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Harm and Miss Wagner spent almost two hours looking through the log books, searching for Academy phone numbers, dates, and times – anything they could draw parallels from. With permission from Miss Wagner, Harm took home the books going back to 1995. He would take his time and scour every page, looking for all possible links. The victims deserved nothing less.

He arrived home without knowing how he’d gotten there. He’d been so distracted with disturbed thoughts, that he couldn’t remember consciously looking at a single traffic light or street sign. All he could think about was the sickening number of phone calls that had come from the Academy. Subtracting the number of multiple calls from the same number, which were most likely follow-up calls, rather than calls to report new incidents, the number was still high enough to make Harm nauseous.

He and Miss Wagner had predicted four midshipmen had been raped this year alone, and that was a fairly conservative estimate. Miss Wagner had made it clear that the actual number could be much lower, since some of the calls may have been from friends of victims, looking for information on how to help them. On the other hand, she noted, the actual number was probably much higher, depending on how many rapes had gone unreported. Harm had been shocked to learn that roughly sixty percent of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported every year. Based on statistics, that would mean around eight girls at the Academy each year. Harm felt his insides turn to ice.

When he got into his apartment, he dropped his cover on an end table and hung his coat in the closet near the door. He wanted to take yet another detailed look at the log books, but he knew he needed a break. He and Miss Wagner had studied the pages so intensely, that now, even when his eyes were closed, random, blurry digits danced in his mind, mocking him, teasing him, daring him to find a connection someone had been keeping hidden for a long, long time.

He headed toward his bedroom, pulling off his tie and unbuttoning his uniform shirt as he went. Shrugging off the rest of his clothes, he slipped into an old, comfortable pair of jeans, and a soft, long-sleeved T-shirt. Not bothering to put the clothing into the hamper, Harm went into the kitchen, and quickly retrieved a thick rocks glass from a cabinet. Wasting no time, he grabbed a handful of ice from the freezer, poured the glass half full with club soda, and filled it the rest of the way with bourbon. He shook the glass gently, to mix the liquids, and proceeded to take a generous gulp. The strong drink stung his throat and mouth, but he was grateful for the sensation. At least he was feeling something. The chilling tale suggested by the log books had left him completely numb.

Harm headed into the living room, but not before he replaced the sip he’d taken with enough bourbon to fill the glass to the brim again. If how he was feeling right now was any indication, it wasn’t anywhere near the last time he’d fill it up, either.

He set the drink on the glass coffeetable, and dropped his exhausted body onto the soft leather sofa. Leaning back into the cushions, trying to relax his muscles, a thought struck him, and he instantly sat up straight. He remembered the tattered, old furniture at the Crisis Center, and what Miss Wagner had said, about the women deserving something nicer, after what they’ve been through. But, of course, the Center relied on donations for what little they could provide.

Still tired, but imbued with a new sense of purpose, Harm strode deliberately over to his coat, pulled out his cell phone, and hit one of the speed-dial buttons. It was getting late on the East Coast, but California was three hours behind, and Frank always worked late, anyway. He was probably still at the office.

“Frank Burnett,” came the older man’s voice over the line.

“Frank, hi, it’s Harm.”

“Heya, Harm. How are you?”

“I’m fine,” he lied. Of course he wasn’t fine, but he said the words on pure instinct. “How’s the weather there?”

Frank chuckled. “I don’t know if I should tell you, son. You wouldn’t be asking if Maryland weren’t bordering on freezing. It’s like that old line about asking the price of something: if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Harm groaned. “So then, I take it it’s sunny and there isn’t a cloud in the sky.”

“Have you ever known San Diego to be anything less?”

Harm sighed. “No, I guess not.” He hadn’t bristled when Frank had called him “son.” It was something the man had starting doing after Harm’s return from Russia, when he and Trish had found out the truth about the fate of Harm, Senior. Harm could never bring himself to call Frank “Dad,” but he didn’t object to Frank’s endearment. After all, it was only through Frank’s contact – and money – that he was able to get to the truth. Even if weren’t for those two things, Frank had given Harm his support, even when Trish, herself, had begged Harm not to go. He’d never treated Harm as anything less than his own flesh and blood, but it had taken Harm nearly thirty years to fully understand that.

“So,” Frank said, “is this a courtesy call, or is something on your mind?”

“Actually,” Harm replied, “I was hoping you could do me a favor.”

“What is it, Harm?”

“Well…do you still have the number for that furniture company you used when you redid the office last year?”

“Of course. We use them all the time. We get a huge discount.”

“Really?” Harm asked, feeling the pieces already falling into place. “Do you think they would deliver to Annapolis?”

“No, but I think they have a branch office back east somewhere that could do it. Why, Harm?” Frank chuckled. “Thinking about remodeling your own office?”

“No, it’s not for me,” Harm told him. “I’ll fax you over a list. If you can, just put it on your corporate account, and let me know what I owe you, okay? Oh, and, Frank? Make sure the delivery is anonymous…”

(Author’s Note: The statistic about 60% of assaults going unreported comes from RAINN website: http://www.rainn.org)

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

The following night, in bed, Harm wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, and have endless dreams about happy things: Terri, flying, winning cases. Still, he was afraid to close his eyes, for fear his overtired mind might go the other way, riddling his sleep with nightmares about what Laura had told him, and about what he had discovered at the crisis center.

Harm had his back to Terri. He was hoping it would be a strong enough signal that he wasn’t “in the mood,” and that she should just leave him alone for the night. In fact, he would have asked her to go back to her own condo, but he thought that might have been a little too harsh. Even if he wasn’t making love to her, her mere presence in his bed was an infinite source of comfort to him. He only wished he had the words to tell her so.

They lay there in silence for a few minutes, and then Harm felt Terri’s hand on his back, her fingers tracing lazy patterns along his skin. He did his best to ignore her, and tugged the blanket further up on his body. Undaunted by his disinterest, Terri moved closer to him, and placed feathery kisses on the back of his neck, stroking her fingers softly through his short hair.

Harm sighed. Part of him wondered what was wrong with him: he had a gorgeous, sexy woman in his bed, practically begging him to make love to her, yet, he wasn’t the slightest bit aroused. The other part, though, the part of him that had been in control for the past several weeks, told him he had every right to feel what he was feeling. Something terrible had happened to someone he cared for very deeply; how could he possibly be expected to think of his own pleasure?

“Not tonight, Terri,” Harm said, flipping over to look at her. “I’m sorry.”

Terri clicked on the bedside lamp. “What’s wrong, Harm? You’ve been like this all week. Longer than that, in fact.” She reached up to caress his cheek.

“It’s nothing,” Harm told her. He brushed her hand away. “I’m just not in the mood. I’m tired.”

“Well, when are you not going to be tired? Tell me when, so I can stop wasting my time.”

“Terri, be reasonable. Things are hard at work right now, that’s all.”

“Things are hard for me, too, Harm, but that’s what we have each other for – to make it easier.”

“Nothing can make this easier, Terri,” Harm said, “not even you.” Harm’s tone was colder than he’d intended it to be, and the words came out as a striking insult.

Terri turned away from him in a huff and turned off the light.

“Terri – “

“Goodnight, Harm.”

Harm sighed loudly. Damn them, he thought. Now they’re making Terri suffer, too. Was anything immune to this godforsaken situation?

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

A few hours later, Terri awoke to find Harm’s half of the bed empty. Wrapping her robe around herself, she followed a dim light into the kitchen, where she found Harm seated at the table, in front of a cup of tea, and a bottle of antacid tablets.

“I know I was angry, Harm,” Terri said, “but, I didn’t mean to make you sick.”

Harm offered a half-smile. “It’s not you.”

Terri stepped up behind his chair, and wrapped her arms around him. “That’s good to know.” After a few seconds, she said, “Do you want to tell me what it is, then?”

Harm sighed. “You know I can’t do that, baby.”

Terri released him, and took a seat at the table. “Why not, Harm? This isn’t fair anymore. I know I sound like a whiny little kid, but, Harm, whatever this is, it’s affecting you pretty hard, and it’s starting to affect me, too.”

Harm recognized the truth in Terri’s words, but he was still confident he’d manage to sort through everything without dragging her into it. And, next to making sure justice was done, that was what mattered most to him: protecting Terri.

“I’m just worried about this girl,” Harm confessed. “I wish you could just trust me, and believe me when I say everything will be fine, soon.”

“And I wish *you* would trust *me*, and tell me what this is about. Don’t you know I just want to help?”

“I want to tell you, Terri, honestly, I do. But I can’t.”

“Did she commit a crime?” Terri asked. “Did she do something illegal?”

“No.”

“Then why won’t you tell me?”

Harm sighed. Reaching across the table, he took her hands in his. “Terri, if you told me something very personal, in strictest confidence, and then I went and told someone else, how would you feel? Would you ever be able to trust me again?”

Terri sighed lightly, smiling faintly. “Why do you have to be so damn honorable? It makes me love you and hate you at the same time.”

“Hate me?” Harm asked. “Why?”

“Because, if not for your ridiculously superhuman integrity, you’d have told me weeks ago what this is about, and maybe I could have done something to make it easier.”

Sighing, Harm shook his head. “Nothing about this is easy, Terri. Not a single thing.”

“Well, maybe I could have done something to help you.”

Harm offered a half-smile, which was all his turbulent soul could muster. “I know you want to, Terri, and I love you for it. But you have to believe me when I tell you there’s absolutely nothing you – or anyone – could possibly do to make this go away.”

“You know I love you, right?” Terri asked. At Harm’s nod, she added, “And, you know I’m only nagging you about this because I care about you, right?” Harm nodded again, and Terri said, “You’ve got me very worried, Harm. You haven’t been eating much lately, and you haven’t slept well in weeks.”

“Don’t worry about me,” Harm assured her.

“I can’t help it,” Terri told him. “I want my old Harm back. I want you to be yourself again.”

A bemused chuckle escaped Harm’s lips. “I don’t know if that’s possible, Ter.” His tone carried the weight of the exhaustion that was beginning to overtake him. “That old Harm lived in a different world, and I’m starting to doubt that he could exist in this one.”

Terri just stared at him, a pained expression on her face. “I feel so far away from you,” she confessed quietly. “It’s like you’re speaking in code, and I don’t have the key to cracking it.”

Harm could see the hurt he was causing her, and part of him ached to tell her everything; ached to have her understand, ached to let it out and fall apart in her arms. But a much bigger part of him knew he had to shield her from this at all costs. The fewer people involved at this point, the better – especially when “involvement” might mean risking your career.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” Harm said. “I wish I could tell you, but you just have to trust me that you’re better off not knowing.”

Terri sighed, resigning herself to accepting Harm’s stubbornness. “I do trust you, you know that. I just wish you’d return the favor.”

Harm regretted that he was making Terri doubt his feelings for her, but he was convinced it was for the greater good. Like so many times during the past few weeks, he told himself over and over again that he’d find a way to make it up to her, when this was all settled. If it’s *ever* settled, he corrected himself. He just hoped Terri had the patience to stick around long enough.

 

SATURDAY
1803 EST

 

Harm was lounging on the couch, flipping through an aviation magazine. For the first time in weeks, he would be spending a Saturday night alone. A friend of Terri’s was visiting from out of town, and, after being introduced that afternoon, he’d agreed to give them a “ladies’ night out.” They were going to spend an evening of dinner and dancing in Baltimore, and were going to stay overnight so they could both enjoy a few drinks, without having to worry about driving home.

At first, Harm had been looking forward to the time alone. There were some minor repairs he’d been neglecting, and his military aviation magazines had been piling up for a while. However, now that the evening was actually upon him, he found all he had the energy to do was lay there and miss Terri. He knew he still had a long way to go to make up for the way he’d treated her during the previous few weeks, but still, he longed to feel her love and warmth close to him.

He continued to marvel at the boundless love and understanding Terri seemed to have for him. In his life, he’d never known anyone so in tune with him, so perceptive with his feelings. Nor had he ever known anyone willing to stand by him, no matter the circumstance. There had been a time, years ago, when Mac would have fit that description, but Harm had long ago stopped dwelling on that. Too many bridges had been burned between them. The simple fact was, Mac was no longer that person, and she hadn’t been for a good, long while.

On the other hand, things with Terri were easy. So easy, in fact, that, more than once, he’d caught himself questioning his sense of reality. His life had never melded so well with that of a woman. Not Annie’s, not Jordan’s, not Renee’s, and certainly not Mac’s. Not even Diane’s, in the rare moments when he could look at it objectively. He was a lawyer, she had been a cryptologist. Short of one of them leaving the Navy, there would have been little chance for a successful relationship between them.

The past few weeks had seemed like an out-of-body experience for Harm. He had watched, horrified, as someone else inhabited his body and did his damnedest to push Terri away. He watched as, time and again, this demon sabotaged the only good thing in his life. And then, he watched as Terri fought back, fought with enough courage for both of them, and pulled him back from wherever he’d fallen away to.

Memories of how she’d tried to comfort him, how she’d tried to get him to open up and tell her what was hurting him, only made him miss her more. But she was entitled to a fun night out with an old girlfriend, and Harm renewed his attempt to distract his heart by burying his mind in an article about what the Navy was going to do with all the F-14s it was retiring. Some would be sent to museums, the author wrote, while others would be dismantled, and the parts used in other aircraft. He was just a few paragraphs into it, and beginning to feel like a museum relic himself, when his cell phone rang.

He reached over and grabbed it off the table. “Hello?”

“Commander Rabb?” a timid voice asked.

“Laura?” Harm replied, recognizing the voice instantly. “Is that you?”

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry to bother you on the weekend, but…”

“It’s no bother,” Harm assured her. “Is everything all right?”

“Yes, sir. I just…I’ve been thinking about…everything. I can’t seem to get it out of my head, and, well, you said to call if…”

“Are you okay, Midshipman?” Harm asked again.

“Yes, sir. Just restless, I guess. Most days, I’m all right, but today, the past few hours, I don’t know. I just keep hearing them, seeing them, every time I close my eyes. I can’t seem to relax.”

“Where are you?”

“At my sponsor’s house. But they went to some art gallery show or something. They invited me to go, too, but I told them I didn’t have a fancy enough outfit. Really, I just wanted to stay here and relax, you know, watch TV or something.” She paused, trying to muster the courage to say what she really needed to say. “And I tried, but…I don’t know, sir. I wanted to be alone at first, but, now that I am, it’s just…”

“Would you like me to come get you?” Harm offered. The girl may not have said it in so many words, but he could hear the desperation in her voice. She was practically begging not to be by herself.

“Oh, sir, I couldn’t ask you to do that.”

“Yes, you can. Give me the address and I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

“Sir…”

“You’re more than welcome to stay with me until they get back,” Harm told her. “I’d offer to stay there, in fact, but it really wouldn’t be right.”

“None of this is right, sir,” the girl said, dejected.

“No, it’s not,” Harm agreed, reluctantly, “but I’d rather have you here, with me, than by yourself, and afraid.”

“I don’t even know what I’m afraid of anymore, sir. I thought I would be okay here, but their house is so big, and…”

“You don’t owe me any explanations, Laura. Just give me the address.”

“Sir,” Laura said, her voice suddenly firmer, “please, never mind, This is just me being silly. I shouldn’t have called.”

“Laura,” Harm said. He was about to argue with her when he heard her give a hurried goodbye, and a quiet click ended the call. “Damn it,” he cursed aloud. He dropped the phone onto the couch and walked over to the computer on his desk. The Academy had recently enabled instructors to have remote access to the school’s intranet, and, after long minutes spent trying several different portals, Harm finally brought up Laura’s information. The name and address of her sponsors were listed for emergency purposes. After jotting down the address on a scrap of note paper, he shut the computer off, grabbed his leather jacket, and was out the door in less than two minutes.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Fifteen minutes later, Harm pulled up in front of Laura’s sponsor’s house. From the street, he could see that all the lights were on. He walked up the driveway and rang the doorbell. Through the thin curtains in the living room window, he could make out Laura’s figure sitting on the couch. She made no move to answer the door. Knocking gently, Harm called to her, identifying himself.

“Laura, open the door,” he commanded. “It’s Commander Rabb.”

Harm heard her soft footsteps on the other side of the door, but a few more seconds passed before she opened the door. Harm assumed she was confirming through the peephole.

“Sir,” Laura said, “what are you doing here?”

“I came to pick you up,” he said simply.

“Why, sir? I told you, I changed my mind. You don’t need to do this.”

“Well, I haven’t changed my mind; I think I do need to do this.”

“Sir…”

“Stop ‘sir-ing’ me, and just get your coat, okay?”

“Commander, really, you don’t have to babysit me. I was a little scared before, being by myself in this house, but I’m fine now.”

“Is that the truth, Midshipman? Can you honestly tell me you’ll be okay here if I walk out that door?”

Laura hung her head. Harm was right, of course. The minute he left, she’d be alone again, jumping at every creak in the old floor, gasping at every brush of a tree branch against the window. She shook her head.

“Good, then it’s settled. You’re coming back with me.” Harm said.

Laura gave up her pitiful attempts to fight him. After leaving a note for her sponsor family, saying she went out with a friend for a while, she grabbed her jacket from the coat rack near the door. “Um,” she said tentatively, “will Commander Coulter be there, sir?”

Harm and Terri had done their best to keep their relationship private, but the Academy was a small place; most of the midshipmen knew the two commanders were dating.

“No,” Harm answered quickly. “She’s spending the night in Baltimore, with an old fr --“ He stopped himself when he realized what Laura had really been asking: she wanted to know if she would have to be alone with him. Harm paused, uncertain of what to say. *He* knew he wasn’t a threat to her, but there was no way he could convince her of that. “We can go somewhere public, if you’d feel more comfortable,” he told the girl. “Maybe get a cup of coffee, or a sandwich.”

Laura considered it for a moment, then rejected the offer. “I don’t think there’s anywhere we could go without…well, I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble, if anyone were to see us, sir.”

Harm nodded. Damn this situation, he thought. “Would you prefer to just stay here, then?” he asked.

Laura shook her head. “No, sir,” she sighed. “That wouldn’t help, either.”

“Well,” Harm said, “we’ll do whatever you want, okay? Whatever you decide is fine.” Harm had chosen his words carefully. If he had stopped to think at all, instead of bounding out of his apartment and coming here at top speed, it might’ve occurred to him that, in trying to help the midshipman, he was actually scaring the hell out of her. He shouldn’t have come here, practically ordering her to get into his car, and then go to his apartment, where she’d be alone with him. It was a terrible misstep; one he was trying desperately, if awkwardly, to correct. He wanted to tell her that she didn’t have to worry, that she would be safe with him, but he knew how empty the words would sound to her. Safety was relative, Harm realized; Laura would be fortunate if she ever came anywhere close to feeling safe, ever again.

“Let’s just go, sir,” Laura said. She slipped her arms through the sleeves of her coat.

Harm nodded. Normally, he would have opened the door for her, and allowed her to walk in front of him. Now, however, he was trying to be extra-sensitive to how she might perceive his actions. He walked out first, then stood several feet away, while Laura locked the door. He continued to keep his distance as they walked to his car.

“While we’re in the car,” Harm said, “I’ll tell you a story about why you never, ever, want to hang up on someone who outranks you.”

Laura gave a tiny smile upon hearing Harm’s comment, and Harm tucked it away inside his heart. If she could still smile, after all she had been through, then maybe, just maybe, they would find a way out of this nightmare.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

When they got to his apartment, Harm hung their jackets on the coat rack near the entry. “Have you had dinner?” he asked Laura.

“No, sir,” she answered.

“What can I fix you to eat, then?”

Laura looked away from him. “I’m not very hungry, sir.”

“Wrong answer,” Harm said. “What can I fix you?”

“Sir, really, you don’t have to.”

Harm took in her frame, which had shrunk from the athletic, healthy form he used to know, to the too-thin whisp of a body that now stood before him. “Yes, I do,” he insisted. “How about a good, old-fashioned grilled cheese sandwich, and tomato soup?” It was blatant comfort food, and Harm made no attempt to conceal that fact.

Laura shrugged. “Okay.”

Harm busied himself preparing the food. His hands went through the motions, putting butter in a skillet for the sandwich, emptying a can of tomato soup into a small pot. Try as he might, though, he couldn’t distract his mind from the girl standing nearby. She stayed in the doorway of the kitchen, as if afraid to cross over the threshold and be nearer to Harm.

“Have a seat, Midshipman,” Harm said. “Relax.” He’d found himself using the girl’s first name more often now, but, when he gave it enough thought, he tried to use her title. He hoped it would seem less personal and threatening to her.

Laura looked away sheepishly. “Sorry, sir. It just seems strange to be here. It feels…wrong, somehow.”

Again, Harm cursed himself for missing the forest for the trees. He’d been so focused on his need to protect her, that he had missed the most obvious things: her need for personal space; her need to feel in control, and most of all, her apprehension at being alone with a man – especially one in a position of authority. Harm had no intention of doing so, but he asked her if she would prefer that he drive her back to her sponsor’s house. Thinking of Harriet, or even of Jen Coates, he said, “I can call someone to stay there with you until your sponsors get back, if you think that would be better.”

“No, sir,” Laura replied. “I mean, being here is kind of…surreal, but I don’t want to go back there, either.” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry, sir. I know it’s stupid.”

Harm’s mind flinched. Including their phone conversation, this was the third time she’d said she was sorry. He stopped fiddling with the stove, and looked directly at her. “It’s not stupid,” he told her, “and you don’t have to be sorry. Laura, I know this is strange for you; it’s strange for me, too. But making sure you’re all right is more important to me than answering to any suspicions that might come up.”

“Suspicions, sir?”

Harm nodded. “It’s not exactly ethical for me to have a midshipman – male or female – at my apartment on a Saturday night. Or any other day of the week, for that matter.”

“Oh, God,” Laura sighed. She was well aware of that fact, of course, but she’d managed to tuck it away safely in the far reaches of her mind. Doing so was the only way she’d allowed herself to even consider calling him this evening. “Commander, this is crazy. This isn’t worth risking your career, sir. You should take me back.”

“Is that really what you want?” he asked.

Laura shook her head. “I just wish this didn’t have to be so…complicated.”

“Me too,” Harm admitted quietly. “Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury.”

“Why did this have to happen?” Laura whispered regretfully. Harm knew she wasn’t talking about being scared tonight, but rather about the whole situation. “Why did they have to…” Laura closed her eyes and turned her head away.

“I’d like to find those answers too, if you’ll let me.”

At Harm’s implication, Laura’s eyes flew open again. “Sir…”

“All you have to do is press charges,” Harm said, making it sound ridiculously simplistic. “I’ll do the rest.”

“No way, sir. No one has to know.”

“You don’t think people already know?” Harm said, a little louder than he’d intended. At Laura’s stunned expression, he was quick to add, “They may not know exactly what happened, Laura, but they know something’s wrong. I’m not the only one with two eyes; I’m just the only one who said anything to you. Don’t you want to get those guys?”

“For what?” Laura countered. “So everyone can know what they did to me, and I can spend the rest of this year and next as some kind of campus freak show?!”

“Laura,” Harm said, more calmly now, “it wouldn’t be like that.”

“How do you know?! You don’t know what it would be like!”

Smooth, Rabb, real smooth, Harm cursed himself. “So you’d rather have them get away with it?” he asked, genuinely baffled.

“They already have, sir, don’t you see? It happened. They did it, and now it’s over. The whole thing is over. They’re done with it, I’m done with it, and it’s over.”

Harm sighed, but he didn’t say anything further. He’d brought her to his apartment so she would feel safe, and then he ambushed her. What was he thinking?

When the food was ready, he set the plate and bowl of soup in front of Laura on the kitchen island. He cut the grilled cheese into triangles, just like his mother did for him when he was little. He hated to treat her like a child, but, at that moment, with her arms folded across her chest, making herself smaller, that’s exactly what she looked like: a frightened little girl.

Laura only picked at the food, taking small nibbles of the sandwich, and just a few spoonfuls of the soup. Not wanting to seem like he was hovering over her, Harm decided to wash the dishes while she ate. He snuck a few glances at her, though, but he wasn’t quite sure what to make of her expression. Such sadness in her eyes, such pain. She looked as though there were a million things on the tip of her tongue, but she remained silent. Harm was tempted to ask the age-old question, “What are you thinking?” But then, he told himself, she’s probably thinking what an unparalleled asshole you are. Again, he berated himself for offering her the safe haven of his apartment, and then bombarding her with things she wasn’t ready to hear.

Still, the turmoil in her eyes compelled him to ask, “You okay?”

Laura nodded, She swirled her spoon around slowly in the soup, before resting it on the edge of the bowl. “I’m sorry, sir” she said, for the fourth time, by Harm’s running count. “When I called you, it was because I kept thinking about everything, so I thought it would be good to talk about it. But now that I’m here, and we actually have the time, I just…I don’t want to anymore.”

“That’s perfectly all right,” Harm assured her.

“No, it’s not,” Laura said quickly. “I’ve wasted your time, and I’m sorry.”

That made five. Damn. “Are you more comfortable here, with me, than alone in that house?” Harm asked. Laura nodded reluctantly. “Then you’re not wasting my time. And, honey, you don’t have to apologize for anything. You’re fine; you’ve done nothing to be sorry about.”

Laura looked away from him, choosing instead to focus on the tiles of the kitchen island. It was then, watching her, in silence, that Harm realized how exhausted she looked. Not just sleepy, which, of course, she was, but there was more. She looked genuinely physically and emotionally drained. He couldn’t help wondering if she’d had even once decent night’s sleep since that night.

Finally breaking the silence, he said, “Well, I don’t have much of a movie collection, but you’re welcome to see if there’s something good on television.”

“Actually, sir, I know this is strange, but…would you mind if I just laid down on your sofa for a little while?”

“Not at all,” he said, thankful for small miracles. “I’ll get you a blanket.” Harm retrieved a soft quilt and an extra pillow from the linen closet, and handed them to Laura.

“Thank you, sir.”

Harm nodded. “I’m going to grade some quizzes, but I’ll try to be quiet.”

“Yes, sir.” Laura curled up on the couch, her small body taking up not even half of it.

Harm turned on his desk lamp, and then crossed the room to turn off the overhead light. As he sat down and fished through his desk drawer for a red pen, he heard Laura’s soft voice from a few feet away.

“Commander Rabb?”

“Yes?”

“I just wanted to say…thank you, sir. It’s been a long time since…since I felt safe anywhere.”

Harm closed his eyes at the sound of the fear still haunting the girl’s voice. “No problem. Just try and get some rest, okay?”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

After Laura had been asleep for a few minutes, Harm was finally able to focus on grading the quizzes. However, his attention was cut short by the shrill sound of his cell phone ringing in his coat pocket across the room. He hurried to answer it, hoping he’d reach it before it woke Laura from what was probably the most restful sleep she’d gotten in weeks.

He grabbed the phone, momentarily freezing when he saw Terri’s name appear on the ID screen. “Hey,” he whispered when he answered the call.

“Hey yourself, sailor,” Terri said. “What took you so long to answer? I was about to hang up.”

“Huh?” Harm whispered, slightly distracted as he looked to make sure Laura was still sleeping. She was, so he stepped into the hallway to make sure she stayed that way. “Oh, sorry,” he told Terri. “The phone was across the room.”

“Why are you whispering?” Terri asked.

“Someone’s here, sleeping, and I don’t want to wake her.”

“Harm…”

“It’s not what you think, I swear.”

“Harm, you’d better start making some sense. Quickly.”

“Terri, look, this really isn’t a good time. That girl – the one I’ve told you about – she’s here.”

Terri’s stunned silence was palpable, even through the phone line. “Have you lost your mind completely?”

“Terri – “

“Don’t ‘Terri’ me, Harm. I know you want to help this girl, but how much help will you be from behind bars?”

“You’re overreacting,” Harm said.

“I’m being realistic,” Terri insisted. “Do you want to get yourself court-martialed?”

“Terri, please, I know what I’m doing.”

Harm heard a long, slow sigh on the other end of the phone. “I know you do,” Terri admitted. “I just wish I knew, too.”

“Terri, I gave her my number, in case she needed someone to talk to, and she called a few hours ago. She was at her sponsor’s house, so I picked her up and brought her here. We talked for a while, and now she’s sleeping on the couch.”

“Harm,” Terri said, a heavy warning in her voice.

“I know,” he said, “but, Terri, this is probably the most peaceful rest she’s had in a long time, and I’m not going to take it away from her when it’s plain to see how desperately she needs it.”

Terri sighed again. “I hope whatever this is really about, it’s worth risking your career over, because that’s what you’re doing, y’know.”

“I know,” Harm admitted. “And, it is,” he assured her. “If it’s what I think it is, then my career doesn’t mean much of anything, anyway.”

“I wish I understood you when you talk in this code.”

“I’m sorry,” he promised her. “I want to tell you, but…”

“I know,” Terri said, echoing the words Harm had said to her over and over: “You can’t.”

“You know I love you, right?” Harm asked, desperately seeking reassurance from her.

“It’s getting harder to believe that, Harm.”

“Terri, please,” he pleaded.

“I know,” she said, “and I love you, too. That’s why I wish you’d just tell me what’s going on. You can’t keep me in the dark forever.”

“I know, baby. And I promise, when I can, I’ll tell you everything. But for now, you just have to trust me, okay?”

There was a lengthy silence, during which Harm feared Terri would actually say that she didn’t trust him. But then, she reminded him of just why he loved her so much. “You know I do, Harm. I know that whatever you’re doing is the right thing, even if it means doing a couple of wrong things along the way. I’m just worried about you. Things are so good between us – at least, I think they are – and I’m just worried that whatever this is, it’s going to change that. You’ve been like a different person the past few weeks.”

Harm closed his eyes, as he listened to Terri’s words, her fear tugging at his heart. Damn this. Damn this whole situation. “I’m sorry,” he said softly, speaking around the lump that had formed in his throat. “I know I’ve been distant,” he admitted, “but I promise you, baby, it has nothing to do with my feelings for you. One day, I’ll be able to tell you everything, and all this is going to make sense. I just need you to hold on a little longer.”

“You know I will, Harm. Just promise me you’ll be careful, all right? Don’t let this girl – the one sleeping on your couch, and calling you at home on weekends – get the wrong idea.”

Harm thought of all that Laura had been through the past three months. “She won’t, Terri. Believe me: fraternization is the last thing on her mind.”

“If you say so,” Terri said, by way of ending the conversation. “I love you. Don’t forget that.”

“Never,” Harm swore. “I love you too, Teresa.”

He hit the ‘end’ button on the cell phone, and then turned it off. Terri wouldn’t call again for the rest of the night, and the only other person he’d half-expect a call from in the middle of the night was already in his apartment.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Just over two hours later, Laura sat up quickly on the sofa, her breathing rapid. She looked around frantically, trying to make sense of the unfamiliar surroundings.

Harm immediately put down the novel he’d started to read when he was finished with the grading. “You all right?” he asked. Laura nodded. Harm crossed the room to turn the light back on. “Did you have a nightmare?” he asked. He took a seat on a chair that was cattycorner to the couch, deliberately leaving some distance between himself and Laura.

Laura shook her head. “No, sir. Just a normal dream, I guess. One of the ones where you’re jumping off a building, but you wake up just before you hit the ground.” Harm only nodded. “Actually, sir, I slept pretty well. Better than I have in a long time.”

Harm was about to say he was glad, but something in Laura’s tone told him she had a lot more to say. He had learned his lesson earlier: if she had something to say, he would let her talk in her own time, in her own way. If she was finally going to open up to him, however minutely, he vowed not to say or do anything that might make her clam up again.

Laura wrapped the blanket around herself. “It’s always worst at night,” she said, softly. “During the day, I go to class, or I have volleyball practice, or PT, and I can forget about everything for a little while. But, at night, there’s nothing else to think about. I lay there, in bed, and I see it all happening in my mind, almost like it happened to someone else. Like it’s a movie.

“I toss and turn,” she continued. “On some nights, when I’m lucky, I fall asleep for a few hours.” She pulled the blanket tighter. “Other nights, though, it’s really bad. I can see everything, feel everything. I’ve gotten out of bed to throw up so many times in the middle of the night; I think Shelly – Midshipman Bloom, sir, my roommate – I think she thought I had the flu for two months. Either that, or that I was pregnant.”

At Laura’s last word, Harm froze. He felt his insides go numb. “Is that…” he swallowed, trying to moisten his suddenly dry throat, “is that a possibility?” Please say no. Dear God, please say no.

“No, sir,” Laura answered. “They…um…” She shifted uncomfortably. “They wore condoms.”

That knowledge did little to ease Harm’s concern. “You know those aren’t always one hundred – “

“I’m fine, sir,” Laura cut him off.

“So, then, you’ve…been to a doctor?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good,” Harm said, letting out the breath he’d been holding.

Laura fidgeted with her hands in her lap. Uncertainty lingered on her face. When she spoke again, her voice was so timid, Harm almost didn’t hear her. “That doesn’t make it…less of a crime, does it, sir?”

“No,” Harm told her firmly. “Absolutely not.” After letting that fact sink in for a few seconds, Harm explained, “That doesn’t change anything, Laura. All it means is that there are two less things you need to worry about – STDs and pregnancy. And it means that those three disgraceful sons of bitches were smart enough – or selfish enough – not to leave any evidence behind.”

At the word “evidence,” Laura’s face changed, as she remembered something.

“What is it?” Harm asked, noticing the subtle change in her eyes immediately.

“It’s…uh…never mind, sir.” Laura shook her head. This conversation was pointless, since she wasn’t going to press charges. Besides, it had happened so many weeks ago; it wouldn’t make any difference now. The guys had probably thrown everything in the trash the next day. And anyway, she could never tell the commander that detail. She had already given up too much information.

“What?” Harm prodded. “Laura, if you have information, or you want to ask any questions, now’s the time.”

Laura shook her head. “No, sir, never mind. I thought I had something, but it’s nothing. Forget it.”

Harm knew it was definitely not “nothing.” Laura was hiding something; her face had given that away all too clearly. “Tell me,” he prodded gently.

She could never tell him. It was far too embarrassing. Besides, it had nothing to do with anything at this point. “I can’t, sir.”

“You can, honey,” Harm told her. “What could possibly be any worse than what you’ve already told me? Whatever it is, I promise, I’m right here to listen.”

“You’re going to laugh at me,” she told him. “You’re going to think I’m stupid.”

“Have I ever done that before?” he asked her. “Have I ever made you feel that way? Because, if I have…”

“No, sir, never.” Why did he have to be so damn caring? Laura wondered. She knew he was telling the truth; in everything she’d told him so far, he’d never once blamed her for what happened. He’d never disregarded her feelings. But still, this was different. Telling him this would be humiliation of a different order.

“Then, what’s different, now?”

Laura sighed. “Nothing. Everything. It just is.” She paused for a deep breath. “Sir…what happened that night…it was…it was my first time.”

Oh, God, was Harm’s first thought. Fortunately, he kept it from escaping his lips. Those fucking bastards. They put this girl through the depths of hell, and, as if that wasn’t scary enough, they’d made it that much worse for her. Never mind the fact that they’d be kicked out of the Academy; when he was through with them, they’d be lucky to escape life sentences in Leavenworth.

“Oh, Laura,” Harm whispered, as Laura started to cry. “I’m so sorry.” It was such a useless expression, but he couldn’t help saying it nonetheless. He could see Laura struggling to keep her tears at bay. He didn’t know if he should stay where he was, or move closer to the girl, and try to comfort her. He decided on the latter. He reached out a gentle hand to touch her arm. “Don’t,” he whispered to her.

Suddenly, Laura swatted his arm away, and jumped up from the sofa. “Don’t tell me not to cry!” she shouted. “Don’t you dare tell me not to cry! Every movie I’ve seen, every freaking TV show where this happens, someone’s always telling the girl, ‘Don’t cry, don’t cry.’ Well, what the hell else am I supposed to do?!”

Harm stayed where he was, putting his hands up in a non-threatening gesture. “I was going to say, ‘Don’t hold it in,’” he told her softly. “Let it out, honey; you’re safe here.”

“It hurt so much,” Laura sobbed, dropping back onto the couch. “I felt like I was being ripped apart. I was screaming, but nobody heard, because Tyler had his hand over my mouth. The pain was so bad…I thought I was going to die. I tried to fight, but they held me down! I begged them to stop, I swear to God, I begged!” She collapsed into sobs, and Harm gathered her in his arms, rocking her gently, doing his best to offer what meager comfort he could.

Damn them to hell, Harm thought. Every one of them. This incredible girl’s first experience with something that was supposed to be beautiful, and magical, and life-affirming, had been ugly, violent, and terrifying.

Laura’s anguished cries were muffled in his sweater. It had finally become too much for her, and Harm was only grateful she hadn’t been alone when it happened. He felt her tremble wildly against him, and he feared she might literally fall apart. All he could do was hold her close, whisper comforting words to her, all the while knowing how desperately futile his actions were.

After several minutes, Laura calmed down and pulled away from Harm. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said, her voice strained from crying. “I don’t usually…”

“And that’s exactly why you needed to,” Harm said.

Laura turned her head. “No, sir. I shouldn’t have put you in this position. The last thing you want to be doing on a Saturday night is listening to some crazy girl go on about this kind of thing. I mean, at first, I told you I didn’t want to talk about it, and now, it seems like I can’t stop.”

“You’re fine, honey. You don’t need to stop. I’d rather you tell me anything you feel you need to say. You don’t need to hide anything anymore. Not from me.”

Laura nodded. “Well, I only told you because I thought…well, you said ‘evidence,’ and…God, this is so embarrassing, but…I bled, sir. I bled onto the sheets. But I don’t imagine they saved them as a souvenir.”

Sicker things have happened, Harm thought, remembering rape cases he’d prosecuted in the past. But she didn’t need to know that. He swallowed a wave of nausea. “No, probably not. Not with the room inspections here. They wouldn’t have been able to hide them.”

Laura could only nod; there wasn’t much else left to say. She folded her arms across herself, shivering slightly.

“Would you like some tea?” Harm asked, getting up from the couch.

“No thanks, sir.”

“You sure?” he asked again, heading toward the kitchen.

Laura nodded. “Why do people always make tea when there’s a crisis? As if suddenly, everything’s going to be fine, if they could just have a cup of tea. Well, all the freaking Earl Gray in the world isn’t enough to make this disappear.” Laura regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. “Oh, God!” she lamented. “I’m so sorry, sir! That was completely uncalled for.”

“It’s all right,” Harm said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I just thought you might be cold, that’s all.”

“No, don’t apologize, sir. This is all my fault. I shouldn’t have told you anything. If I hadn’t, then you wouldn’t be in this position, having a midshipman in your apartment, having to listen to me babble on about all this. I shouldn’t have let you bring me back here. I shouldn’t have even taken your card in the first place, sir.” Guilt weighing heavily upon her, Laura’s tears began to fall anew. “I’m sorry I did this to you, sir.”

Harm could hardly believe what he was hearing. As an attorney, he’d worked with rape victims before, and he knew it was common for them to blame themselves for what had happened to them. But this was uncharted territory for him. This was someone he knew – someone he knew to be smart, well-adjusted, and self-confident. And yet, here she was, blaming herself for everything she possibly could.

“Why do you keep apologizing?” Harm asked softly. “You’ve done nothing to be sorry about.”

“No, sir,” she insisted. “This is all my fault. None of this would be happening if I had just…” She trailed off, taking in a shaky breath against her tears. “I’m just sorry for everything.”

“You don’t have to be,” Harm assured her.

“But I AM!” Laura shouted, as her guilt and shame quickly morphed into anger. Anger at herself. “I’m sorry I broke the rules and went into their room that night! I’m sorry I got myself into this mess! I’m sorry I couldn’t defend myself! I’m sorry I’m training to be a naval officer, and I wasn’t even strong enough to fight back! I’m sorry I wasn’t strong-willed enough, and focused enough, to keep my grades up, so no one would think anything was wrong!

“I’m sorry I let it distract me during volleyball games!” she continued, unable to stop the rush of everything she’d been holding inside for too long. “I let the team down. I let the Academy down. I let everybody down!”

Unable to bear the absurd logic, Harm grabbed Laura’s shoulders, and held her firmly. “Laura, honey, listen to me,” he said, his eyes boring into hers, trying to make sure he was getting through. “Those guys let us down. They let the Academy down. They let down every honorable man and woman who’s ever attended the Academy. Hell, never mind the Academy; they let down every man and woman who puts on a Navy uniform every day, and every single person who looks at the American flag and thinks it stands for something special. There’s a hell of a lot of disappointment and blame to go around here, but sweetheart, please believe me, none of it belongs to you. None of it.”

Laura didn’t say anything, but she didn’t break down again, either. Instead, she let Harm hug her, and tried to absorb what he’d just said. Deep down in her heart, in a place she’d managed to wall off from her attackers, she could recognize the truth in his words.

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6
Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12
 
 
   

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