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 7

Noelle stared at the retreating back. What the fuck just happened? What's going on? What the FUCK?! Noelle decided that, instead of making herself crazy trying to figure out exactly what was going on with Molly, she would just ask the woman. Like that's a fucking smart idea, she thought sarcastically. It must be the fumes from the halogen lights in the gym. That's what it is, the fumes.

Noelle shook her head at herself, then walked slowly out of the gym, going over every moment of the fight, wondering where she went wrong- or if she went wrong at all. She headed for Molly's office, knowing instinctively that that's where the bigger woman went.

As she drew closer to the office, she heard voices coming from beyond the partially closed door. One she thought was Det. Jameson's. The other was unmistakably Molly Cartwright's.

Shit, she thought as she listened to Molly's voice. It was ice cold and devoid of all emotion- empty. "Shit," Noelle swore softly to herself again. She didn't like the sound of that voice one bit. She paused outside the door to take a deep, fortifying breath. Then she knocked firmly on the door. She stepped aside when Jim Jameson opened the door and stepped out.

"Excuse me," he said, not waiting for a reply before striding out of the building. Noelle shook her head and was about to knock again when Molly's voice stopped her.

"What is it?"

Noelle poked her head around the corner of the door and smiled tentatively when she saw the dark woman behind her desk typing furiously on the keyboard.

Without looking up, Molly said harshly, "I told you this isn't a good time, Noelle."

Noelle stepped further into the office, enough to close the door behind her.

"I don't give a fuck," she said softly. "I need to talk to you."

Again without stopping, Molly spoke. "What do you want?" she asked abruptly.

Noelle thought for a minute. What do I want? That's a hell of a question. She's kidding, right? "I want you to tell me what the hell's wrong with you," she said evenly.

Molly stopped what she was doing, still not looking at Noelle.

"Look, Noelle, I'm telling you this isn't a good time to talk to me. Not right now."

Noelle put her hands on Molly's desk, leaning forward slightly.

"Fuck you," she swore softly, hoping to goad the angry woman into talking with her, telling her what was going through that sexy head of hers.

"I won't do this with you. Go home, Noelle." And the dark woman went back to her typing.

Noelle took the few steps it required to get around Molly's desk, and she spun her chair around, bringing the bigger woman to face her. She rested her hands on the arms of the chair and bent close to Molly's face.

"You will," she breathed.

Noelle watched as the blue eyes hardened even more, making them a deeper blue. It's now or never. "You don't scare me." Which was a blatant lie because right then, Molly scared the hell out of her.

Suddenly, Noelle found herself yanked into Molly's lap, the feel of the muscular thighs under her buttocks incredibly arousing. Molly's arms went around her, effectively trapping the younger woman within the steel bands.

She struggled briefly, but stopped when the gravelly voice spoke low in her ear.

"I don't scare you, huh? Well I should." Then she captured Noelle's lips in a searing, soul-stirring kiss. Her tongue thrust insistently into Noelle's mouth, taking what she wanted. One of her hands slid under the hem of Noelle's dress to caress a silk-clad thigh firmly.

Molly groaned when she touched Noelle's thigh, feeling the satiny smoothness of nylon over skin. She kissed Noelle deeper, her tongue sliding in and out of the blond woman's mouth over and over. Her fingers brushed the spot between Noelle's thighs, causing Noelle to tear her mouth from Molly's and gasp.

Noelle felt like she was raging out of control. She felt like an all-consuming fire was moving through every fiber of her being. She brought her hands up to grab Molly's shirt, holding on tightly. She kept her eyes closed, not wanting Molly to see.

But as if reading her mind, Molly commanded harshly, "Look at me."

Noelle opened her eyes slowly and looked into eyes so impossibly blue that she wondered for a brief second how on earth they could be such an incredible color. Then Molly's hand was on her breast, and all thought fled from her mind.

Molly cupped the full breast firmly, kneading it, rubbing the nipple through the cloth of the woman's dress. She watched as Noelle again closed her eyes, unable to keep them open against the onslaught of emotion.

Molly took the soft, wet lips in another deep kiss. She felt Noelle arch into her hand, moving closer to her. She moved her lips to the exposed skin of Noelle's neck, sucking and nipping the skin there gently, while her hand moved over Noelle's breast.

Suddenly, she thrust a hand into Noelle's hair and pulled her head back, kissing her lips savagely. Her hand cupped Noelle's head as her lips crushed the other woman's. She heard the younger woman moan, but instead of hearing it as the moan of desire that it was, she heard it as a sound of fear.

Molly immediately set Noelle on her feet. "Jesus, Noelle- oh, God, I'm sorry- I'm so sorry-" Molly got up and stepped around Noelle, keeping her back to the other woman. "Jesus Christ- I'm sorry-" She thrust her hands in her dark hair and hung her head, feeling the shame and remorse sweep through her. What the fuck am I thinking? FUCK. I'm not, that's the fucking problem- Jesus-

Noelle found herself once again looking at the strong back. What the hell-? "Ummm," she started. The she cleared her throat before continuing. "Why exactly are you sorry? What the fuck is going on? What exactly have I missed here?"

"I- I scared you," came the mumbled reply. "Oh God, Noe, I'm sorry."

Noelle looked at the woman in front of her. "Scared me?" she asked softly. "Scared me?" She shook her head ruefully. She's so wonderfully clueless, Noelle thought with a tiny smile.

Noelle stepped close enough to the ebony-haired woman to touch her. She reached out a hand to gently stroke Molly's back. Then she leaned her forehead against that back, feeling the heat coming from Molly's body.

"If only you knew how NOT scared I am right now," the blond woman whispered. "Oh, Mol. I'm not scared. Not at all. Aroused, excited, frustrated. But not scared."

Slowly, Molly began to relax, and Noelle slipped her arms around the taller woman's waist, squeezing her gently. They stayed like that for some time, Noelle leaning against Molly, and Molly rubbing the arms around her lightly.

"Can I still come sailing tomorrow?"

Noelle stilled for a moment, not sure she heard the question right.

"Well? Can I?"

Noelle burst out laughing. The tone that Molly used could have been that of a five year old asking for a new toy- petulant, childish, and a bit whiny.

She laughed so hard that finally Molly turned around. She wrapped long arms around the shaking body. Suddenly she poked a finger into Noelle's sides, making her gasp.

"Stop- cut it- out," Noelle gasped as Molly continued to poke her. She wriggled around, trying to get away, but Molly held her firmly. Noelle kept wiggling, trying in vain to get away from the taller woman.

"Mo- Molly- stop- stop," she laughed. "STOP!" With that, Noelle stepped back quickly and held her stomach as she laughed. Tears streamed down her cheeks, which were flushed with laughter.

When she looked at Molly, Molly's breath caught in her throat at the beauty that was before her. Noelle's green eyes had darkened to a pine-tree green, and they sparkled with wonderful good humor. Her face was flushed prettily, and- Dear God. She's so beautiful. Looking at Noelle as she was right then almost caused Molly's heart to break. She deserves so much. So damned much.

Noelle looked into Molly's eyes, and the look in them made the laughter die in her throat. Those blue eyes were so open, so intense. They seemed to look straight into Noelle's soul, not leaving any part hidden. Now, finally, Noelle was afraid.

Molly watched in dismay as Noelle once more retreated behind that emotional barrier she had erected because of- that bastard. I want to fucking kill him, the son of a bitch. Damn it.

Deciding that she needed to steer them onto more neutral ground, needed to get them back to lighter topics, Molly put her hands on her hips and scowled at the smaller woman.

"So? Sailing or not?" she growled playfully.

Noelle grinned, a strange sense of relief washing over her. She nodded. "You bet. Make sure you dress warm, though. Longies and stuff." She paused, thinking. "If you've got polyprop, then wear that. If not, just wear lots of layers. Wool socks, boots if you have them."

Molly whistled. "Wow. All that stuff?"

"Well, yeah, goofy. It's freaking November in PA. Get a clue. You know how cold it gets, and it's even colder out on the water." Noelle grinned as she remembered something. "A hat."

"Huh?" Molly asked in confusion. "A hat?"

"Yeah. You really have to wear a tassel cap." Noelle pronounced it tossel, and it sounded so- quaint to Molly.

Remembering the whole shorts thing for open gym, though, Molly looked at Noelle suspiciously. "Why?"

Noelle shook her head. "Now that's a dumb-ass question. It keeps your ears warm and your body heat in. Boy, you really know nothing about sailing, do you?"

"Nope, sure don't," the dean answered amiably.

Noelle sighed. "Well, tomorrow will be the last until the end of April or so. It'll be a good day."

"Any day with you is a good day, Noe," Molly said sincerely. She watched in amusement as a blush spread across Noelle's face and neck. She chuckled. "You're so easily embarrassed," Molly said, shaking her head.

"Shut up, jerk," Noelle said indignantly. "I am NOT!"

Molly laughed outright at that. "Come on, let's go. This garbage can wait until Monday." Molly moved to her computer, saved what she had been working on, then logged off and shut it down. "There. Now we can go." She gathered her coat and gloves, slipping into the heavy parka but not zipping it.

She shut the lights off on her way out of the office and turned to lock the door while Noelle retrieved her coat from the faculty lounge. When she came out, they headed to their vehicles.

"Whoa," Molly exclaimed when the cold air hit her. "Wooo. It's cold."

"No shit," Noelle said as her teeth started to chatter. "Make sure you dress warmly tomorrow for real, Molly. It's not like Pitt. It gets downright frigid here. And we're bound to get wet some, so bring a change of clothes to leave in the Jimmy for after, okay?"

As she finished speaking, they had reached her vehicle. Molly waited until Noelle was safely inside the Jimmy with the motor running before stepping away from the SUV. When Noelle rolled down her window, she leaned against the vehicle.

"Ten o'clock, okay?" she reminded the other woman. "That'll give us the whole afternoon for sailing before it starts to get dark." She paused and looked seriously at Molly. "And don't think I didn't notice that we never talked about that bug that crawled up your ass. We will. You can bet on it." Then she rolled up her window and accelerated slowly out of the parking lot, leaving Molly staring after her.

She's something, isn't she? Molly thought with a grin as she walked quickly to her Land Rover, anxious to get out of the cold.

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

When she pulled up in front of Noelle's house, Molly saw the small blond checking the straps that held the small boat onto the trailer. Molly shut off the engine and got out of the Rover, shouldering a small bag. She trotted over to where Noelle was standing and greeted the woman.

"Good morning," Molly said softly. "Beautiful day today."

Noelle looked up and smiled absently. "Mmhm. Sure is."

Noting the worry clouding those green eyes, Molly put a hand on Noelle's arm, stopping her for a moment. "Noe? What's wrong? Everything okay?"

Noelle sighed. "I- I talked to Mary this morning. She sounds bad- sick or something. I'm just worried about her, that's all. She's not been feeling well for- a while." Noelle shook her head. "It's nothing."

"It IS something, Noelle. If you'd rather not go out, then we don't have to. I understand," Molly offered.

Noelle shook her head again. "No, that's okay. We can go. I'm sure she'll be fine," Noelle said unconvincingly.

Molly smiled gently. "Let's at least stop by on our way to the lake, okay? We can just stop in to check on her real quick. What do you say?"

Noelle smiled in relief. "Yeah, that's a good idea." She moved to check the straps one last time then looked up at Molly. "I think we're good to go. You ready?"

Molly nodded. "You bet. Got everything I need, and I think I'm dressed warm enough."

At the words, Noelle stepped back to look critically at the taller woman's attire. Starting from her feet, Noelle took in her hiking boots, guessing that she had two pairs of socks underneath them, a polyprop liner pair and a wool outer pair. Then she moved on to the other woman's pants. They were heavy bush pants, similar to BDUs. "You wearing longies?" she asked.

When the other woman nodded in agreement, Noelle moved up to the other woman's torso. She saw a dark turtleneck sticking out of Molly's parka. She looked at the other woman questioningly.

"I have on a long john top, a silk turtleneck, a wool sweater, and this parka," Molly recited automatically, rolling her eyes dramatically. Then she grinned.

Noelle smiled in return and nodded in approval. "Hat and gloves?" she asked finally.

Molly fished her lined gloves out of her pockets and waved them in Noelle's face. "See? Here they are."

Noelle batted the waving hands away. "Uh-huh. Wonderful," she said theatrically. "The hat?"

Molly raised a dark eyebrow. "I am NOT about to wear one if you don't. Nice try, pal, but forget it."

Without a word, Noelle reached into the back seat of the Jimmy and pulled out a dark piece of cloth. She shoved it under Molly's nose. "See? Here it is," she teased.

Molly yanked a dark hat from the cargo pocket on her pants and waved it under Noelle's nose. "See? Here it is," she said mockingly.

Then Noelle reached up and smacked Molly on the head with the hat. "Let's go, hon. You southerners don't know NOTHIN' 'bout-"

"Birthin' babies, Miz Scahlett?" Molly answered in a heavy, yet fake southern accent.

Noelle looked at Molly strangely. "Huh? I was talking about sailing, you nut." She shook her head. "You're really wacky, you know?"

"Mmhm, sure do know."

Noelle burst out laughing. "Come on, let's get going. We'll stop at Mary's first then head over to the lake."

The two women made the drive in silence, the only sound coming from the radio. When they pulled up in front of Mary's, Noelle left the Jimmy running and they both ran into Mary's to say hi and check on the older woman.

Noelle opened the door and stepped into the small house. She listened briefly for the familiar sounds of Mary puttering around in the kitchen. When she heard nothing, Noelle turned a worried eye to Molly.

Molly gently urged the smaller woman forward. "Go on," she said softly. "Go see. I'll wait here."

Noelle walked into the living room and was relieved to see Mary lying on the couch. She stepped closer and knelt next to the sleeping woman.

"Ma?" she whispered. "Hey, Mom." She waited until Mary opened her eyes, eyes that were a tired, glassy dark brown.

Mary turned those eyes to look at Noelle. She smiled sleepily at her daughter. "Hi, sweetie," she said in a gravelly, tired voice.

Noelle leaned over to kiss Mary on the cheek, noting that she didn't seem to have a fever. "You okay, Mare? I'm worried."

Mary nodded. "I'm fine. Just tired, that's all." She slowly sat up, waving off Noelle's assistance. "The day I can't sit up on my own, Noelle Potter, is the day they'll put me in the ground."

"Jesus, Ma! Don't kid like that. Shit," she swore softly.

"Watch that mouth. I still have enough left in me to wash it out with some Ivory Dishsoap."

Noelle grinned. "Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry," she said, her words in contrast to the smile on her face. Noelle sat next to Mary on the couch and patted her leg. "Molly and I are going out on the boat, and we just wanted to check on you before we left."

Mary looked at her daughter in surprise. "Molly's here? Where is she?"

Noelle nodded toward the foyer. "Right out there."

Just then Molly stuck her head around the corner of the doorjamb. "Hiya, Mare. How's kicks, kid?" she asked with a grin.

Mary laughed softly. "Get in here, you crazy kid." Mary watched as the tall woman sat down in the rocking chair and starting rocking absently. No wonder Noelle is smitten with her. She sure is easy on the eyes. "Isn't it a bit chilly to be going out on the water?"

"It's downright COLD, Ma," Noelle corrected. "But it's sunny, so I think we'll be fine. We won't stay out long, I promise, so don't even bother worrying."

Mary smiled at her daughter and the woman who was almost like a daughter to her. "I'll worry until I take my last breath."

Noelle sighed. "Yeah, I know. But I still wish you wouldn't."

The two younger women only stayed a few minutes, promising to stop in on their way home. When they were underway again, Noelle turned to Molly. "Thank you. I- I worry about her. Thanks for letting me check on her."

Molly took hold of Noelle's hand and squeezed it gently. "She means a lot to me, too, Noe. I'm glad we checked on her, too." Suddenly, Molly turned up the radio. "Oh wow. Good song." And she started singing along to Celine's latest, a dance song with a good beat.

"Oh jeez," Noelle moaned. "I think I'm going to throw up."

Molly looked at Noelle with narrowed eyes. "Say that again?"

"I said I think I'm going to barf. God, I hate Chicken Dijon. Her voice makes me want to eat nails. I'd rather have sharpened bamboo shoots shoved under my nails then listen to her sing." Noelle shook her head at the horror of it all.

"My God!" Molly gasped. "Are you NUTS?! You can NOT be from this planet and not like Celine. That's it, isn't it? You're trying to tell me you're really not from this universe. You're from some spooky alternate universe and you've come to take over the world and turn us all into Celine haters, right?"

"And she's ugly."

"Oh my God," Molly whispered in abject horror as she dropped her head onto the headrest behind her. Then she lifted her head, rolled down the window and stuck her face out. "BLASPHEMY! It's BLASPHEMY, I tell you!" she shouted out the window.

Noelle punched the yelling woman lightly in the arm as she laughed loudly. "Cut it out, you freak."

Molly rolled up her window. "YOU'RE the freak. Not me. I love Celine. Anyone who doesn't is the freaky one," Molly said matter-of-factly, crossing her arms over her chest and looking out the window.

Noelle laughed again, and the rest of the drive was made in silence, the only sound coming from the radio that still played.

When they arrived at the boat launch, Noelle pulled in carefully, and it wasn't long before the boat was in the water and their gear was loaded.

The women put on their PFDs, and Noelle pulled her tassel cap out of the back seat of the Jimmy and put it on. It was rainbow colored- and it actually had a tassel on it. Only small strands of strawberry blond hair stuck out around the edges, the hat framing her face adorably.

Molly took one look at the blond and started to laugh loudly.

"Oh you look too cute for words, Noelle."

Noelle smiled back. "You ain't seen nothing, Stretch. It's even got ties." And with that, Noelle tied the rainbow colored knit strings securely under her chin. "There. This baby isn't going anywhere. Now where's yours, Cartwright?"

She nodded in satisfaction when Molly pulled on the standard army issue black knit cap. Her dark hair blended with the cap, and it looked good on the woman. It added to her dangerous aura.

They moved to the dock, and Noelle held the boat for Molly to scramble in. Molly held onto a piling on the dock while Noelle got in and took her seat at the tiller. She quickly hoisted the mainsail then pushed away from the dock, waiting for the wind to fill the sail. When it did, they began to move further out into the lake. Once they were far enough away from the shore, Noelle looked at Molly and grinned.

"Hoist the jib, would you?"

"Do the what?" Molly asked in confusion.

Noelle shouted with laughter. "The wind is great and we can go a whole lot faster if we get the jib up. It's the little sail in front."

"Uh-huh," Molly said skeptically, looking at the pile of sail laying in the bow of the boat.

"Don't worry about that," Noelle cautioned, referring to the pile. "All you have to do is pull on that sheet on the mast and it'll pull the jib up- hoisting the jib," Noelle said with a smile.

They were sailing at a pretty good speed, and Noelle didn't figure that they needed the jib, but it was an easy sail to start learning on. And she wanted to show Molly the joys of sailing.

"Okay," Molly said gamely. "Pull on the sheet- what the hell's a sheet?" she asked, looking at Noelle.

"A sheet is a line. That one swinging free right there- yeah, that one, is the jib-sheet. If you pull on it, it'll hoist the sail. Go 'head, give it a pull." Noelle watched as Molly carefully, and slowly, pulled on the sheet. She rolled her eyes at how long it took the woman to raise the sail. "Jesus, Molly, get on with it, finally!" she exclaimed in exasperation.

Molly looked at Noelle, and stopped what she was doing. The wind was cold, biting into their skin. It made Noelle's face a deep, healthy red. Her eyes stood out in contrast against the red of her skin; they seemed to glow with an inner light. She just stayed as she was, drinking in Noelle's beauty.

Noelle shifted her eyes to the water. "Stop looking at me, please," she said softly.

"Why?" Molly asked equally softly.

Noelle shrugged. "I don't know. Just don't, okay?" Then she smiled slyly at her passenger. "And hoist that sail, matey!"

"Aye, Skippy!" Molly said as she finished hoisting the jib.

Noelle growled playfully. "Skipp-ER, damn it. Call me Skippy again, and I'm throwin' your no-good carcass overboard for shark bait," she warned.

"This carcass is good for something, I promise you that. You just haven't let me show you-" Molly replied in a low, husky voice.

Noelle's face got redder at the comment, but Molly couldn't tell if it was from the cold or from embarrassment. She turned her attention back to the job at hand.

"Now what?"

"Ummm- well- I-" Noelle stuttered. "Oh shut up, you big goob," she said crankily when she saw the grin break out on Molly's face. "Okay, wise-ass, listen up. You're already familiar with coming about, right?" Noelle asked briskly.

"At least the coming part, yeah," Molly answered wickedly.

"Jesus CHRIST, Cartwright! Can't you be serious for once?"

"Oh, I can be VERY serious," Molly answered in the same tone, this time adding an eyebrow wiggle to the answer.

Deciding that ignoring her would be the best tack to take- Works with students all the time, right?- Noelle continued with the explanation. "Yeah, well, not only do you have to duck out of the way of the boom, but you have to move opposite it."

"What do you mean?" Molly asked seriously.

"Just what I said. If the boom is portside, you sit starboard, and vice versa. You have to sit to windward if the boom is leeward to counter-balance the heel. If the boat heels too much, the chances of capsizing multiply three-fold- you have no fucking clue, do you?" Noelle finally asked a suspiciously dumbfounded-looking Molly Cartwright.

"Wooo- I have no clue is right." The dark woman shook her head ruefully. "My God. Who knew it was so complicated?"

"It's not, really. It just takes getting used to the lingo- once you do that, the rest just falls into place." Noelle grinned engagingly at her passenger.

"Can't I just sit back and be a passenger? Please? Just for today? Pretty please?" Molly begged shamelessly.

Noelle sighed. "Yes, Molly. Just don't touch anything and be good!"

Molly grinned that wicked grin again. "Oh, I'll be good. I could show you just HOW good if you let me touch- you," she whispered seductively.

Noelle closed her eyes and shook her head. "Help me, God, to survive this day with this lunatic."

Molly laughed. "I like you, Potter. You're okay."

"And you're NUTS, Cartwright. Now shut the hell up and enjoy the weather and scenery and- stuff."

Molly leaned back on her elbows, enjoying the splashes of color that autumn always brought to that part of the state. The foliage was past its peak so they had missed the full spectrum of

colors the trees provided at that time of year.

The mountain was a palette of rich fall colors- it looked very much like a patchwork quilt. The dark green of the conifers that was interspersed with the bright red, deep maroon, and dark brown of the changing leaves made for a picture-perfect example of what fall had to offer. Blending with the darker colors were spots of bright yellow. The sun shone brightly, adding its own color to the effect, and the light blue of the sky contrasted wonderfully with the trees. Wow. If the trees are past their peak and they look this incredible, I can't even begin to imagine what they would have been like a week or two ago, Molly thought.

Suddenly, the dark woman had an almost overwhelming desire to whistle, probably because of the beauty of the day. No sooner had she pursed her lips and taken a deep breath to start then she was stopped by a kick in the leg.

"OW!" she yelped, exhaling in a rush. "What the hell was that for?" she asked as she rubbed the injured spot.

"Don't even THINK about whistling, pal," Noelle hissed, the sparkle in her eyes belying the ferociousness of her words.

"Why the hell not?"

"Well," Noelle began, not taking her attention from the job at hand, "legend has it that if someone on the ship whistles, the wind will answer. And if you ask any boat captain- that's the worst kind of wind under which to sail."

Molly watched in fascination as Noelle related the legend. Noelle's eyes and upper body were in constant motion as she sailed the small craft expertly, always adjusting the sail and the tiller. I bet she can tell a beaut of a story, Molly thought appreciatively.

"Why is it the worst kind?" she asked suddenly.

Noelle grinned before answering, her eyes never leaving the water around them. "I could go into the physics of it all, but I don't think you want to hear. Suffice it to say that it's the wrong kind- fills the sails the wrong way and stuff."

Molly laughed. "You're right, I don't want to hear the physics, at least not today. Thanks for sparing me the details." She smiled again at her companion. "I won't whistle, Skip, I promise."

Noelle nodded once in satisfaction. "Good. I'd hate to have to bind and gag you- or make you swim to shore."

Molly chuckled at the gentle tease. She's so much fun. God, I lo- Oh no. No way- whoa- whoa- I wasn't just thinking what I think I was thinking- was I? Holy shit- I won't even go there- holy shit- Molly shook her head. No way-

Noelle saw Molly shake her head. Wonder what that's about. Noelle decided to just ask her passenger. "What's wrong?"

Molly blinked those blue eyes at Noelle in confusion. "Huh?"

Those eyes- they- match the sky today. Noelle looked up quickly. Yeah, they sure do. Wow. "Why were you shaking your head?"

"Ummm- no reason really. Just clearing my eyes, I guess," Molly replied hastily. Tread softly, Cartwright. Don't scare her away- go slowly.

The two women fell silent, enjoying the day, and they sailed for some time before Noelle started to get chilled. She had dressed warmly and the sun felt warm on her face, but she knew that she would get cold eventually. She looked closely at Molly, noting that the woman was huddled up tight with her knees drawn up to her chest, and her arms were wrapped around her legs. The wind blew the dark hair around wildly. Noelle looked closer and noticed her teeth chattering slightly.

"Hey, you," she said softly. "How 'bout we stop for some lunch. I'm hungry and getting cold."

Molly nodded and smiled. "Sounds like a plan, Skip. I'm starving."

Noelle chose a secluded, sheltered spot not far from where they were and got them there quickly. After they had disembarked with the blanket and cooler, Noelle chose a spot in the sun, looking at Molly questioningly.

Molly nodded. "It's as good as any, if you ask me. Now let's eat."

The two women sat on the blanket facing each other. Noelle reached up to pull off her hat. Molly noted with some amazement that the blond hair was not at all static-y. She pulled off her own hat and didn't need a mirror to know that her black hair was wildly static-y. She knew it stuck out all over her head.

She narrowed her eyes at the blond woman, staring pointedly at her hair. "Okay, what gives?"

Noelle stopped in the middle of digging through the cooler. "Huh? What are you talking about?" she asked in confusion.

Molly pointed to her hair. "Your hair- look at mine! It's sticking up all over the damned place! Why the hell isn't yours?" she asked glumly. "I HATE when it does that."

Noelle grinned and picked up her hat. She tugged out a piece of fabric from the hat and showed it to the static-y woman.

Molly reached for it and looked at Noelle in disbelief. "Fabric softener? You put a sheet of fabric softener in your hat?" she asked incredulously.

Noelle nodded. "Uh-huh. Works like a charm."

Molly shook her head. "Thanks for telling me, jerk."

Noelle chuckled as she stuffed the softener sheet back into her hat then pulled out three thermoses, a bag full of sandwiches, two bottles of apple juice, two cupcakes, and the assorted tableware that went with the food from the cooler. She tossed Molly a plastic-wrapped spoon and the cup from one of the thermoses. She took another cup and opened a thermos.

"Campbell's vegetable. Want some?" she asked with a grin.

Molly saw the steam rising out of the thermos and shoved her cup at Noelle. "Hell yeah. Fill 'er up, pal." She watched as Noelle carefully poured the soup into the small cup. She took it from her gratefully and sniffed the aroma of the hot soup appreciatively. "Mmm. God, that smells wonderful."

"And it'll taste even better. Go on, dig in. It'll warm you up in no time," Noelle said just before she took a sip of her soup. "Oh wow, that's something good," she moaned.

Molly watched mesmerized as Noelle took another sip of the soup. She closed her eyes and drank deeply, a look of pure ecstasy on her face. Her pink tongue peeked out to lick the corner of her mouth, capturing a drop of soup left there before she opened her eyes and caught Molly staring at her.

"What?" she asked in confusion, feeling the embarrassment wash over her.

Instead of answering, Molly leaned over and gently licked the very same spot that Noelle just did.

Noelle gasped at the sensation of Molly's tongue on her mouth. "Ohh," she breathed. "Molly-" she whispered.

Molly nuzzled her neck briefly. Then she pulled back to look into those eyes. "Shhh- I just wanted to do that. Now go on and eat," she soothed softly.

Noelle nodded mutely, not able to form a coherent thought. She silently handed Molly a turkey and cheese sandwich.

Molly looked at the sandwich. "Please tell me it's got mayonnaise on it," she pleaded.

Noelle blinked at her. "Well, yeah. What the hell else would it have on it?"


Noelle made a face. "Mustard? Who the hell puts mustard on a turkey sandwich? That's gross!"

"Don't make fun. I know someone who does. But I agree, it's gross."

The two women finished their meal in silence, polishing off the soup, and half of the other thermoses, the coffee going to Molly and the hot chocolate going to Noelle.

"Ahhh, that hit the spot, Noe. Thank you," Molly said warmly as they packed up the remains of their lunch.

"We can hang here for a few minutes and catch our breath if you want," Noelle offered when lunch was clear.

"Oh yeah, that would be terrific." Molly looked at the blanket for a minute then laid down. She tucked an arm under her head and patted the spot next to her. "Lay here with me, Noe. I won't bite- at least not yet," she said with a chuckle. Noticing Noelle's discomfort, she grew serious. "For real, Noe, Lay here with me. I'll keep you warm, okay?"

Noelle laid down close to the woman and put the opposite arm under her head. The other hand she left on the blanket between them. She turned her head when she felt Molly sit up.

"What's wrong?" she asked, starting to get up.

"Stay there," Molly said softly. "I'm just going to cover us with the other half of the blanket, that's all." And the dark woman proceeded to do just that.

Noelle was on the inside, and she felt as snug as a bug in the proverbial rug. "Mmmm," she sighed contentedly. "Nice," she said quietly.

Molly scooted a bit closer and took hold of Noelle's hand. She rubbed the back of her hand softly, then turned it over and stroked the palm, caressing the skin there gently. She inhaled Noelle's scent, a mixture of cold, fabric softener, and something that was uniquely Noelle. She squeezed the hand gently as she felt Noelle slowly begin to relax against her, her breathing getting deeper. It wasn't long before Molly drifted off after the smaller woman.

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

Noelle came awake slowly as a chill passed through her body. "Whoa- it sure got colder," Noelle thought sleepily. She opened her eyes to stare up into a sky that was no longer clear and light blue. It was a dark slate gray and very turbulent. No longer was the area around them a riot of colors, it was all a monochrome. "Shit!" she swore as she scrambled to her feet.

Molly was jarred awake by Noelle's movement. "What? What's going on?" she mumbled.

Noelle never stopped what she was doing. "We gotta get a move on. The sky looks bad. Shit shit shit."

Molly was instantly awake and at Noelle's side. "What can I do to help?" she asked quietly.

"Get the cooler onto the boat," Noelle answered abruptly, the worry causing her to speak sharply.

Without answering, realizing that Noelle wasn't snapping directly at her, Molly picked up the cooler and carried it to the boat. She put it down and stepped into the water, careful not to let the water flow over the tops of her boots. She grabbed the towline that was tied to a nearby sapling and pulled the boat closer. She heaved the cooler into its spot, securing it with the bungee net. She turned just in time to take the blanket from Noelle and stuff it under the net with the cooler.

Noelle shoved the PFD at Molly with shaking hands, the tension evident on her face. Molly dropped the lifejacket and took Noelle's hands in hers. She held them until Noelle looked at her.

"We don't have time for this, Molly. We have to go NOW if we want to beat the weather that's moving in," she snapped as she tried to take her hands from the woman's grasp.

Molly held tightly to Noelle's hands and looked intently into her eyes. "It'll be okay, Noe. I trust you," she said softly but firmly.

Noelle looked at her for a long moment before finally nodding. "Thank you," she said, some of the tension easing under the other woman's encouragement. "Let's go the hell home, eh?"

After zipping on their PFDs, the two women followed the same routine for getting into the boat. When Noelle was seated at the tiller, she quickly hoisted and cleated the mainsail, the wind filling it rapidly. She leaned over to speak directly into Molly's ear over the wind. "Listen, we gotta move fast, so after you raise the jib, I just want you to lay low- literally. You'll still need to shift when the boom does, but I need you to stay low to reduce wind resistance, okay?"

Molly nodded in understanding.

Noelle grinned before sitting back at the tiller. She felt the adrenaline coursing through her body, making her heart beat faster. "Raise the jib," she called. She watched with satisfaction as her new crew member did as she was told.

Molly quickly raised the sail, then she hunkered down low in the boat, creating as little resistance as possible. The wind had picked up considerably, and she could feel it whipping around them.

"Hang on, it's going to get wild!" Noelle yelled over the wind.

Molly stayed where she was, watching as Noelle let the mainsail out, letting the wind fill it almost completely. She looked at the woman sailing the boat and saw the excited sparkle that was in her eyes, the flush that graced her cheeks. No longer did she look worried- she looks thrilled, Molly thought in amazement.

Noelle cast a critical eye on the clouds. Deciding that they had more time than she thought, Noelle turned to look at Molly. Catching her looking at her, Noelle wagged a finger at Molly. Molly scooted closer, careful to stay very low.

"Want to sail this baby even faster?" Noelle breathed in her ear.

Molly pulled back to look into the captain's eyes. What she saw there was confidence, strength- and excitement. Like we're not going fast enough? She thought to herself. Then she looked deeper. And what she saw made her nod her head. Challenge me, will you? Well, I'm up to it, so let's have it, Molly thought wickedly.

"Okay, here's what we have to do- grab the hiking strap right there- yeah, that one. Now, it's connected to the mast, and I'll connect it here to the stern, as well. All we do is hook our feet in it and lean leeward, and there you have it. What do you think?" she asked.

Molly looked skeptically at the apparatus in question. "It's that easy?" she asked.

Noelle nodded. "Mmhm- but it's pretty wild. Think you can handle it, Cartwright?" she teased.

Molly scowled. "I can handle anything you can dish out, pal." She reached a long arm over and retrieved the strap. "Here," she said, handing it to Noelle.

Molly watched as Noelle hooked it to a cleat. Then the captain slid around to sit on the leeward side of the boat, the side opposite the boom. She deftly slid her feet into the strap, pointing her toes straight up. She sat close to the tiller, not letting go of the mainsheet or tiller the entire time she was getting ready.

She looked down at Molly who was seated to her left. She raised an eyebrow as if to say Well? Let's see what you're made of, Cartwright.

Molly gritted her teeth, hooked her feet in the strap next to Noelle's smaller ones, then sat on the coaming beside her. They stayed like that for a few minutes, not going much faster than they had been. The wind felt incredible on Molly's face, and she squinted her eyes as she turned her face into the it.

She turned to look at Noelle when the other woman nudged her with an elbow.

"HEY! This is fun!" she yelled with a smile.

Noelle shook her head and leaned closer to Molly. "There's more," she said softly. When Molly looked at her in confusion, she said cryptically, "Just do exactly what I tell you, okay?"

"Ummm- yeah, okay."

"Lean back with me as far as you can- keep your toes pointed up otherwise they'll slip out and you'll go over- good- use your legs to keep yourself upright, not your abs, you'll get tired too quickly- okay, good." Noelle paused and got herself into place, mimicking the other woman's position.

"Here we go!" she yelled. Then suddenly, Noelle let the mainsheet out even further, allowing the sail to fill completely with the wind. It was trimmed perfectly, not too much wind, not too little. The little boat started to heel- the side they were sitting on started to lift out of the water from the force of the wind.

"Lean back- farther!" Noelle yelled encouragingly. "That's it- our weight'll keep her from capsizing- YEAH!"

Molly was terrified. Terror without equal. HOLY SHIT! What the FUCK are we doing? Is she fucking NUTS?!? She reached out a hand to grab hold of- nothing. There was nothing to hold on to. Oh, Jesus!

The boat continued to heel, lifting out of the water then settling back some, then lifting again, depending on how Noelle trimmed the main.

Molly was so tense that Noelle could feel the tension pulsating off her in waves. She leaned closer again. "Just relax-" she whispered seductively. "Let your body move with it- just go with it, Molly- don't try to fight it- just relax," she breathed. "It's so much better if you let yourself really feel it-"

Molly willed her body to relax, placing her trust in the woman in charge. She relaxed all of the major muscle groups that she could think of to relax, even going so far as to un-grit her teeth.

As soon as Molly did that, as soon as she relaxed and let her body go with the momentum of the boat, she felt the motion take over her body, vibrating through her, carrying her along with the wind.

She turned an amazed face to Noelle. "Oh my GOD! It's incredible!" she yelled over the rushing of the wind. She raised her hands above her head in a sign of victory. "YeeeHAAAA!" she crowed. "We're sailing, baby!"

Noelle nudged her again, drawing the other woman's attention to her. "It gets better- close your eyes and lean your head back- like you did when you were little and you were swinging- don't worry, Molly, you won't fall," Noelle reassured her.

"I promise," she added seriously.

Molly looked at her companion, and when she saw the sincerity in her green eyes, she did as Noelle suggested.

Lying almost completely flat like that, being stretched out like that over the water gave Molly a full appreciation of sailing. She felt every move that the boat made. She felt the wind whistling through her hair. She heard the noise of the wind and the creak of the boat. She tasted the water that sprayed on her lips.

It felt like she was flying.

All of this she "saw" much clearer than if she had her eyes open. She was able to attain the full experience because- My eyes are closed. No wonder she told me to close them. My God- It was absolutely, without a doubt, the most intense thing she'd ever done in her life.

Molly stayed that way, feeling the boat and the water with all of her non-sight senses until Noelle poked her gently in the side. The blond nodded to a point just past her line of sight.

"We're at the launch," Noelle said. She urged Molly to sit up, and she luffed the mainsail, raising the tiller and scooting around to lower the jib. The little boat coasted to shore, the rudder kicking up as they ran aground.

It didn't take the two women long to trailer the boat, considering it started to hail lightly on them. When they were finally safely ensconced in the Jimmy, the heater warming their bodies, Noelle turned to look at Molly.

"Did you have fun?" she asked softly.

Instead of answering, Molly leaned over and hooked a hand around the back of Noelle's neck. She slowly pulled the smaller woman closer, staring into her eyes. Then their lips connected in a kiss.

It was a kiss of giving.

Time stopped for Noelle. She felt the gentleness, the gratitude and thanks, the trust that Molly offered. And she took the gift and offered her own- trust, appreciation, friendship- and more. So much more. More than even she herself knew.

Molly caressed the soft lips with her own, tasting the cold and the water and the special taste that she'd forever associate with the small woman in her arms.

She pulled back slightly, feeling Noelle start to shake. She rested her forehead against Noelle's, stroking her face with her hands. "Shhh- it's okay. I've got you-" Molly pulled back further to look into Noelle's eyes. She smiled an achingly gentle smile.

"Let's go check on Mary."

Continued in Part 8.

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