By Delia Lavender

I do NOT own LOST or John Locke!

She'd been startled by the look on his face when he'd opened the kitchen door. John didn't generally look so disturbed, or so stern. She was reminded of Juliet's observation...that he resembled "A mean high school principal with a room full of paddles."

Miranda was an Island girl, so she didn't know anything about mainland high schools or their "principals" - but she could guess Juliet's meaning in a general sort of way.

She had assumed that John disliked her casserole. He'd taken it from her, asked her to stay, and told her he'd "teach her to cook".

But then he'd started kissing her...and then he'd lifted her off her feet...

Miranda didn't know what connection a "cooking lesson" had with dim bedrooms and nudity, but she was willing to trust her Leader. John Locke was the "Chosen One", and he had been kind to than anyone else. And anyway, Mr. Alpert had told her to give John whatever he needed.

And she realized she wanted to give John what he needed. Not that he was leaving her much room for refusal. Things were moving much, much too fast...and he was holding her so tightly...

She'd been frightened of him, at first. He'd witnessed her failure during training exercises, so she feared ridicule, but John had surprised her with his warmth and charm. And he always seemed happy to see her...he'd encouraged her to talk, to tell him about her life.

And of course, he'd told her about the mainland. He'd described many mainland customs...such as kissing for luck if you spot a shooting star. He'd demonstrated, just so she would understand.

Mr. Alpert's eyes had widened when she told him, during her monthly debriefing.

"He kissed you? Because he saw a shooting star? What happened during the meteor shower?"

"I don't wasn't my night."

Mr. Alpert had dismissed her early. As she closed his door, she thought she heard him chuckling.

Nobody took her seriously.

She only discussed John with Mr. Alpert. And only because it was required of her. She never spoke of her experiences outside his office.

But her tentmates also served Mr. Locke...and they talked a lot. She remembered their conversations. They both thought John wanted them. They'd often fought, compared notes, plotted and competed for his attention. Miranda herself never expected to be chosen.

When she was younger, she had not passed her course in "male-female relations". She'd found the whole subject embarrassing. Especially with the boys hooting and teasing her. William Pryce had been the only decent one, but he had never shown her any personal interest. Still, she had cried for days when he died. Why did it have to be William?

She could have imagined loving William, but she had never wanted any of the other men she'd grown up with. Why did they think, after years of hazing, taunting and pranks, that she should let them touch her?

She'd become pretty as she grew up...which was just too bad for the boys.

She'd never give them a chance. She knew them altogether too well.

But...she was finally beginning to understand what all the excitement was about. She felt it herself. Low in her tummy. She knew that John felt it, too. He groaned and told her she was beautiful.

But it was John who was beautiful. The intensity in his eyes. His commanding presence. His gentle, busy hands.

Despite his obvious need, he maintained control of himself. He knew what he was doing.

And she needed someone who knew what he was doing. Because she'd never, ever done this before.

* * * *

She'd expected pain, but there hadn't been much.

She hadn't expected pleasure...after all, she was very new to this. So when pleasure came, it thoughly surprised her. It was overwhelming, in fact.

The heat, the shivering, all the haunted-house moaning. It was too much, at one point, and she'd tried to push him away...

He'd kissed her ear and whispered to her "Steady, Miranda...relax. Now you're cooking."

Dear Lord...THIS was the "cooking lesson?!"

By the time it was over, she felt like a half-melted pat of butter. John held her in his arms as she fell asleep.

"You've made me very happy." he whispered, as she drifted off.

* * * *

But Miranda's dreams weren't always good - and she always woke up disorientated in new surroundings.

This time she woke up whimpering, clinging to the bars of John's hospital bed.

She had faced her angry contemporaries in a dream. Their expressions were insane with resentment, ugly with hate.

The women who had wanted John. The men who had wanted her.

And they were moving closer...

The dream receded when Miranda opened her eyes, but it had seemed so real. She glanced at the bedside clock. In half an hour her shift would start.

She left the bed and began a frantic search for her clothes. Where were they? She couldn't find them! Desperately, she grabbed one of John's tee-shirts and slipped it on. It hung down to her knees.

She hoped she wouldn't meet anyone on the way back to her tent. Thank Heaven her tentmates had the day off...they were off in the jungle sampling a new batch of kanaka juice distilled by their boyfriends. They would be drunk all day...

So Miranda could slip into her tent, quickly jump into her work clothes, and arrive at the metal-sorting shed with no one the wiser.

No one would ever know.

Except John. She hated to leave him. She could hear him humming in the bathroom. Should she leave him a note? But what would she say? "Dear John: You have a great body and a nice bed."...No. "Dear John: That was nice. See you at work."...No!

Finally she found a pad of paper and left a note on his pillow: "Dear John: I'll never forget how kind you were last night. Love, Miranda."

And when she turned around there he was - standing between her and the bedroom door.

* * * *

He had a towel wrapped around his waist, suds on his head and a razor in his hand.

She looked from his stricken face to the razor. It was trembling slightly.

"Miranda...why are you leaving?" his voice trembled slightly, too.

"John...I have to go to work. I...I really loved last night." she had never felt so awkward.

"You don't have to go, Miranda. Don't you remember? I'm the boss. I can excuse you..."

"But...but...then everyone will know!"

"So what?"

"You don't know how mean they can be!" blushing with shame, she looked away from him.

John sat down on his bed. He put the razor down on the nightstand. Then he opened his arms, reaching toward her.

"Come here, Miranda."

She came reluctantly, allowing him to pull her onto his lap. She stared, fascinated, into his eyes. She sensed something tragic in their expression. Why did she suddenly think of an abandoned infant? How many women had left him?

But now he was turning her over his knee...

Oh no! Maybe he DID have a paddle!

"Please don't hurt me!" she cried out. Her body tensed all over "I can't stand it! Not from you."

But he was gentle as he lifted the tee-shirt, baring her bottom.

"I wouldn't hurt you, Miranda. But I want to know who has. Who put these bruises on your butt?"

For a moment she was stunned.

"There are marks?"

"Of course there are. Someone's been pinching you. Some of these thumb prints are as big as walnuts! Now who's doing it...answer me."

"It's not's...nothing. It doesn't hurt."

"You're used to it." John tenderly drew the tee-shirt down over her skin. "You work in the metal-sorting shed. Who assigned you?"

"It was Mr. Alpert, but he thought..."


"Mr. Alpert thought the men might treat me better than the women did."

"Damn...why didn't you tell him..."

"I didn't want to be a snitch. I didn't want to seem as weak as they said I was."

"They said you were over-sensitive? They said you needed toughening up?"

"How did you know?"

John pulled her up again, gently rearranging her on his lap. Some of the lather fell from his head onto her face. He wiped it off with his fingers.

"I've seen that type before, Miranda. There's lots of them on the mainland. What else did those bullies tell you?"

"That it would stop if I coupled with someone. Even the girls said that. And all the girls want you...they say that you need someone strong..."

"You're strong enough for me, Miranda."

She stared up at him doubtfully. "You're sweet, John...but...maybe they're right about me."

"There's different forms of strength," he said, moving her easily onto his bed. "I'd like to see you nap now. You've spent your last day metal-sorting. Later I'll take that ground-sheet and hang it from the porch..."

"...No! There's blood on it! They'll..."

"...I don't care what they know! I've made my selection. I'll display the sheet and they'll leave us alone. This is your home, now. I'll have Amelia collect your belongings," John paused, then continued, his expression a bit sheepish "I'm afraid I ripped your clothes last night, when I got a little...over eager. Sorry. I already left them in the kitchen for Amelia to find. We'll get you something new. Now try to sleep."

Which was exactly what Miranda did. And this time there were no bad dreams.

And John, after some research, wrote up a Hazardous Duty list.