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1830
JEN’S APARTMENT
FAIRFAX, VA

 

Harm rang Jen’s doorbell in the lobby of her building, and Jen used the intercom to buzz him up. Harm smiled to himself as he followed the sound of Bon Jovi to Jen’s apartment door, which she’d left open for him. The band had always been one of her favorites.

“Remember when we lost the keys…you lost more than that in my backseat, baby,” Harm sang along to the rock ballad that was playing.

“Sir!” Jen squealed. She got up from where she’d been studying, and crossed the room to give him a hug.

“Hey, Jen,” Harm said as he hugged Jen tightly.

“Let me get your coat, sir,” Jen said. She hung up his winter coat while Harm set the takeout bag on the counter.

“I hope you like vegetable lo mein, and chicken with broccoli,” Harm said.

Jen flashed him a grin. “I’m a college student now, sir; if it’s something other than Ramen noodles, or macaroni and cheese, it might as well be a royal banquet.”

Harm was setting the cartons on the counter, but upon hearing Jen’s comment, he stopped cold. “Are you…I mean…do you need to borrow some money, Jen?”

Jen’s eyes went wide. “No, sir. I’m getting along all right. I mean, the Navy’s paying my tuition, but the rent out here isn’t exactly cheap.”

Harm nodded knowingly. “That housing allowance is never quite enough, is it?”

Jen smiled. “No, sir, but I’m doing okay.”

Harm looked over at the table, where Jen’s textbook and notes were scattered. “I never realized Bon Jovi was ‘brain music,’” he teased.

“I know it’s strange, sir, but it helps me concentrate.”

Harm shook his head. “Whatever works.”

“Let me just clear this stuff away, and we can eat,” Jen said.

It was then that Harm realized he should’ve given Jen more notice about dinner. He needed to talk to her, of that much he was certain, but he didn’t want it to come at the expense of her grades. “Do you have a lot of work tonight?” he asked her. “We can do this some other time if it would be easier for you.”

“No, sir, this is fine, believe me. In fact, I was actually taking notes on next week’s chapter. I’ve been trying to stay a little ahead, when I can. But I could use a break, and dinner with you definitely qualifies. It’s been too long, sir.”

“That it has, Jen. I’m sorry I’ve been so out of touch. This semester’s been pretty wild at the Academy.”

“Right,” Jen nodded. “Well, I’m just as guilty of not picking up the phone. Some days, by the time class is over, and I’ve done my homework, I’m exhausted. I fall asleep on the metro ride home, and then I veg out on the couch, in front of the TV. Some days, it’s so bad, I actually find myself missing those irate calls from the Secnav.”

Harm had taken the containers of food to the table, and he and Jen began eating. “You’re kidding,” Harm said. “Do you regret leaving JAG for this?”

“No way, sir,” Jen said firmly. “It’s not easy, but I know I want to earn my degree. And I told myself if I was going to go that far, why not go all the way?” Harm nodded, feeling a surge of brotherly pride. “Besides,” Jen added, a slight darkness suddenly clouding her face, “it just wasn’t the same after you and the admiral left.” She pushed a lo mein noodle around with her chopsticks. “They say you shouldn’t get comfortable with billets, or with personnel, but I did, and I guess I didn’t like the idea of that personnel changing so much.”

“Me neither, Jen,” Harm admitted. “But if the past few years at the Academy have taught me anything, it’s that life goes on, y’know?”

“Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, sir?” Jen smiled.

Harm chuckled. “It goes on, Jen, but it’s not always worth singing about.” If the situation with Laura hadn’t been weighing so heavily on his mind, Harm knew his last words wouldn’t have sounded so gloomy. In fact, until his favorite student had started going downhill, Harm had had few regrets about being “blacklisted” from JAG, and he’d found very few reasons to look back. He loved teaching, and he loved Terri, and those were two things he wouldn’t have learned if he’d been able to remain a JAG lawyer.

“I could say the same thing, sir. Like I said, I have no regrets, but that’s hard to remember when I’m up to ears in differentials.”

Harm’s eyes narrowed. “You’re taking calculus? Why on earth are they making a psych major take that?”

“Maybe so I’ll be able to relate when I get a suicidal patient?” Jen joked. “This stuff makes me want to stab myself with a dull pencil.”

“I used to be pretty good with that stuff,” Harm said. “I can take a look at it after dinner, if you’d like.”

Jen shook her head. “No, that’s all right sir. Actually, Mattie’s been helping me a lot.”

Harm looked surprised. “Really?”

Jen nodded. “She’s a whiz at it, sir. She’s taking advanced placement, and kicking butt at it.”

“That’s great,” Harm said, with a bright glint of parental pride in his eyes. “I didn’t realize you two still talked that much.”

“Of course we do, sir. We practically became sisters when we lived together. Just because we don’t anymore, doesn’t mean we’ve stopped talking.”

Harm nodded. “You were so good for her. She really needed a good influence, and you supplied it.”

Jen blushed, slightly embarrassed by the compliment. “All I did was sleep in the next room, sir.”

“And go to work every day, and cook dinner, and do laundry, and pass promotion exams, and do it all without relying on alcohol, which makes you the best role model she’s ever had.”

“Only after you, sir,” Jen said shyly.

“Yeah, but you’re a woman, and that makes a difference.”

“If you say so, sir.”

“I do. Now, please tell me that fact hasn’t continued to escape the single men of Washington.”

“What fact, sir? That I’m a woman?”

Harm nodded. “A beautiful, intelligent, ambitious, inspiring woman.”

“Sir…” Jen blushed. “Actually, I *am* sort of…seeing someone now.”

“Oh yeah? What’s he like?”

“Well, we’ve only been on two dates so far, but I’ve known him for a while. We’ve taken some classes together. He’s a tech sergeant in the Air Force, and he’s doing the same thing I am – finishing his degree, so he can become an officer.”

“That’s great,” Harm said excitedly. Jen deserved a good man in her life. “You want me to look into him for you? I still have contacts in the research department at JAG, y’know.” He winked.

Jen chuckled. “Thanks, sir, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt—for now.”

“All right. But, you let me know if you change your mind, all right? We may not be living down the hall from each other anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still worry about you.”

“Or that I don’t still appreciate it,” Jen smiled.

“Jen, you know that wherever I am, you can still come to me, right? Your living with Mattie brought us closer, but you and I were friends long before Mattie was a part of my life.” Feeling a twinge of awkwardness, Harm rolled his chopsticks between his fingers. “I guess what I’m trying to say is, I may not be right here anymore, but I’m still here.”

Jen smiled, her eyes watery. “I know you are, sir, and I’m grateful.” She looked at Harm for a long minute, before addressing what had been on her mind since his phone call earlier. “But, that’s not what you came here to tell me, is it, sir?”

“Am I that transparent?”

“Well, we’ve been out of touch for a while, sir. Not that I was unhappy to hear from you, but you have to admit, it’s fair for me to wonder what’s up when you call me out of the blue.”

Harm nodded, knowing his ruse was over. “You were always perceptive, Jen.”

“Well, working for the admiral helped, and now, with all the psych classes, it’s getting easier to read people.”

“Remind me never to play poker with you,” Harm joked.

“Don’t change the subject, sir. Now that I know there’s an ulterior motive behind sharing the Chinese…Did you think you had to bribe me with dinner, sir?”

Harm offered a sheepish smile. “It wasn’t a total lie, Jen. We really have been out of touch; I wanted to see you, regardless of what else is going on.”

“Then, there is something going on?”

Harm sighed. “I’m afraid so.”

Sensing the seriousness in Harm’s tone, Jen suggested, “Why don’t we clean up and go talk in the living room?”

Harm nodded. “Jen, I…” He trailed off, blushing slightly at his own ineloquence. “Just, thanks.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

It took only a few minutes to get Jen’s kitchen back in order, and then Harm and Jen were settled on Jen’s couch, two cups of steaming-hot tea on the glass table in front of them.

“Are you all right, sir?” Jen asked.

Harm’s gaze was focused on the rising steam; he didn’t notice Jen staring at him. Jerking his head up, he said, “Yeah, sorry. I’m just…thinking of how to begin. This is difficult for me.”

Jen’s curiosity instantly piqued, and she quirked an eyebrow up. She’d never seen him so…she wanted to think of it as “nervous,” but that was one word she’d never use to describe him. The closest she’d ever come to imagining him this way, was a few years before, when Mattie had related to her Harm’s almost laughable awkwardness when he’d asked her how much she knew about sex.

Jen nodded. “Is there anything I can do to make it easier, sir?”

Harm shook his head. “No. This is just one of those things. I think…I’ll just…dive right in.” Since I’m gonna drown, anyway, he added to himself. “A few weeks ago, I started noticing that one of my students was acting strangely. She was in one of my classes last semester, and she was outstanding. She was the top performer in the class this semester, too, until not too long ago. Her grades started slipping, and she was becoming more quiet and introverted. That might not sound weird to you, but this girl was usually high-spirited, and talkative in class. Anyway, there were several other things I noticed, and, to me, she just wasn’t herself. ”

Harm paused; Jen could tell he was struggling within himself to keep talking. With a sigh, Harm continued. “I recently found out that the reason for all that is…” he bit his lip, “she was raped…in an Academy dormitory, by three male midshipmen.”

Jen’s features froze; she was speechless. She could only offer the occasional nod, to let Harm know that, despite her silence, she was listening intently.

“She was trying to hide it from everyone. The only reason she told me is because I know her too well to pretend like nothing was wrong, and I wouldn’t let her get away with lying to me. And, you know me, Jen; now that I know, I can’t sit by and let those guys go free, even if that’s what she wants. She doesn’t want anyone else to find out.”

“Then, respectfully, sir, why are you telling me? I’d hate to think of myself in that girl’s shoes, and know that the only person I trusted with my secret went and told somebody else – somebody who’s a complete stranger to me, no less.”

Harm shifted his weight on the couch. “I’m sorry to hear you say that, Jen, because actually, that’s exactly what I need you to do. I want you to picture yourself in that situation, and tell me why you’d keep it a secret. These guys did the worst thing imaginable to her, and she’s letting them get away with it. For the life of me, I can’t understand why.”

“Can’t you, sir? You just said the reason, yourself: her worst nightmare came true, all her worst fears realized. It was no doubt the most humiliating thing that’s ever happened to her, and you’re asking her to advertise it to the world.”

“I’m asking her to help me see that justice is done.”

“That’s just it, sir; not everyone shares your sense of justice.”

Frustrated by what Jen was telling him, Harm stood up and started slowly pacing the room. “There’s more to this than just her, Jen. There’s more you don’t know.”

“Then, tell me,” Jen asked gently.

“I’m friends with another of this girl’s instructors. Before I knew what had happened to her, I mentioned to this instructor that I was concerned about her quick…decline, I guess I’ll call it. This instructor expressed a similar concern, only he also hinted at there being other students with the same problem.”

“You think more girls were raped, sir?”

Harm nodded gravely. “I know they were.”

“God…wow,” Jen whispered, in utter shock. “My whole image of the Academy…out the window.”

“Mine too, Jen,” Harm said regretfully. “Mine, too.” His voice came dangerously close to breaking.

Jen’s brow furrowed as she recalled something. “Didn’t something like this happen at the Air Force Academy a few years ago, sir?”

Harm nodded. “Yeah, it did. Girls were being attacked, but the guilty parties were never prosecuted. In fact, quite a few of them went on to become very influential officers. Worse yet, subsequent investigations showed that the top brass knew all along what was happening, but they kept it quiet. They punished the girls for smaller violations, like underage drinking, and the guys got off scot-free. They wanted to save their reputations, and the Academy’s. They wanted it kept out of the press, so they swept the whole damn thing under the rug.”

“Only, someone lifted that rug, didn’t they, sir?”

“Yeah, they did, Jen, and they found a hell of a lot of dirt.”

“God, sir, if something like that is happening at Annapolis…”

“Then I’ll rip up every damn carpet I have to, to uncover the truth. And, I’ll have Stuart Dunston there with a camera crew so fast, they won’t have time to sweep away a single speck of it.”

Jen suddenly had a very bad taste in her mouth. “This is horrible, sir, but to be honest, I still don’t understand why you’re telling me.”

“Don’t you see, Jen?” Harm insisted. “Lau – my student,” he caught himself, “is too ashamed, or too afraid, to come forward, but that’s the only way I can really look into what’s going on. If I’m going to start an official investigation, she’s got to formally charge someone with the crime.”

“But that’s the last thing on earth she wants to do,” Jen observed aloud.

“Right. So, I was hoping, that with all your psychology classes, or maybe even just your perspective as a woman, you’d be able to give me some insight. That is, hypothetically, if that ever happened to you, what could someone say to you, that would convince you to report it?”

Jen folded her arms across her chest, and picked at some imaginary lint on her sweater. After several long seconds, she tried to answer his question. “Sir, I’m going to tell you the truth, in confidence, because you deserve that much from me.”

Grateful for any clue Jen might offer him, Harm took a seat next to her on the couch again.

“We can leave the ‘hypothetical’ out of it, sir, because it wasn’t hypothetical, and I *did* report it.”

Harm looked shocked. “Jen,” he said quickly, “are you telling me…God, no…”

“No, sir, I’m sorry,” Jen was quick to correct herself. “I shouldn’t have said it like that. That never happened to me, but – “

Before Jen could finish, Harm had buried his face in his hands, where he let out a frantic breath. “Thank God.”

Jen nodded. “Yes, sir. But I’m trying to be this girl, and, while I’ve never been raped, I have been…well…harassed, I guess you could call it.”

“When?” Harm demanded.

“A few years ago, sir.”

“Let me guess: it was just before you began committing the list of petty crimes that landed you in the JAG office on Christmas Eve.”

Jen shrugged, feeling no shame. “I guess I was trying to get myself kicked out of the Navy. I didn’t want to do anything serious enough to land myself behind bars, but I thought if I did enough small things, they’d *want* me out of the Navy. Force reduction, and all that, y’know.” Harm nodded. “But anyway, sir, yes, I did report it. Didn’t do much good though. Got me transferred to a different command, but still…that kind of thing goes on much more than you’d think, sir.”

“I’m beginning to see that,” Harm said. “And, did you ever…I mean, are you all right, now?”

“Yes, sir. It never became violent, thank goodness. They were just comments, snide remarks, occasional leers, with eyes that lingered for too long on very specific parts of my anatomy. Once in a while, I’d come across a master chief, or even some officers, who seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable to…touch me inappropriately, and blame it on the ship’s listing. Of course, it could have been much worse, but even so, to this day, thinking about it makes me shudder.”

“Jen, I’m so sorry.”

Jen only shrugged. “Don’t be, sir. It’s not as though you were one of those officers. And, all things considered, I’ve come across a lot more people like you in the Navy, and a lot fewer like the others.”

Harm nodded. “What made you report it?”

Jen offered a half-smile. “I’ve never been one to get trampled on, sir, especially not since I joined the Navy. I’d always thought the military was the one place where a person could be judged by her merits, and not her body. When they look at fit-reps for promotions, the only thing that should count is performance on the job, and not performance…somewhere else.”

“And those guys…on the Gainesville…they let you down,” he observed.

Jen nodded. “Yeah, and I didn’t want them to get away with it. I think that’s what I liked best about being at JAG, sir – no one got away with anything like that. Not with you, Colonel Mackenzie, Commander Turner, and Commander Roberts on the job.

“Well,” Harm said, “unless I can figure out how to get Laura to go on the record, that’s exactly what’s going to happen, Jen; three rapists are going to get away with it. And more, they’re going to become naval officers, and I’ll be damned if that’s going to happen on my watch.”

“You can’t force her to go public, sir. Even if we put aside the humiliation and public ridicule she’d face, there are still plenty of good reasons why she’d want to keep it buried.”

“No reason could possibly be good enough to let those guys walk,” Harm said coldly.

“Sir, please,” Jen said, “just hear me out. If an investigation is opened, and it leads to a trial, you know from experience that it’s going to turn into a he said/she said case, and those are hell to prove. Not to mention that you’d make this girl relive over and over again what happened to her. This is a nightmare that will probably never go away for her. The best she can ever hope to do is accept that there are people out there who have no humanity, and pray that she never encounters any of them for the rest of her life.”

“Well, *I* can’t accept that, Jen. I can’t accept that these guys are free to target other girls and destroy every value the Academy stands for. I mean, what am I supposed to tell Mattie, huh? Just what in the hell am I supposed to tell her when she starts there next year? That because my student didn’t want her attackers prosecuted, we never found out how widespread the problem was, and I should just give her some pepper spray and wish her luck?!”

Jen shrank into the corner of the sofa, suddenly feeling very insignificant. “Don’t shoot the messenger, sir. You asked for my opinion.”

Harm sighed, and ran a tense hand through his hair. “I know, Jen; I’m sorry, honey. I’m just so…God, I don’t even know what the word is. Angry and frustrated don’t even begin to describe how I feel, but I have no right to take it out on you. It’s just…I feel like I’m more upset about this than she is, and I can’t understand why.”

Jen nodded. “I’m trying to tell you why, sir, if you’ll just let me talk.”

“Of course,” Harm whispered contritely. He hated that he’d made Jen feel small. Since the moment he’d found out what happened to Laura, it seemed he had less control over his emotions with each passing day, and now, it had affected his relationship with Jen, as well as with Terri.

“Like I said, sir, even if we ignore the emotional toll it would take on this girl, try to look at it from her perspective: who knows how long a trial of that nature could take, when it involves a place like the Academy? She wouldn’t be able to concentrate on any classes until after it was over, so she’d be letting them get away with even more than just rape, sir. She’d have to put her life on hold indefinitely, and if she wanted to be a naval officer so badly that she went to Annapolis, well, I don’t think she’d be too thrilled at the prospect of spinning her wheels there for who-knows-how-long, when she could graduate next year, and be on her way to her first official duty station.”

Jen considered her next words carefully. “Sir, all I can imagine is that her life’s been affected enough already. If she doesn’t want to speak up about what happened to her, it’s probably because she doesn’t want to give those guys the satisfaction of preventing her from living the life she’s dreamed of.”

Jen had made a strong argument, Harm knew, and yet, somehow, it would never be enough. “What about my satisfaction?”

Jen looked him in the eye bravely. “You’re not entitled to any,” she said firmly. “With all due respect, sir, you weren’t in that room. You aren’t the one they violated. As much as I know it kills you to sit by while it happens, you have to respect whatever this girl decides to do.”

Harm gave no response, save his sinking into the couch next to Jen. He was physically and emotionally exhausted; he lacked the energy to continue the debate.

Seeing Harm’s state, Jen went into the kitchen to brew some coffee.

“Thanks,” Harm said, when Jen returned to the sofa and handed him a steaming mug. “I meant it, when I said I was sorry. I didn’t mean to get angry with you, Jen. It’s not you I’m upset with, and it’s really not with my student, either. I think I’m more angry with the guys who did this to her, because not only was the action itself totally unconscionable, but as a result of it, she now feels so damaged and unworthy that she doesn’t think she even deserves justice.”

“And it’s affecting you too, huh, sir? No offense, sir, but you look like hell.”

Harm nodded. “I haven’t been sleeping well lately, and I’m afraid I’ve been a sorry excuse for a boyfriend to Terri.”

“I’m sure Commander Coulter understands, sir, given the circumstances.”

Harm shook his head. He set his coffee cup down. “She doesn’t know.”

“What?!” Jen reacted. “Something’s affecting you this much, and you haven’t told her what it is?”

“I promised my student I wouldn’t,” Harm said.

“But you told me!”

“It’s different, Jen. You’re not associated with the Academy. You don’t know any of the people involved.”

“Sir, this is a bad idea,” Jen stressed. “You skipped the person to whom you’re closest, the person you see every day, and you came to me instead. Don’t you think Commander Coulter deserves better from you, sir?”

Harm nodded, full of remorse. “Yes, she does. This is horrible, Jen. I’ve been treating her pretty badly, I guess. But it’s only going to get worse if these guys aren’t behind bars. Imagine how I’ll feel when I see them around campus next year, or worse, if one of them is in my class. Or worse yet, when I see them on graduation day, with ensign’s bars on their shoulders. I honestly don’t think I could stand it.”

“You don’t have to, sir. *She* does, and that’s all there is to it.”

Harm didn’t accept what Jen tried to tell him, but rather than continuing to force the issue, he steered their conversation to an entirely new topic. They talked for a little while, and eventually, Jen announced that she needed to get back to studying. She walked Harm to the door, and as Harm put on his coat, he stared at her, with a strange look in his eyes.

“What?” Jen asked.

Harm thought about the candor she’d offered him tonight, and her willingness to drop everything to meet with him. “Nothing. I just…you’re going to make some guy very happy someday, you know that? And very, very lucky.”

Jen blushed. “Thank you, sir.”

“I wasn’t finished,” Harm told her. “And I’m going to make him very black and blue, if he ever hurts you.”

 

2130 EST
HARM’S APARTMENT
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND

 

Having decided to follow Jen’s advice, Harm was determined to tell Terri the truth tonight. He’d spent the hour-long car ride back from Jen’s apartment trying to think of just how he would accomplish that, and he had come up with approximately nothing. Still, the rational part of his mind was telling him that it was high time he told Terri the truth. He was only fooling himself if he thought he could keep it from her forever, and trying to do so had caused more arguments and tension than two people who loved each other as much as they did, should ever have to suffer. It had been several weeks since the last time they’d made love. Harm had been confident that their conversation afterward had assured Terri that he was every bit as interested in her as he’d been at the beginning of their relationship. And it had worked – for a few days, anyway. Very quickly, though, Harm had shifted all his focus back to the cover-up he and Bud had discovered, and that had left little time to maintain a smooth relationship with Terri. He hated himself for putting her second for so long.

He was going to march straight inside, and tell her everything.

However, when Harm entered his apartment, his steely determination was derailed by the sight of Terri, clad in nothing but a floor-length, ivory-colored, silk nightgown, bathed in candlelight. She was sprawled across his sofa, one knee bent in an elegant, inviting pose. The slit in the side of the nightgown revealed her shapely leg; her breasts were just barely concealed by the lace cups of the gown’s bodice.

Harm sighed inwardly. Months ago, the sight before him would have sent his arousal through the roof. Now, though, he regretted what he knew was about to happen: he was going to try to have a serious discussion with her, and she was going to take it as a sure sign of his complete lack of interest in her. He was tired, *so* tired, of being stuck in this tornado of a situation, being flung around and around, with no hope of escape.

But there *was* an escape, and he was about to lead them both toward it.

Instead of walking over to the sofa, and covering Terri’s body with his own, as he would have surely done at the beginning of their relationship, Harm simply turned on the light switch, instantly killing the romantic, seductive atmosphere Terri had created. He walked quickly through the living room, blowing out the candles, one by one.

“Harm,” Terri protested, sitting up, “what are you doing?”

“We need to talk,” he said simply.

“We need to do something else, first,” she replied softly, trying her best not to be foiled by Harm’s apparent disinterest. She reached out to touch Harm’s arm as he passed her, stilling him in his tracks. When she spoke again, her voice was heavy and sultry. “Everything else can wait.” As she said it, she trailed her fingernails up and down his arm, tickling the hairs there.

“No, this comes first,” Harm insisted. He pushed her arm away from him, and held it firmly. “This needs to come first.” Still holding her arm, he led her back to sit together on the couch.

Terri stared into his eyes. Her heart stopped when she saw the absent, hollow look in them. There was nothing. No emotion. A completely dispassionate void. It was then that she knew this would be the end. Harm had always been infinitely emotional about the things he cared about, and, lately, he hadn’t seemed the least bit invested in her, or in their relationship. How humiliating, she thought, to have spent the evening preparing a night of seduction, only to be left out in the cold.

Of course “this” would come first, she thought. Whatever “this” was. There would always be something between them, always something, or someone, that Harm would commit himself to, to the exclusion of all else in his life. She’d tried to blind herself to this particularly frustrating trait of his, and, until recently, it had worked. Now, though, it looked like neither one of them wanted to go on lying to themselves.

“This is it, isn’t it?” Terri said, finally breaking the silence between them. “You don’t want ‘us’ anymore.”

Harm’s brow furrowed. Where did *that* come from, he wondered. “Terri – “

“We’re never going to make love again, are we?” she asked. It was more of a statement than a question, though.

“Why are you saying that?” Harm asked. He wondered how this had gone so quickly from his having to tell her something, to her seeming to break up with him.

“What else am I supposed to say, at this point?” Terri replied. “We haven’t touched each other in weeks, and tonight, there was no way you could have mistaken what I had planned for us, but what did you do? You walked in, turned on the light, blew out all the candles, and told me, in no uncertain tone, that we ‘need to talk.’”

“And from that, you jumped to the conclusion that I don’t want to be with you anymore?”

Terri scoffed. “It’s not that big a leap to make, Harm. Face it, we’re no more lovers now than we were the day we met. Hell, we barely even have a friendship going, these days. You’re ‘busy,’ I know. You’re ‘distracted,’ I know,” she said, stressing the words as she mocked him “But this ‘distraction’ is keeping you away from me ‘till all hours of the night, and it’s obliterated the very good thing we had going between us. Since you clearly don’t respect me enough to tell me just what it’s about, then I can’t imagine why you’d want to stay with me at all. Or am I just someone to cling to so you don’t have to feel so alone?”

“Terri,” Harm begged, “please, don’t start this again. You remember what happened last time?”

“Yes,” Terri replied. “The last time we made love, you didn’t even want to! I practically had to force you, and then, afterward, you gave me some ridiculous speech about how beautiful I am! What a line of shit, Harm!”

“Terri, this isn’t about that, all right?! Contrary to what some women seem to think, men can’t always do it at the drop of a hat. Sometimes, I have big things on my mind, and it would take a hell of a lot more than dirty talk from you for me to get it up!” Harm could hardly believe the words coming out of his mouth, but his anger and frustration were getting the best of him. After all, he had made it clear he had something he needed to say, and Terri had railroaded him with her own insecurities.

“I’ll bet you get it up with *her* every time…” Terri insinuated scornfully. She regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth, but there was no way to take them back. She wanted the truth, once and for all, and she was determined to get it any way she could.

“Where in the world did *that* come from?!” Harm balked. “I can’t believe you’d even *think* of accusing me of that! You know me better than that!”

“Do I?!” Terri countered? “Lately, I feel like I don’t know you at all! Damn it, Harm, I’m sick of this! Who is this girl, and what is she to you?!”

“Don’t make this a competition, Terri; we’ll both lose.”

“Why does she mean so much more to you than I do?!”

“Terri,” Harm stressed, “she doesn’t mean more than you do.”

“Then why have you been acting like she does? Whatever’s going on with her, it’s pushing us apart! I don’t know what the hell’s going on, but it’s destroying us!” Terri’s voice had become raspy with emotional exhaustion. A tear fell down her cheek.

“Terri, this has nothing to do with you and me!”

“No?” she balked. “Harm, you haven’t slept well in weeks, you look like hell, and we haven’t made love in ages! And, worst of all, you won’t tell me why! If you’re no longer interested in me, at least have the courtesy to tell me so, and let me go quickly. I deserve at least that much from you. I’m tired of waiting for the other shoe to drop, damn it! I’m tired of walking on eggshells around you, wondering what the hell I did to mess things up so badly!”

“Terri!” Harm shouted out of exasperation. “This isn’t about you! Why can’t you just believe me and let it go?!”

“Because you owe me more than that, Harm! If you really love me like you claim you do, then I deserve better from you!”

“I can’t give you better right now! Terri, I’m trying very hard to hold it together here, and I won’t be able to if you keep going on like this.”

“Don’t hold it together, Harm,” Terri told him. “Can’t you see I don’t want you to?! This is killing you, and I want to know what the hell it is!”

Harm’s breathing was rapid, with his anger. “Something big is going on – something bigger and more evil than you would ever dare to imagine!”

“Then tell me what it is, God damn it!”

“She was raped!!” Harm threw his hands up in all-encompassing frustration. “She was raped, all right, Terri?! She was studying with some male midshipmen, and, at the end of the night, they demanded ‘payment,’ which they extracted by holding her down and taking turns forcing themselves on her! This happened in a dorm at the Academy. My Academy! And I have reason to believe she wasn’t the first! I have reason to believe this has been happening for years, and that my COs have allowed it to happen! I have reason to believe they’ve been living the good life, on hush money that comes from as high up as Congress, and the Pentagon! Are you happy now, Terri?! Huh?! Is that what you wanted to hear?! That the Academy is home to criminals of the worst order?! That the whole goddamned Navy is tainted?! That everything that has ever meant anything to me is dead?!”

With that, the damn had finally burst on all the pain Harm had been holding inside. He sank to his knees in the middle of the room, violent sobs overtaking his whole body.

Terri was paralyzed, half out of shock, and half out of fear. Fear at seeing Harm this way. She’d never imagined an evil so great that it could tear him apart like this. Dear God, she thought. This is literally driving him crazy.

Knowing that nothing she could say or do could possibly be of the slightest comfort to him, she approached him slowly, and sat on the floor next to him. She put a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“I’m not dead,” she whispered.

Harm looked up at her through red, sleepless, tortured eyes. Her long, blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders, and her fair skin glowed before his eyes. She appeared to him literally as an angel. He clung to her as if his life depended on it. “I’m sorry!” he cried, “God, I’m so sorry!” His face was buried against Terri’s breast, and Terri held him even tighter. She felt hot tears sting her eyes as she listened to Harm’s muffled sobs of apology.

“Terri, I – “

“Shhh,” Terri soothed. “It’s okay, Harm. It’s okay. Just…let go. Just…be here with me.” Never in her life had she been at such a loss. This was Harm. Harm. He was the one who was supposed to be made of steel. He was supposed to be the strong one when other people fell apart. Terri felt as though the earth’s axis had tilted, and everything she’d ever known was suddenly reversed. She was seeing for the first time that her world was built upon sand, and those sands had suddenly, irrevocably shifted.

“I love you so much, baby,” Harm choked out. “You’re everything to me.” He clung tighter to her. “I don’t want to push you away. Don’t leave,” he begged. “I need you. I can’t do this without you.”

Terri stroked her hand along his back, and was horrified by the amount of tension she felt in his muscles. “I’m not going anywhere,” she promised. She placed a gentle kiss in his hair. “I’m right here, sweetheart, just hold on tight.” She felt Harm nod against her chest, and they stayed like that, for long, untold minutes, cocooned in the safety of each other.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

After Harm had calmed down a little, he slowly told Terri the whole story, from his first inkling that something was wrong with Laura, to the day he’d found out exactly what had happened, to everything Bud had discovered.

“She won’t press charges,” Harm told Terri.

“Why not?” Terri asked, even though she could think of plenty of reasons for a girl in Laura’s position to keep it quiet.

Harm sighed. “She just wants to forget about it. She’s afraid she’ll hit the same kind of brick wall response those Air Force cadets ran into a few years ago.”

“Well, judging from what you just told me, about the ‘creative accounting practices,’ I’d say that’s a legitimate concern, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah, I would,” Harm admitted, “but that’s exactly why she needs to come forward – so we can put these guys away, and stop this from ever happening again.”

“You can’t force her, Harm,” Terri said.

“I know,” Harm replied. “I’ve been learning the hard way.”

“You’ve talked to her about it?”

Harm nodded. “Well, it wasn’t so much ‘talking,’ as it was me suggesting she help me nail these scumbags, and her yelling at me about how there’s nothing in this lifetime, or the next ten, that could ever make her set herself up for that kind of scrutiny.”

Terri sighed. “She’s right, Harm; she’s been through enough already. In her eyes, it’ll probably be hard enough to make it through the rest of her time at the Academy, let alone get through it in the midst of that kind of attention.”

“But Terri,” Harm argued, “after what happened to her, why would she even want to graduate from Annapolis?”

“The same reasons you did, Harm,” Terri said simply. “Because it stands for something special. Honor, integrity, loyalty, courage, service.”

“That’s just it, Ter. It doesn’t stand for that anymore. And now, I’m not sure it ever did.”

“You don’t mean that,” Terri said.

“Don’t I?”

“Harm, the Academy means the world to you.”

“Not anymore,” he muttered.

“Yes, anymore, Terri insisted. “If that wasn’t true, this wouldn’t have driven you to this point. You could have asked for a transfer, but you won’t, because you want to fix it. You believe in what the Academy stands for, and you won’t see that destroyed.”

“Too late,” Harm quipped.

“No, it’s not,” Terri insisted. “If it was, you would give up, and those two words have never been part of your vocabulary – never. Like you said, you can’t go back and erase this. You can’t change the fact that it happened. But what you can do is make sure it never happens again.”

“I’m trying, baby,” Harm said, exhaustion creeping into his voice.

“I know,” Terri said, reaching for his hand, and placing a kiss on it. She continued to hold his hand, caressing it with her thumb. After a few silent seconds, she asked, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I was trying to protect you,” he admitted.

“From what?”

“From learning the truth.” He sighed, and pulled his hand gently out of her grasp. “Terri, the Academy is everything to me. So much of what I believe in, so much of what I’m proud of in my life, took root in those buildings. Hell, I’ve worn the ring for so long, I’d feel naked without it. And I just…” he stopped, and shook his head. “I wonder what you must think of me now. My whole life is built on lies. Everything I’ve stood for is a joke. Annapolis is no better than a fifty-cent Las Vegas peep show. It’s nothing more than a breeding ground for rapists.”

For a moment, Terri was stunned into silence. It was even worse than she’d thought just a few minutes ago; Harm was truly questioning his own motives, because of something he’d had absolutely no control over. “Baby,” she said, cupping his face in her hand, “this has nothing to do with you, or your principles. Those buildings you were talking about? Honey, they’re just buildings. Bricks and mortar. That’s not what makes up the Navy, and you know that even better than I do. The Navy is its people, Harm. It’s you and me, and Bud and Harriet. It’s people who served honorably for decades, like AJ Chegwidden, and it’s people who are just starting out, like Mikey Roberts. And it’s all those young kids who joined up to make a better life for themselves. It’s people who believe in something special. Bad apples exist everywhere, even in our Navy. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept them. We can fight them, Harm. You can fight them.”

Harm shook his head. “Not this time, Terri. Not this time.”

“Why not?” Terri prodded.

“Because, I can’t get Laura to come forward, and I can’t go after these guys without her.”

“Well, what about the other girls? Can’t you see if one of them would be willing to step up?”

“Maybe,” Harm replied, half-heartedly. “But I care about Laura. I want to see her win this thing. And I’m not talking about whatever trial or hearing might come out of this. I’m talking about life. I want her to win, Ter. I want her to stand up for herself and do the right thing – not because those guys are despicable, but because she’s incredible. I want her to believe she deserves vindication.”

“But, she doesn’t believe that?” Terri guessed.

Harm shook his head. “They took a lot from her that night, Terri, but that’s the worst of it: they stole her self worth.”

Terri could think of nothing to say, so she just stayed there, close to Harm, offering whatever meager support she could. After a while, Harm broke the silence. “Why does this matter to you so much?” he asked.

“I’ve already told you: it means the world to you, and I love you, so how could it mean any less to me?” She pulled Harm’s face toward hers and kissed his lips. “I may not have gone to the Academy, but I’m still a commissioned officer in the Navy, and I know very well what that place means. And, more importantly, I know what it means to you.”

Harm stared into Terri’s eyes, until tears began to blur her image. He drew her close, and placed a kiss in her hair. Holding her tightly, he marveled at how deeply she understood him. No woman in his past had ever gotten inside his head so well, not even Jordan, and she was a professional. With every other woman he’d been with, the Navy had been an obstacle: Annie and Jordan had both resented his ambition to fly, and, throughout most of his sham of a relationship with Renee, she had never truly understood that she would always come in second place to his duty. And Mac, well…professional complications was just one among a vast array of explanations why things had never worked out.

And now, looking back more objectively than he’d ever been able to before, he could see that it was probably, in fact, the smallest reason. Like he’d told Bud and Harriet, he’d all but given up on sharing his life with a woman, but now, he could hardly imagine a day without Terri, without her easy smile, her cheerful disposition, and most of all, the bond they’d formed with each other, almost without even trying.

And now, the very thing he’d tried so hard to prevent, had happened: Terri knew enough to get herself in trouble. “Terri,” Harm said, “I want you to forget all this. I want you to forget we ever had this conversation.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Terri said.

Harm shook his head. “I’m dead serious, Terri. I’m in this up to my eyeballs, and I’ve dragged Bud in with me. But we’ve both agreed we don’t want you or Harriet anywhere near this.”

“Why not?” Terri balked. “I work at Annapolis too, y’know.”

“Yes, I do know, baby, and that’s exactly why you need to stay as far outside of this as you can. This goes so damn high up, there’s no telling what kind of rhetorical, bureaucratic bullshit we’re going to run into. This was so well-hidden that me and Bud had to do some…questionable things to get to the facts. We’re already risking our careers; we don’t want to take you and Harriet down with us.”

Terri quirked up an eyebrow. “And what if I choose to go down?”

“You don’t get that choice,” Harm stated firmly. “Terri,” he said at length, “I tried very hard to keep this from you. The only reason I finally told you is that it was destroying us. I’ve been so distracted, and I know it affected us.” He looked away, unable to face her. “I didn’t mean to treat you like I did,” he admitted. “It’s just…this was so big…so damn big. I fell into it, and I was trying to dig myself out, but the hole just kept getting deeper.” His voice was shaky, and he shook his head. “You deserved better from me, baby, and I didn’t give it to you.” He wiped away a tear before it could fall from his face. “I’ve hurt you enough already. I won’t stand by and watch you throw away your career.”

“Harm, it’s like you said before: if this is what passes for standard practice at the Academy these days, then my career doesn’t mean much of anything to begin with.”

Harm shook his head, sniffling. “You are not getting mixed up in this. This is my problem, and I’ll find a way to fix it.”

“You just don’t get it, do you?” Terri said, a cockeyed smile on her face. She took Harm’s hand, placed it against her heart, and held it there. “There’s no more ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ anymore. There’s only ours. We’re in this…thing, whatever it is, together.”

“This…you and me ‘thing?’” Harm asked, chuckling slightly. Terri nodded. “Y’know,” Harm said, “I think that’s the only reason I’ve managed to put one foot in front of the other for the past three months.”

Terri gave Harm a final hug, and slipped out of his embrace. “You’ve had a hell of a night,” she told him. She cocked her head toward their bedroom. “Why don’t you go in there and try to get some sleep?”

Harm nodded. He stood up and offered Terri his hand, but she refused. “You’re not coming with me?” Harm asked.

Terri shook her head. “I wish I could, baby, but I have to finish grading some papers. I’m already a week late in getting them back to my class.” Harm shot her a dejected look. “I promised them, Harm.”

“All right,” Harm acquiesced. “But, come to bed soon, okay?”

The desperate sadness in Harm’s voice cut right to her heart. Still, she had no desire to face the wrath of thirty midshipmen, hungry for test scores. “I will.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

It was less than an hour later when Terri heard Harm pad softly over to where she was seated at the desk. She turned to look up at him; she was disappointed to see he didn’t look at all rested. If anything, he looked worse. In the dim light of the desk lamp, she could see his hair was disheveled, and his boxers were rumpled, as if he’d been tossing and turning. His eyes were red and teary, fresh from crying. He held her guitar out to her in both hands, presenting it like a sacred offering. He looked at her with pleading eyes, like a frightened child, asking to stay in his parents’ bed after a nightmare. “Sing to me?” he whispered, an immense sadness still lurking in his quivering voice. “Just until I fall asleep?”

Terri had vowed to stay up and finish grading this evening, but the pain etched on Harm’s face took away any option she had in the world, save for granting his request. Her students would have to wait; right now, Harm needed her, more than she’d ever thought him capable of needing anyone or anything.

Terri nodded. Harm carried the guitar in one hand, using his free one to hold Terri’s, as he led her silently to the bedroom. Harm sat on the bed, his long legs bent so Terri could lean back against him. As Terri was getting comfortable, Harm pulled his Academy ring off of his finger. He struggled with it for several seconds; it had resided there for so long, it was reluctant to leave its home.

Seeing Harm’s action, Terri looked into his sad eyes. “Don’t,” she whispered.

“I can’t,” Harm whispered back. “Not anymore.” With that, he opened the nightstand drawer, dropped the ring inside, and closed it silently. Turning back to Terri, he pulled her close against him, leaving her just enough room to comfortably strum the guitar.

Terri sang an old Bob Dylan song; a simple one, but one of her favorites.

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

I know you haven't made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I've known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong

I'd go hungry, I'd go black and blue
I'd go crawling down the avenue
There's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love

The storms are raging on the rollin' sea
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain't seen nothing like me yet

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn't do
Go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you feel my love

With his head nestled in the soft skin of Terri’s shoulder, Harm rested his hand on Terri’s arm while she played. She could sense him listening, losing himself in her voice, searching the words for some sort of peace, a safe harbor in the hurricane engulfing him. Just as his eyes closed, he whispered, “I love you, Teresa.”

 

 

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