the girls. Noelle looked at Molly in astonishment. Is she out of her ever-loving mind?! I can't do those fuckers to save m… The sneaky old bitty! THAT'S why she suggested them. SHIT!!! No matter what I do, I'm going to look like an idiot. Then Noelle started laughing hard at the turn of events. She got me. She got me good, this time.

Molly strode to where Noelle waited in line. "Whatsamatter, Potter? Afraid of a little one-handed play?" she asked with a wicked grin.

Noelle shook her head and laughed harder. "You… you got… me… I can't… do these," she panted between gasps of breath.

Molly looked at her in confusion. Then it dawned on her what Noelle was saying. "You can't do one-handed lay-ups?"

Noelle shook her head in response, still laughing.

Molly whistled low. "No kidding. Wow. That's something." She paused for a second then asked in a whisper for Noelle's ears only, "Can you do ANYTHING one-handed?" She grinned wickedly as Noelle abruptly stopped laughing and just stared at her.

The smaller woman grinned mischievously before answering. "I can do LOTS of things… sail, eat, type, write… and a few other things… unfortunately not lay-ups," she whispered huskily.

Molly stared at Noelle, not knowing at all how to reply. Whoa, I think it just got hotter than hell in here. Suddenly she thumped Noelle hard on the back. "Looks like you'll be running then, hon." As she walked to the other line, she could swear she heard Noelle call her a bitch.

The girl in the rebound line fed Noelle the ball after she recovered it then jogged to the end of the lay-up line. She turned just in time to see Noelle mess up the one-handed shot.

Fuck me… I KNEW it, Noelle thought as she started the suicide. As she sprinted past Molly, the dark woman wiggled her fingers at her in greeting.

"Shut up, Cartwright," she yelled good-naturedly as she continued the sprint. She panted lightly as she got in the rebound line, waiting her turn.

Not too long later, Molly finally took charge, calling the drill done. She had counted Noelle running eleven line sprints as a result of missing the one-handers. She knew that Noelle would never call the drill over as a matter of pride, and she ran them all at top speed, not slacking off a bit. But Molly could see that she, and the girls were run into the ground. It was time to quit for the night.

Molly blew her whistle, waving the girls around her. She watched as Noelle determinedly finished her last sprint, not giving any quarter at all. Molly shook her head, the dark hair that was caught in a ponytail swinging around her head. She's something. So damned stubborn. And dedicated, Molly thought in wonder.

When everyone had taken a seat at center court, Molly smiled warmly. It was the first time that many of the girls had ever seen the usually stoic woman smile. They waited for her to speak.

"We did good tonight. I know we didn't play like most of you wanted to, but what we did was equally important as running plays." Molly paused, letting her words sink in before continuing. "Thank you. Thank you for being here, and thank you for bringing dedication and commitment to the team. It means a lot."

Noelle watched the girls as they listened to Molly's words. They all were so into what she was saying that none of them noticed when she dropped down at the edge of the group. She saw a few girls nod their heads in agreement to whatever it was that Molly was saying.

Her heart ached for them, ached at the shining hope that was in each of their faces. She was reminded of the energy and excitement they all had had before that last game.

It was a Friday night, and they had traveled over two hours to get to Johnson Mills High School, the site of the championship game. They had changed and did the locker room talk. Noelle wanted the win so badly… but not for the reason that some coaches wanted a title. She wanted the win for the girls. They had played so well and with such dedication and determination throughout the season, that Noelle wanted the title for THEM. Not for the school, or Tony, or herself… she wanted it for them. And she was determined to do it for them.

Yet she failed them. The game had been close from the tip-off, and it had remained close after half-time. Noelle should have been there those last few minutes, but she had been thrown out of the game for loudly and repeatedly contesting unfair calls. The girls were left with Dottie as their coach, and it had proved fatal for the win.

She would never forget the look on their faces when she talked with them in the locker room afterward. There was fatigue, of course… but with the fatigue was disappointment, anger, and disillusionment. It broke her heart. And she'd live with it for as long as she coached the game.

Noelle shook her head, stuffing the memories back where they belonged, in the far corner of her mind. I'll never let them down again. I won't, she vowed silently.

She heard Molly dismiss the girls, and she watched them jog to the locker room. As the last girl reached the door, she remembered that she wanted to talk to Jilly, so she got to her feet and started walking to the locker room.

"Noelle!" Molly called.

"Be right back," she tossed over her shoulder. Noelle opened the door to the locker room, hearing the usual noise that accompanied kids in locker rooms. She looked around quickly, not seeing Jilly right away.

Kristin Johansen, a senior, was walking past Noelle, and she stopped her to ask about Jilly.

"Hey, Kris, have you seen Jilly Michaels? Is she still around?"

The girl shrugged. "Sorry, Coach. I don't have any idea. I think she's gone, though."

Noelle sighed. "Okay," she said, patting the girl on the back. "Thanks, Kris. You did good tonight, by the way."

"Hurry it up, ladies! The cleaning ladies want in to straighten up," she called. Noelle stayed where she was until the last girl left. Then she gathered her coat, locked the office, and walked back into the gym. She saw Molly in the gym doing one-handed lay-ups. The taller woman had gathered the balls and put them on the cart before practicing the shot.

"Show off!" Noelle yelled at her as she executed another perfect shot. She walked to the only open bleacher section in the gym and dropped her coat on the bench. She stood there watching Molly do lay-up after lay-up, never missing one.

"Show off!" she yelled again.

"You're just jealous," Molly replied as she came down from yet another perfect shot. She retrieved the ball and turned to face Noelle.

"Come on, I'll show you," she called softly.

Not taking her eyes from the woman before her, Noelle walked to where Molly stood. "Show me," she whispered intently.

Molly's eyes narrowed. Sounds almost like she's talking abou… nah. No way. She shook her head once, then smiled engagingly at Noelle. "It's easy, Noe. As you move closer to your goal, feel it with your whole body. When you pull your leg up, thrust deeply with one hand, twist your wrist, and when you reach the peak just flick your fingers a bit and… voila! Instant gratification." Molly grinned wickedly at Noelle, watching the blush spread quickly from her neck to her face. She chuckled and shook her head when Noelle cleared her throat and looked down at the gym floor.

With a grin, she re-explained the procedure. "Okay, go up like you're going for a regular lay-up… but instead of grabbing with your off-hand, too, just scoop it up with your on-hand. Watch." With that, Molly did a lay-up, putting the ball neatly off the glass and into the net. "See?"

Noelle nodded and muttered, "Uh-huh. Whatever." She caught the ball that Molly passed to her and glared balefully at the woman before dribbling to the basket. Her form was perfect for the lay-up, but she rocketed the ball off the glass and it shot out past the foul line.

"Whoa," Molly said as she ducked. "JESUS, Noelle! Settle down. You don't want to thrust THAT hard, you'll hurt something. What the hell are you shooting it so hard for?"

Noelle jogged for the ball before answering. "I keep thinking that because it's only one hand, I need to make up for the hand that's missing. You know, move this hand more and harder," she said innocently, batting her big green eyes up at the dark woman.

Molly shook her head, grinning sexily. "No. It's all about finesse, right? It's not about strength. You need the same light touch as a regular one… and you can do those just fine, I bet." Molly looked deeply into the green eyes that looked back at her saucily. "Watch again."

And she did another shot, sinking the ball easily. She fed the ball back to Noelle who tried it again. The same thing happened. They practiced the shot over and over, Molly not missing, and Noelle not making it.

Finally Noelle shook her head, the anger and frustration apparent in her posture and on her face. "Forget it. I can't do it," she growled, slamming the ball off the floor. "I'm going the hell home." She strode over to the ball cart and slammed the ball on the cart. Then she yanked it to the closet and rolled it in.

Noelle walked back to pick up her coat and then she slammed out of the gym, never saying a word to Molly. She strode angrily out of the building and to her Jimmy, only stopping when she felt Molly's hand on her arm.

She whipped around to look at Molly, irrationally angry. "If you've come to gloat, then fucking save it," she hissed. "I KNOW I can't do it, and I don't need you to fucking tell me again." Noelle stopped abruptly when she finally looked into Molly's eyes. The hurt she saw there made her heart break. She sighed. "I… I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be mean," she said quietly.

"I wasn't going to say anything except that I know you can do it if you keep at it," Molly whispered, not breaking the eye contact with Noelle. "I'd never make fun of you. Tease you, yeah, but not make fun of you."

"Oh, Molly. I know you'd never do that. I know it…" Noelle paused. "Come sailing with me on Saturday," she offered suddenly. "The forecast is calling for sun all day. It'll be cold, but if you dress appropriately, it'll be a good day. It's probably going to be the last time we can get out in the boat before I have to winter it." She stopped, watching the delight on Molly's face. She grinned at the taller woman. "I'll even pack a lunch. Come on, it'll be fun."

Molly nodded slowly, the look on her face one of wonder and child-like delight. "I'd like that. Thank you."

Noelle laughed. "Good! Let's go around 10:00. Can you be at my house a little before that?"

Molly nodded in agreement.

"You sure? The first dance of the year is on Friday night, and it's always a late one."

"I'll be there," Molly said huskily. "I'll be there…"

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

If Noelle heard about the dance on Friday one more time, she was going to scream. Although she loved and appreciated the enthusiasm, she was sick of hearing about the dance.

Noelle was walking down the hall before the first bell. One of her students, Keith Swaker, called to her and came to walk with her a bit.

"Yo, Miss P! You goin'-"

"Yes, I'll be there," Noelle answered, knowing to what he was referring without having to listen to the rest of the question. "Someone's got to keep you people in line," she said with a grin.

"I believe that's my job," an unmistakable voice said behind her. Noelle's body knew the voice an instant before her brain did. A thrill surged quickly through her, causing her heart to beat faster.

Molly stepped in beside her, and Noelle grinned at the dean. "Yeah, we know. Think you can handle it, Cartwright?" she teased.

"Yeah, we're a tough crowd," Keith quipped.

Molly raised an eyebrow at the boy. "Nothing will happen at that dance… except dancing," she said in a low, intense voice.

The boy looked at the dean nervously. He just shrugged and quickly walked away from the two women.

Noelle shook her head. "Why can't you be nice to them?" she asked seriously.

"I'm not here to be nice. I'm here to protect them, and you can damn well bet that's what I'm going to do," she said for Noelle's ears only. "YOU can be nice to them. I can't afford to."

Noelle stopped and stared hard at Molly. Finally she spoke. "You can't afford NOT to." Then she went through the stairway door and up the stairs.

Molly watched her go. She doesn't get it. Goddamn it, she doesn't get it.

The remainder of the week the school buzzed with excitement about the dance. It was on Friday, which also happened to be Halloween. But instead of a costume dance, the faculty had decided on a semi-formal dance for the students. It promised to be a good dance with most of the students dressing up for the occasion.

Friday finally arrived, and the excitement was palpable. Noelle's afternoon classes were wastes of time. The students were entirely too pre-occupied with the dance to be of much use to learn.

Noelle's last class was definitely the worst behaved of the day. Trying to analyze "Beowulf" with a group of excited, excitable teenagers was not an easy task on a good day. Today it was fruitless. Three times in the first five minutes of class, Noelle had to tell the students to settle down. She managed to get through the rest of the class period until about ten minutes before the last bell rang.

Molly was monitoring the halls, knowing the students were wound up tight as springs. She came within a few steps of Noelle's classroom when she heard the sharp report of a book slamming on a desk. She stopped just outside the partially opened door and listened.

"That is absolutely ENOUGH!" Noelle said in a deceptively calm voice. >From the tone of her voice, however, her class knew that this was just the calm before the storm that was Ms. Potter when she was angry.

"You have pushed me beyond my limits, people, and it stops NOW." Noelle paused in her tirade to walk across the classroom. One hapless young man chose that time to turn to talk to his buddy behind him. Before he knew what was happening, Noelle was right in front of his desk glaring at him.

"Mike! That's enough! You either shut that mouth, and keep it shut right now or you remove yourself from this classroom!"

"I… ummmm… I'm…" the boy stammered. His mouth opened and closed several times, and his eyes were huge. He resembled a dying fish. He'd never seen his normally good-natured literature teacher this angry before.

"Not one more word, Mike. Not one!"

Noelle strode to the front of the classroom, keeping her back to the students. After a moment, she slowly turned to face her class. "Now we have two options here," she said in that voice. "One, we can do this MY way right now. Or two, we can do this MY way AFTER SCHOOL." Noelle stopped talking and looked at each of her students. "Whichever you choose is acceptable to me. I'm stepping out to collect myself. I suggest you use the time to come to a consensus." Noelle started for the door then stopped. "And I caution you to choose wisely." Noelle walked out of the room and closed the door behind her.

Noelle leaned against the wall, not noticing that Molly stood behind her.

Molly watched with concern as Noelle's shoulders began to shake. Her concern grew when she saw the younger woman reach up and wipe her eyes. The she heard the telltale sniffle.

"Hey," she said softly.

Noelle straightened quickly and turned to face Molly, wiping her eyes.

"You okay, Noe?" she asked in concern.

"Yeah," Noelle answered in a strangled voice.

"Look, I know that they're wild today, but it's not worth crying about." Molly tried her best to soothe Noelle, not really knowing what to say.

"Crying?" she asked incredulously. "Who's crying? You think I'm-"

Suddenly Noelle burst into laughter, surprising Molly.

"Crying? Oh God… I'm not… I'm not crying…" The more Noelle talked, the harder she laughed. "Not hardly… crying…" she gasped. Noelle bent slightly at the waist, resting her hands just above her knees, all the while laughing loudly and deeply.

Molly stared at Noelle with narrowed eyes.

"Jesus… did you see… Mike's face? I thought he was… going to… pass out," Noelle hooted. "Oh God, I have to stop. I need to stop before I fall over," Noelle panted after a few moments of uncontrolled laughter. She stood up, wiped her eyes, and looked at Molly.

Molly could see the twinkle that was still in Noelle's green eyes. "I take it you weren't really upset," she stated unnecessarily.

"Good deduction, Einstein," Noelle teased good-naturedly. "Sometimes, although I get frustrated, I can't help laughing. They're so excited and giddy. I love it." She smiled warmly at Molly. Wow. She's beautiful, Noelle thought absently.

"So what'll happen when you go back in," Molly asked.

Noelle grinned wickedly. "Watch."

And before Molly could agree, Noelle transformed right in front of her. Noelle's eyes, instead of twinkling with mischief, sparked with anger. Her posture became stiffer, more rigid. She was once again the angry teacher that had left the classroom five minutes earlier. If she hadn't witnessed it herself, Molly never would have believed Noelle was breathless with laughter only thirty seconds ago.

Noelle fixed Molly with her best "teacher" glare, her brows knit with anger and her jaw clenched. She turned to go into her room, but paused at the door. She glared over her shoulder at Molly… then she winked.

Molly grinned widely, liking this woman more and more as time went by. She leaned comfortably against the wall to listen to the proceedings in the classroom.

Noelle strode to the center of the room and stood with her hands on her hips. The stance was very authoritarian, and, to add to the effect, Noelle took a moment to glare at each student, causing everyone to shift uncomfortably in his or her desk.

"I'm disappointed in this entire class. I had just started to think that maybe this class was going to be my best this year. And you do this? You've disappointed me. It better not happen again." Noelle paused, working the students as only she could. "For homework this weekend-" she was interrupted by groans from some of the students.

"Don't start with me," she snapped, effectively silencing the would-be complainers. "For homework this weekend," she repeated, "you will all write me a two page essay on MY disappointment… MINE, not yours. And let me say this, so listen carefully, people. It had better be legible. If I can't read your slop, there will be more problems for you. Get started right now."

She turned to her desk, catching Molly's eyes outside of her door. She winked again, then stepped to her desk to straighten papers, waiting for the bell. When it did ring, not one student moved a muscle. She looked at the class silently.

Softly she said, "This better not happen again. Do you understand me?" Heads nodded. "I will expect your essays first thing on Monday. Now get out of here."

As the students packed up to leave, a few stopped to speak with Noelle in groups of two or three, apologizing for their behavior.

When everyone had left, Molly stepped into the classroom. "That was amazing," she stated quietly. "You love this job, don't you?"

Noelle smiled gently. "Much more than I should."

"I can tell." Molly just looked at Noelle then, not saying any more.

Noelle started to squirm under Molly's scrutiny. She looked at her desk, blushing a light pink.

Molly smiled at the smaller woman. "You don't have to hide from me, Noe."

Noelle shook her head. "But I do. Don't you see?"

Molly shook her head. "No, I don't see. I guess we'll just have to disagree on this one." She waited for Noelle to look at her. "I'll prove you wrong eventually. I always do," she said with a grin.

"Oh, shut up," Noelle grumbled. She bent to pick up her bag and then followed Molly out of the room. Instead of going the same way as Molly, she walked in the opposite direction, calling cheerfully, "We'll see!"

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

Later that evening, Noelle arrived to chaperone the dance in the gym, finding the usual large crowd of teenagers. She walked into the gym, which was lit softly, and the DJ played "The Sign" by Ace of Base. There was a small group dancing and a smaller group hovering around the DJ. The rest stood around in groups talking and laughing.

Noelle strolled through the crowd, returning greetings and complimenting students on their attire. As the evening wore on, Noelle began keeping an extra-attentive eye on the darker, more secluded areas of the gym. Knowing the more amorous couples tended to migrate there to become better "acquainted" with one another, Noelle kept her attention focused on those places.

Excusing herself from the group of chaperones with whom she was speaking, Noelle walked toward a dark corner at the other end of the gym. She made her way through the large throng, wondering briefly where Molly was hiding. She stepped into the darkness, quickly scanning the area for any stray students.

"Thank God," Noelle whispered, leaning a shoulder against the wall and looking out into the gym. When she chaperoned, Noelle often took short breaks from her duties to catch her breath.

Her thoughts began to wander to her students. They seem like a good crew this year. It's going well so far, knock on wood. The kids are good… but I worry about Tom. Wonder what's behind his behavior. So lost in her thoughts was she, Noelle didn't hear when someone came up to stand behind her.


Noelle jumped. "Whoa!" She spun around to see Molly standing very close to her. She narrowed her eyes at the bigger woman. "You are really starting to piss me off always scaring me like that," she growled with mock severity. "Knock it off, Cartwright."

Molly smiled. "Pay attention and you won't be scared," she purred sexily.

"Somehow I think that no matter how closely I pay attention, I'll still be scared," Noelle answered seriously.

"Maybe," came the equally serious reply.

The two women just looked into each other's eyes for a long moment, then Noelle broke the contact first. She turned slightly away from Molly to watch the students in the gym. Molly used the time to take a better look at Noelle.

The woman before her was stunning. Noelle's hair was scattered all over head, framing her face prettily. She wore simple opal earrings, and the barest hint of make-up. The dress she wore was a dark green plaid that came to just above her knees. It was loose-fitting and swung easily around her small frame. Molly looked at Noelle's hands, noting the opal ring on her right middle finger. She wore a delicate gold watch on her right wrist and a gold chain with a sailboat charm on her neck.

She's so beautiful, Molly thought. She continued to study Noelle, drinking in the sight of her.

"Like what you see?"

Molly started at the question. She hadn't known Noelle was aware of her perusal. She grinned slowly.

"Well?" she asked again.

"Oh, yeah… very much," she whispered.

Molly stepped up behind Noelle, close enough that their bodies barely touched. Noelle's scent caused the slow burning inside of Molly to burst into a raging flame.

All of Noelle's senses leapt to attention at Molly's closeness. She desperately wanted to lean back into the warmth of Molly's bigger body, but she resisted that temptation. She knew it would be dangerous if she gave into what Molly made her feel… and she was terrified of that.

"Shame this is all you'll see," Noelle retorted softly.

"Mmm, I've seen more… and I will again," Molly said matter-of-factly. Then she leaned closer… so close that her lips brushed Noelle's exposed ear. "I'll see more. I'll hear more. And I'll taste more, Ms. Potter." Molly nipped Noelle's ear, then she stepped around her to walk into the gym.

Noelle closed her eyes briefly, then opened them to watch Molly stride toward a large crowd of students. Noelle decided that the dark woman looked amazing. She was wearing a black silk shirt with the first two buttons undone over loose black rayon pants. She wore diamond studs in her ears and a black leather watch on her left wrist. Her black hair hung down her back. It was an image both sexy and frightening to Noelle.

Dangerous, very dangerous, Noelle thought. Then she slowly made her way back to the dancers.

It was close to the DJ's quitting time when Noelle heard a commotion in the far corner of the gym. She looked over and saw a fairly large group of students gathering. She sprinted across the gym, dodging students and pushing others out of the way as she ran.

Noelle arrived at the group just as Molly pushed her way into the center with Joe Young, one of their science teachers who was also chaperoning the dance.

Tom Kline was in the middle of the group of teenagers, fighting with another boy. Noelle watched as Tom picked the smaller boy up by the shirt-front and slammed him against the padded gym wall. He pounded the boy in the gut over and over until Molly stopped him.

She grabbed his punching arm and spun him around, leaving Joe to catch the smaller boy before he fell to the floor. Molly looked menacingly at Tom. She stood loosely before him, appearing relaxed. But Noelle knew that to be untrue. She knew the big woman was ready for anything Tom would throw at her.

"Picking on smaller kids again, eh, Kline? You're really a big man, aren't you? Why don't you try it on someone your own size? Huh? Come on… let's see what you're really made of, tough guy," she goaded him.

Noelle watched the rage wash over Tom, and it made her gasp. To see that kind of rage on someone so young was shocking.

The boy clenched his fists and charged Molly, wanting to take her down. She side-stepped him easily, shoving him a bit as he passed her, causing him to stumble slightly.

"Come on, Kline. Is that the best you can do?" Molly taunted.

Tom rushed her again, but this time, instead of stepping out of the way, Molly caught him, stepping back to absorb the force of the young man's bigger body slamming into hers. His head was low, hovering near her hip so she put him in a head-lock. She glanced over her shoulder, seeing the wall a few steps behind her. She backed up to the wall, still holding Tom securely in the lock. She pushed backward, holding his head directly against the wall. He flailed his arms violently, but to no avail. Molly was squeezing him tightly, keeping him from harming himself or anyone around him.

"You're nothing, Kline. You're a piddly little chicken-boy who picks on smaller kids. You're pathetic," Molly taunted maliciously, soft enough that only he heard.

Seeing that the situation was getting way out of hand, Noelle stepped into the middle and came to stand next to Tom on the opposite side of Molly.

"Back off, Noelle," Molly snarled. "Joe," she called. "Get Detective Jameson in here to take care of this... student."

Noelle just stared at the woman holding the boy. She couldn't reconcile this cold-hearted, vicious dean of students with the warm, caring woman she knew.

"Let him go, Molly," she said softly. "Don't do this to him. He'll stand down if you let him go. Right, Tom?" she asked the boy without taking her eyes from the glacial blue ones in front of her.

Tom growled in frustration but nodded as best he could.

"Good. Now let him go, Molly," she said again, still softly. "Don't do this. Let him go."

"He's dangerous," Molly snarled again.

Noelle knew that Molly was within her rights as a chaperone and the dean of students to hold the boy as he was until the detective arrived. But she also knew that it would be permanently damaging to Tom… and Molly, if it continued.

"Come on, Molly… let him go. I'll watch him… I'll stay with him until Detective Jameson gets here." She laid a soft hand on Molly's arm, the one that held Tom in the head-lock. "Please," she implored gently.

Molly growled but let the boy go, pushing him away from her. She turned to Joe. "Wait with him out in the hall until Jim gets here. If he gives you any crap do what you have to." Then she got right into Tom's face. "Screw up again, pal, and you're going down," she snarled. She shoved the boy toward the door, then nodded at Joe to follow close behind him.

"Dance is over. GO HOME!" Molly roared to the crowd. "There better not be one more problem tonight, or people are in a BOATLOAD of trouble. NOW GET OUT OF HERE!"

The students began to file out quickly as the DJ packed his equipment and someone turned on the big overhead lights.

Noelle helped get the slower students moving out faster, keeping an eye on Molly who was prowling around the gym like a caged tiger. When the last student left, she walked over to where Molly was standing.


"Now is not a good time to talk to me," Molly interrupted coldly.

"But… wait a minute," Noelle said.

"NO! Now go home, Noelle. I don't want to talk to you right now." With that, Molly strode angrily out of the gym, leaving a hurt and bewildered Noelle Potter standing there staring after her.

Continued in Part 7.

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