It's over! It's over! It's FINALLY over! AMEN! Well, not totally over, there is a short story coming up, an epilogue to end the "torture" series. It's called, for now, "Until the End of time" and would be a 3 or 4 short chapters. I hope to have chapter 1 on Friday. Cool? Cool! Good !;)

Thanks for the support on this one and yes, you wusses who wait for stories to be OVER before you read them, you can start reading now, it ends all nice and fuzzyish. ;)

Thanks guys for your patience:)

It's been wonderful

Jackie

Thanks to: joanoa, smithknk, mariarita, xobabygurlxo, Brittany4445, starryeyes10, jnp, dansingwolf, LiseGirardi, Martini, JadeAlmasy, Dessler, BiteBeccy, aserene, LtjgMegAustin, cbw, southernqt, froggy, harmfan, Judy, jtbwriter, Abigaile, XBlueShadowX, jaggurl, Lurkz, alix33, Nix707, echorage, aserene, chantelmac, Ink, Wuchel, CarbyGurl, Cristina, Inkand,Feverish Dream, Wuchel, minorcadence, mechanical, mariarita, Tammy, bluejay, anyone else I missed for the feedback :)

Part 21 – Rhythm Of Hope

2018 Zulu
Mac's Apartment
Georgetown

They had been checking the apartment for quite some time, but it was Bud, who found something that they all found odd. "Sirs?" He walked out of Mac's bedroom and called the rest of the crew in pointing to a speck above Mac's vanity. "I don't know why, but I had a feeling to look here."

Webb was unimpressed, he'd been in Mac's apartment before and probably knew as much about it as Harm did. "Yes, it's a vanity, Commander, many women have one."

Bud shook his head, the temptation to slug the man again passed fleetingly through his mind. "No. . .LOOK." He pointed at the speck. "Is it just me or does that look like a pinhole camera?"

Chegwidden stared at the speck, then ran his finger over it. "There's definitely something there."

Webb stepped up to the vanity and excused himself as he looked around for signs of a bug. "Does anyone have a knife?" He was handed one by Gibbs and quickly went to work on removing the mirror. To his surprise, it peeled almost on it's own. "You were right, Commander." Behind the mirror was a neatly taped, thin wire which ran up towards the section where the pinhole camera would be found. "Mr. Roberts, call up CIA headquarters, let them know I need a team down here with a counter-surveillance kit." Bud nodded once and took Webb's proffered phone to patch in the call. "Damnit." He shook his head slightly. "Damnit! I am such a fool."

AJ couldn't deny that, but he bit that comment back. "What is it Webb?"

"I was at Rabb's apartment earlier today, I found a camera. . .Which means someone has been watching them."

"It isn't you, is it?" The thought nauseated Sturgis more that he could admit. Mainly because he couldn't put it past Webb to do something so underhanded.

"No!" Webb yelled, scowling at the officer.

"It's Palmer." Gibbs said with no uncertainty.

Webb placed his hands on his hips, shaking his head slightly. "I thought he was dead."

"You really are a fool if you believed that Webb." Flipping his phone that had just started ringing, Gibbs had a short conversation with the other person on the line. "Damnit, that blood. . .it's Rabbs. . . Webb, we need your men down here now. . . Roberts, Turner, you two know the Commander and the Colonel best, take a drive around town, contact the local hospitals, see if we can get to the bottom of this."

2020 Zulu
Location Unknown
Virginia

Slowly, Harm took in the room they were standing in. It was an office, so there were desks. "Maybe we should look through these desks, see if we can find an actual weapon." He whispered, waving the bottle vodka which they had shoved a piece of cloth into. It was doubtful that they would find a pistol or something lethal, Palmer wouldn't be that stupid to lock them up and leave weapons nearby, would he? Mac nodded and Harm kept an eye on the door as she rummaged through all of the drawers. Nothing was found.

"Nothing. . .at all." Just in case, she squatted down in front of the desk and searched under it. There was a hook, similar to those that could be used to secure a gun under the desk. There was even a holster, but not a gun. "Damnit. . .Palmer is just a little untrusting."

Harm chuckled. "Next time I'll make sure we get captured by more considerate sociopaths."

Mac shook her head. "Next time? If there's a next time, I think I am going to lose it." She rocked on her heels then stood up and looked at him. "You don't feel well?" It was more of a statement than a question, she walked quickly towards Harm and attempted to check on his wound. "Damnit, why didn't you say something? I could have. . ."

"Mac, we don't have time. . .we'll worry about it when we get out of here." He stilled her hand and pulled it away before she felt just how badly he was doing. "I'm fine. . .I'll be fine. . I promise."

And she would have believed him had she not known Harm as well as she did. He had a tendency to under compensate pain. He was pale, too pale and she could feel his skin was slightly feverish. Yet, she did as told, she pulled away and nodded. "Let's get out of here." She pressed herself up against the wall, peering out the door and downwards, not finding anything to impede their escape.

Harm followed suit, inwardly cursing not having some sort of weapon either than the vodka bottle in his hand. The matches he kept on the front pocket of his jeans, hoping that it didn't take him too long to snatch and strike them if something difficult should arise. After a quick, silent, prayer, he dashed out after Mac, cautiously heading down the catwalk towards the steps that would take them downwards. Thunder rumbled outside, echoing in the cavernous main room of the foundry. Despite the torrential downpour, there were beads of light that would sneak in through the windows and cracks around the building.

Mac arrived at the steps and slowly descended, careful of the more rust laden ones that seemed just a bit too precarious. They didn't speak as they moved downward, both of them using a soft movement so that their steps would not sound. The tension in his body was causing just a little more pain to Harm's injured side. He could literally feel a wet, stickiness that was the blood seeping from the wound. Still, he was trying to focus on getting them out of there quickly and safely.

A loud crash of thunder nearly made Mac miss a few steps. Thankfully, Harm reached a hand out, steadying her before they continued downwards. Taking a tumble wasn't something she wanted to do again. It was a miracle she hadn't broken a few bones the first time or worse, been impaled by some of the metal that was unfastened. Reaching the bottom, she let out a breath she wasn't even sure she'd been holding, then turned to find Harm sweating profusely. This concerned her. He shouldn't have been this exerted from going down some steps. His breath was ragged and when Harm reached the bottom step, she saw him sway slightly, then hold up his hand to stop her from helping.

"Keep going." He told her in a low, firm voice. The bottle of vodka nearly slipped out of his hand and he had to grip it tighter as he fumbled through his pocket for the matches. They were nearly outside, less than fifty feet away from their freedom and his only thought was to burn the place to the ground. Mac ignored his command and stood by him, grasping the bottle so that he could light it. He seemed grateful, but at the same time irritated that she was still there instead of closer to the outside.

For once, something seemed to go right. The match lit up on it's first strike and as soon as Harm ignited the cloth at the end off the bottle, Mac hurled it close these boxes that were piled near the machinery. They braced themselves as a controlled, mini-explosion ignited the boxes in mere seconds. Unfortunately, that is as far as they got. Five bullets had whizzed by them, the sound masked by the symphony of lightening and thunder that Mother Nature was playing. Harm had missed it completely, but Mac had seen a bit of concrete just a few feet away from them, burst out in fragments. That just didn't seem right. She whirled around quickly seeing a shadow walking away from the flames and towards them. It was Palmer.

Though she'd been in some combat situations, Mac wasn't ever sure what people meant when they said that their lives 'flashed before their eyes.' To her, that metaphor was completely ridiculous. She heard the click of the trigger and in a split second, her life did flash before her eyes in some super sonic, hyper, fast forward clip. In that split millisecond, instead of worrying about herself, Mac's last thought was to push Harm out of the way. She tackled him, feeling as if she'd hit a brick wall straight on. Then there was a pain, a sharp burn in her flesh as their bodies fell to the ground together.

Instinctively, ignoring the searing pain from where the bullet grazed her arm, she pulled herself up more, covering his torso with her body. Mac had found her way to the gash on his side. Pulling away and glancing at her hand, she found it covered in blood – the stitches had ripped open. "No. . .Oh no." She took a quick glance at Palmer as an explosion from the flames sent him towards the ground. She then turned to Harm, trying to rouse him so that they could use Palmer's misfortune to their advantage. "Harm. .. Wake up, Harm!" She placed her hands on his face, slapping him in order to wake him up. "Please, wake up!"

Wake up? He was awake, but very, very tired and in pain. But, the pain would go away if she would just let him sleep. Lazily, Harm cracked open his eyes to just a sliver, enough to find Mac worriedly hovering over him. He knew he wasn't going to make it anymore, but that didn't mean she couldn't. "Go." He said as firmly as possible, but she wasn't responsive, instead she insisted on trying to get him up. "No, Mac. . .Go!" Forcefully, he tried to push her body off of him, but only succeeded in moving her slightly.

"I am not leaving you here!" She yelled at him, then came to her feet. It would probably hurt him more, but, if she had to, Mac was going to drag him out of there. Glancing towards Palmer she noticed him trying to get to the gun that was a few feet away from him. Whoever had control of that weapon, would have control of the situation. She knew this, but as much as she didn't want to leave Harm, the situation was clear – she had to get that weapon.

It all felt like slow motion, the tact she took to get to the weapon. But, as she lunged for it, so did Palmer and he got to it first. Mac lay on the ground staring down the barrel of the gun. "Get up, Sarah." Palmer commanded as he stumbled upwards himself. "Walk over to Harmy." He said, pointing the gun towards where Harm's body lay on the ground. She did as told, keeping her hands upwards in surrender until she reached Harm's side.

Mac squatted down next to him, immediately reaching for a pulse. It was there, but he needed medical attention and fast. Angrily, she turned over to Palmer, speaking through gritted teeth. "He needs help."

"Oh the cut?" Palmer said, scratching his head as if in thought. "We were having a little skirmish and he went through your coffee table. . . Woops."

"He needs help!" Mac insisted, her strong gaze turning into a more pleading one. She had to get through to him and at least save Harm, even if it meant prejudicing herself.

"Now, why would I help him? Hmm? I've spent all of these years trying to find a way to kill him. . .Why would I just let him live?"

There was something that he wanted, she only hoped it was something he wanted more than killing Harm. "Because you want me. . ." She said, pushing down the feeling of nausea that bubbled up. Palmer's eyebrow shot up in question and she laid it all down for him. "You said you wanted me? Well, I'm yours." Standing she opened her arms, signifying that she would give herself to him. "Get him help. . .Let him go and I'll give myself to you."

Palmer couldn't help the satisfied grin that appeared on his lips. "You're going to give yourself to me?" The fire raged behind them, casting a glow over him, making the man look utterly demonic.

Mac nodded. It was a small sacrifice to be paid in order for Harm to be kept safe. Maybe, eventually, if Palmer let his guard down, she could escape. "Yes."

"Get up, then."

"Not until you promise you'll let him live." She continued blocking Harm's body with her own, hoping to come to some sort of agreement.

The deal was made with the devil. "Okay, I agree. . now GET UP." Once she did, he reached to his back pocket and tossed her a set of cuffs. "Snap it on one wrist then turn around." Once she did, he snapped the cuff on her other wrist, then pulled her back away from Harm. "Let's get you out of here, shall we?" He shoved her forward, walking behind Mac as she headed out of the building. Once they were about five yards away, he pulled back on the cuffs and whispered menacingly into her ear. "Remember how I promised to help Harmy? I LIED."

Fundamentally, she knew it was stupid to believe Palmer, but, what else could she do? Sure, there was plenty of fight left in Mac, but she was thinking more of the big picture and the man that she was in love with, one that she had to protect. Her heart thumped under her ribcage as the seconds ticked on by like minutes. Damn her internal clock, at the moment, it was really irritating her. "Palmer, please! You have me. . .Please!"

He just laughed. "I thought you military types were supposed to be smart, Sarah." He shoved her slightly, using the fact that he had her wrists tied to his advantage. "Did you really think I would just let him live? . . .I don't think so." He checked his watch and grinned. "By the way the fire you two started is spreading, I'd say he has a little over ten minutes, if that smoke doesn't kill him first."

"Please." She pleaded with her best damsel in distress voice, but when she was met with more of his laughter, Mac stopped abruptly, causing Palmer to bump into her. She used that brief pause to bring the heel of her shoe down on his foot, as little maneuver taught in bootcamp. Then, she forcefully brought her head backwards but missed, instead, Palmer recovered from having his toes smashed and swept her off of her feet to the floor. "Umpff…" She hit the rocky ground with a hard, having the wind knocked out of her. Mac managed to roll onto her back, pinning her arms behind her. She looked up, painfully trying to keep her eyes open as the rain pelted her.

"You two never learn, do you?" Grinding his teeth, he squatted down slightly, pointing the gun straight at her face. "You don't mess with the guy with the gun."

This was it, she knew it and though she'd joked with Harm about 'going out with a bang', this wasn't quite what she had in mind. They didn't even get a chance to say goodbye, but maybe, if the heaven's hand any sort of heart, she'd be allowed to find him again, even if it's in another life. And the shot did come, ringing out loudly against the boom of the thunder. But, for some reason it didn't hurt her, at all. 'That's weird.' She thought, cracking open one eye noticing that Palmer was clutching a red spot on his chest. "What the hell!" She yelled, then stilled herself when she heard a crunching at the rocks by her head.

"Colonel." Looking down at her was Nichole Halloren with a smoking gun in her hand. She squatted down, helping Mac to a sitting position, then abandoned the Marine in order to grab the keys to the cuffs from Palmer's corpse. Wordlessly, she unlocked Mac and curiously watched as the Marine ran off back towards the building. Standing over Palmer she looked down at him and frowned, what a fool she had been. "You used me." She whispered into the air, then tossed the pistol at him. "But not anymore."

Mac wasn't sure what had happened between her and Nikki, but seeing as she suddenly didn't get shot in the back, it was a good sign that the other woman was setting them free. She sprinted, despite the pain in her limbs, at full speed towards the building, she had to get Harm out. Walking in, she found the building being consumed by the fire, the smoke made it difficult to see, but, thankfully, he was still near the opening where she'd left him. She came down to one knee, searching for his pulse, which was, thankfully still thumping against his flesh. It was slower than before, but, with any luck, they'd make it. Coughing, she yelled at him. "You hang on, damnit, that's an order!" He was too heavy for him to carry so she brought her arms under his, pulling as hard as possible to get him free from the building. Once she made it outside, Nikki was there to help out. "Help me pull him."

They moved Harm's unconscious form away from the building and Mac, out of exhaustion, fell next to him. "I called emergency services, Colonel. A medical helicopter will be here shortly."

"Why did you help us?" It wasn't that Mac wasn't grateful, but just a few days ago the woman seemed intent on doing just the opposite. "Why?"

Nikki glanced at Palmer's dead body and frowned. Looking back at Mac, she pulled her hair out of the way showing the ugly gash on the side of her head. Then, she pulled back her shirt sleeve to show her a deep bruise. "He turned into my father." Taking a deep breath, she let her tears mix with the rain and silently dropped next to Mac and Harm. Her shoulders heaved with each sob she let out. "Clark said he loved me. . .so did my father, but then he would strike. . .I couldn't live with that again. . .some. .somehow, I realized how much he'd used me."

Out of that statement, the only thing that came to Mac's head was Webb. Though he had never abused her, if he had continued on his drinking binges, she knew that is what it would lead to. With her hands resting on Harm's body, she could feel his warmth being sucked out with each breath he took, the rain wasn't helping any. She knew she was biased, but this man had to be the most wonderful, noblest, heroic man in the planet. Though they were bound to have arguments and disagreements, they would work it out and this would work, it had to. "Hang on, Harm." Her voice broke as she spoke to him, tears burned her eyes.

"You have a good guy there, Colonel." Nikki was jealous, especially knowing that she could have had him if she pushed it just a bit more. "Nothing happened between us. . .He didn't let me." And she admired him for that, for pushing her back each and every time. "I know it won't cut it, but. . .I am truly sorry."

"You're right, it doesn't cut it." She heard the helicopter nearing the foundry as well as the sound of sirens going of in the distance. "Get help."

When the helicopter touched down the medics immediately tended to Harm first as the pilot helped Mac inside, handing her a headset. Soon the police and firefighters arrived. She was surprised to see Halloren being cuffed and taken away, the whole scene helping her relax slightly. "Ma'am, has he stopped breathing at all?"

"Not that I am aware of and I've been with him most of the time." She yelled into the headset over the sound of the rotor blades. As the helo took off, the medics questioned her about his medical history and told them as much as she could.

2245 Zulu
Bethesda Naval Hospital
Bethesda, Maryland

"Mac!" "Colonel!" Simultaneously both Sturgis and Bud called out to Mac as they came in through the entrance of the ICU. She'd been sitting in the waiting room nursing a cup of coffee, while the nurses worked on settling Harm in. Looking up, she sighed in overwhelming relief at seeing two of their close friends.

Mac stood up and both men hugged her tightly. "You don't know how good it is to see you two."

Bud nodded in agreement. "What happened? We found blood in your apartment, carmeras, Agent Gibbs thinks that Palmer is alive, but he can't be because the building fell on him didn't it?"

Ah, good old bumbling Bud. Chuckling, she waved off the tirade of questions. "Woah, woah, slow down Commander." Sighing, she slipped into a chair and her friends followed suit. "Palmer was alive, but he's dead now, I can assure you. . .As for what happened, that's kind of a wild story."

"We're all ears." Sturgis said, shifting slightly waiting to hear about their latest adventure.

It was hours later, almost around eleven pm when Harm was stable enough to be moved to a regular room. Just in case, until someone had claimed Palmer's body at the morque, a Marine guard had been placed outside of his hospital room. They'd given her a bed, but Mac preferred not to get too comfortable and, instead, opted to take vigil next to his bed. He had awoken earlier, the nurses said they had to sedate him as he kept begging them to see 'Mac', who they later found out was her.

They were both going to be just fine. Her bumps and scratches were tended to and the gash at Harm's side was sewed up properly. She had to laugh slightly when the doctor mentioned something about lousy suturing job. Mentioning that she'd done it in haste, in a poorly lit room, with nothing but a needle and black thread, the doctor, a Lieutenant Commander, quickly shut his mouth, then asked to be excused. "Lousy suturing, my six." She said chuckling quietly.

"Lousy or not. . .it hurt like hell." Glancing up, she met his blue eyes, dancing in amusement as he reached out a hand to her. "You look like hell, Mac."

Standing, she allowed him to pull her closer, careful not to injure his side. "You don't look so hot yourself, stickboy." Mac kissed him soundly, laughing slightly when he tried to keep her on top of him. "No, you need to rest." She moved away from him, keeping a grip of his hand as she slid back into the chair. "Palmer is dead, for real this time. . .Halloren turned herself in."

Harm closed his eyes tightly, letting out a deep breath of relief. It was amazing to him how just one man could do so much damage in such a short period of time. Palmer had wreaked a type of havoc that was impossible to fathom. If anyone else would have told him that Palmer was dead, he would have not rested until he saw a body, but he trusted Mac and knew that it was over. Now all they had to do was recover and get on with their lives.

Three Days Later
1645 Zulu
National Memorial
Washington, DC

Despite all of the rough weather that they'd been facing the days prior, the moment Harm and Mac stepped out of Bethesda, the skies had parted and an unseasoned warmth greeted them. It was almost as if it was a sign that miracles could happen. They were fine, though the doctors suggested that Harm needed to have plenty of bed rest to recover. Not to mention, neither of them was allowed to set foot in ops until they came in front of either review board.

Holding Mac's hand, Harm led her down past the wall, taking the steps that he knew by heart, passing the names of the fallen which had, in some of his loneliest times, become friends. It was no secret that he often spent time at the Wall, and it wasn't just during Christmas eve. During the times when he needed guidance and couldn't take to the skies in his beloved biplane, this was his way of speaking to his father. He kept a hold of Mac's hand as his other reached up and ran over the etched stone. Closing his eyes, he said a silent prayer of thanks and when he opened them up and turned to Mac he found her in some quiet reverence of her own. Smiling, he pulled her close to him and wrapped his arms around her. 'Thanks, dad.'

It touched her that he would bring her purposely to the Wall before they departed to California. Normally he would come alone, but he practically begged her to tag along. He said he need her and Mac wasn't going to argue. "He's watching over you, you know." She said, as they stepped fully away and made their way to the parking lot.

"I'm not the only one he's watching." Harm said softly, giving her a knowing glance. "Then again, he knows I need you around, to keep me on my toes."

Once they arrived to the car, Mac slid away from him and stared at him in mock hurt. "Oh, is that the only thing I am good for?"

Smiling, he pulled her back to him, kissing her softly. "That and so much more."

"I love you, Harm."

"I love you, Sarah." Turning her around, he playfully shoved her towards the passenger side of his SUV. "Get in, there's some place we have to go."

Wherever she believed Harm would take her, this place wasn't quite it. She stood in front of the gates of the county fair while Harm tried to finagle his way inside. Once he did, he called her over and whispered in her ear to look "official." She did, presented her USMC ID and then walked along with Harm as they passed the dozens of concession stands. "Uh, why are we here, at this time?" She glanced around at the machinery, the rides that she wasn't very fond of, save for the ferris wheel and that time they'd taken little AJ up. "You normally do this when they're OPEN."

Chuckling, he lead her through the maze of stands and stopped in front of the familiar tent. "Madam Tatiana?"

Mac glanced up at the wooden sign, raising her brow slightly. "You suddenly need a palm reading?" She raised her hand up to his forehead, checking his temperature. "Nope, you feel fine."

He stared down at her. "Funny, MacKenzie."

From inside the tent stepped out the woman, who immediately broke into a smile when she saw Harm and the woman. "Commander, it's good to see you alive."

"Madam Tatiana, this is Sarah."

Unsurely, Mac took the woman's hand and shook slightly, feeling this surge of electricity. Madam Tatiana's eyes darkened and she turned to Harm with a nod. "Yes, this is Sarah."

"I wanted to thank you for everything you did."

Still holding Mac's hand she smiled brightly. "I don't do that for everyone Commander, but this case. . ." Turning, she looked at Mac who's eyebrows were already disappearing under her hair line from the confusion. "This case is special. . . I know you don't understand, Sarah, but he'll explain it to you. . .just believe. . . though I think you already know what happened. You have a great gift."

"You helped him find me?" Mac offered, as a moment of clarity passed from the woman to her. She took her hand back, slipping it into Harm's. "Didn't you?"

Tatiana didn't answer, but her smile spoke volumes. Taking their joined hands she glanced between the two. "Be happy." As she disappeared back into the tent, only Harm could hear her disembodied voice warning him. 'Finish it, Commander. . .make her your wife.' Little did she know, he was already thinking just that.

"I am not too sure I want to know what went on." Mac told him truthfully. "But I am sure it's a fantastic story."

That it was. "I'll tell you on the plane. You ready to take a much needed vacation?"

"Did you tell your parents we were heading back over?"

"Nah, but I am sure they won't mind." Actually, he had called them up and Trish was already preparing the room for them.

Mac laid her head against his chest, feeling the steady beating of his heart. Never would she have thought that something as simple as a heartbeat could make her so happy. It's steady rhythm giving her a new found belief that they would make it. They were alive and well, but, most importantly, they were together. And this was just another test to prove to both of them that nothing could keep them apart.

The End!