tagErotic CouplingsBeginning Again Ch. 06: Final

Beginning Again Ch. 06: Final

byNorth200©

Author's note:

This is the final chapter in the current saga of Nadja and Mac. Thank you all very much for reading, and for your many encouraging comments and votes – I really appreciate your feedback.

All characters are fictional adults. Medical and legal information in the story should not be considered factual.


***

Nadja lay alone in the bed she used to share with Mac.

In the wee hours of the morning, there were no sounds. No traffic on the street outside, no sounds from the other residents of the building. Even her heartbeat and the sound of her own breathing seemed muted and barely detectable. All around her, the world was dead silent.

She could scent Mac in the sheets and in the linen of the pillowcase. She ached for him. The heat of his hands on her, his breath on the back of her neck as he held her close, his body pressed against hers. His steady, reassuring presence. His voice.

She should be sleeping. There were a dozen things she needed to do in the morning in an effort to re-assemble the shattered fragments of the life that had seemed rock-solid only twelve hours ago.

But sleep wouldn't come. Her quiet life with Mac had been invaded by paramedics and police, by lawyers and child case workers. By Aden and Gammage. They'd left everything in disarray.

It seemed so long ago – had it only been a handful of hours? The fight with Aden and Gammage. Mac, victorious, collapsing to the ground at her feet. The police, and then – an eternity later – an ambulance.

The paramedics had taken him away, and his absence felt like a cinder block inside her chest, cold and heavy, weighing down every thought and feeling.

The police had questions for her, of course, and even more so when Nadja had declared herself a victim of trafficking. They'd taken her to the station and pummeled her with questions, the same questions over and over, each time phrased differently. What were they looking for? Were they trying to catch her in a lie, or just being thorough in building a case against Aden and Gammage?

It was a grueling experience to spend hours recounting – in excruciating detail – the abuse and mistreatment that Gammage and Aden had inflicted upon her. The ordeal was humiliating and soul-crushing, but well worth the suffering if those two got what they deserved. She assured the police she'd be more than willing to testify if it would help put her tormenters in prison.

And still the questions came on in waves.

During one of the breaks in the interrogation they helped her call the hospital – she was desperate for any word on Mac's condition. But she got nowhere; the hospital wouldn't release any information over the phone and wouldn't even confirm that Mac was a patient there.

She could only pray that he was still alive and getting treatment. He was tough. He'd pull through for sure. Her heart recoiled at the thought of any other scenario.

At least they'd rescued the girl – a fourteen-year-old named Isa. Whatever devastation the night had wrought in Nadja's life and in Mac's, they'd denied Gammage his sadistic pleasure with Isa and removed her from Aden's callous influence.

It was something, anyway. The silver lining on a thundercloud.

When the police had run out of different ways to ask the same question, one of them was kind enough to drive Nadja home. She'd eaten some toast, showered and climbed into an empty bed.

Sleep wouldn't come.

***

In hindsight, sleep would have been a good idea.

Maria's Grill opened to the public at seven in the morning. Nadja was waiting outside at six when Maria arrived to unlock the door.

She felt fuzzy-headed from lack of sleep, but the early-morning chill in the air helped to wake her up. At least she was warm, dressed in the bulky winter wear that Mac had bought for her.

"Nadja? Is Mac here already?" Maria asked, cheery and energetic even before the crack of dawn.

Nadja has spent plenty of time with the vivacious older woman over the weeks and had come to genuinely like and admire her. Hard-working and infallibly friendly, the brightness of her disposition seemed to infuse everyone around her with happiness. Nadja felt the urge to smile at the sound of Maria's voice, even with the weight of the past twelve hours pressing down on her. The urge passed quickly.

"No...he's...it's complicated. Is there someplace we can talk?" Nadja replied.

"What's wrong?" Maria asked, and from the concern in her voice there was no doubt she'd picked up on Nadja's miserable tone.

She heard the jingle of keys and the clatter of the front door being unlocked.

"Come inside. I need to get things ready, but no one else should be here for half an hour or so," Maria said.

The scent of the place – grease and remnants of cooked meat – was somehow familiar and welcome. The restaurant was normally bustling with life and noise and activity – the emptiness and silence was incongruous with her memories of time spent there.

"Mac...was injured last night. Badly," Nadja began, then stopped. Saying the words aloud made them real. Grief slammed into her without warning, smashing through her fatigue-weakened defenses. She sobbed, then caught herself and tried to reassert control.

She almost had it back when Maria swooped in and wrapped her up in a tight, warm hug.

"Is he okay?" the older woman asked, alarmed.

"I don't know. Nobody will tell me anything," Nadja whimpered, then broke into helpless tears. The battle lost, she wept, allowing Maria to hold her tight.

The story came out then, ugly and raw and mixed with sniffles and sobs. Her sordid history. How Mac had saved her. How they'd grown close. The possibility of a visa and their decision to find Aden as a result. How she'd pressured Mac last night to save Isa from a night with Gammage. The fight.

She heard the front door open and close as cooks and servers arrived to begin the morning shift. Nadja couldn't imagine what they must have thought of her, but Maria seemed unperturbed, quietly directing her staff even as she continued to hold Nadja tightly against her.

"Mac is a good man – I knew it right from the start. The moment I set eyes on him I said to myself 'here is a good man. A strong man'," Maria said in a quiet voice. Words meant for Nadja alone.

Nadja nodded, then gently pulled back from Maria's generous embrace. She felt stronger now; she'd regained her emotional footing.

"I just wanted you to know...I'm not sure when he'll be back on his feet." Nadja forced herself to say 'when' and not 'if'.

"I'm sure he'll be up in no time. He's built like a bull!" Maria said, and Nadja was grateful for the conviction in the older woman's voice.

"Thank you. I know you're busy, so I won't interrupt..."

"Please, sit! Eat! You're so skinny! How do you expect to survive the winter if you don't eat?" Maria admonished in a tone of mock concern. Nadja felt the older woman grasp her shoulder warmly. "Have a big breakfast and let me make some calls. I know people..."

Nadja was herded into a booth near the kitchen. A few minutes later Maria pushed a mug of coffee in front of her, followed shortly by a stack of pancakes and a side of bacon. As always, the portion sizes were enormous. Nadja forced herself to eat.

Almost an hour later, Maria slid into the booth next to her and took Nadja's hands in her own.

"My sister-in-law Sophia is a paralegal. She's coming now to speak to you," Maria said in a quiet voice so as not to be overheard. The restaurant was already raucous with the noises of the breakfast crowd.

"Thank you so much. You're so kind to me and to Mac," Nadja said.

There was a pause that was just long enough to be awkward.

"Nadja, I'll do whatever I can to help you, and to help Mac, you understand? Just ask me if there is anything..."

Nadja nodded, sensing the approach of bad news in the older woman's hesitant tone.

"But, well...I mean, I can't operate the Grill without a dishwasher. Do you see what I'm getting at? If he's injured and can't work..."

When she realized what Maria meant, Nadja's spirits sank. It took her a few moments to find the words and the tone to conceal her bitter disappointment.

"I understand, and I'm sure Mac would as well. You've got a business to run..."

"If I could hold the job for him, I would," Maria interjected, squeezing Nadja's hands, "If he's back in two or three days we could manage without him until then. But if it's going to be much longer than that, I need to find a replacement."

Nadja nodded again. What else could she do?

"Have some more toast, more coffee. On the house, of course. Sophia will be here soon and you can ask her anything – immigration law, how to deal with the police, anything! She's so smart. I have to run out for supplies, but she'll be here soon."

Maria gave her a final squeeze and then slid out of the booth, leaving Nadja alone with her increasingly grim thoughts. Mac's job – the one she'd helped him find – was gone.

She wondered if that would become the least of her worries.

***

"I don't understand how you could let him go free," Nadja said in stunned disbelief.

There was a long pause as the officer – Sergeant Everett – considered what he wanted to say. He'd brought Nadja into an interview room to give her the news: Gammage had been released without charge. A slap in the face would have been kinder and less painful.

"There was insufficient evidence to lay a charge," he said lamely.

"But Isa...she was forced to be a prostitute. She's only fourteen."

"Mr. Gammage claimed that he'd never seen her or Mr. Halloway before, that they were just walking out of the building together."

"And you believed that?" Nadja tried to hold her tone in check. Anger and frustration wouldn't improve her situation. She still needed the police to sign a declaration to say she'd been the victim of trafficking so she could get her visa. Burning bridges wasn't an option for her.

"No, of course not. But it doesn't matter what we believe, it matters what we can prove," he said. His voice was flat, as though he were reading to her from a textbook.

"You know what he did to me. The police took my statement."

"Again, without evidence we didn't have anything that we could put in front of a judge."

Nadja was silent, fighting back rage and a rising feeling of despair. Mac had told her once that justice was for the rich, and his cynical views were borne out by her experiences so far. A bad omen...

"This makes it very dangerous for me," she said in a whisper. Would Gammage hunt her down? He'd been brutally sadistic even when he was happy – what would he be like angry? She shuddered at the thought. One more terrible problem thrust upon her.

"There's more," the sergeant said hesitantly. Nadja recognized the tone and braced for more pain. "Mr. Gammage is pressing charges against Mr. Dagnall. He claims he was the victim of an unprovoked assault. Witnesses corroborate his version of events..."

"You're charging Mac?" she asked, and her outrage was coupled by an unexpected and bizarre surge of relief. Mac was alive! That news alone was a bright light in the midst of a very dark day. "Even after he saved Isa?"

"I know he felt he was doing the right thing," Everett offered blandly, "but he shouldn't have taken the law into his own hands."

"And I suppose Aden goes free too?" She didn't try to keep the bitterness out of her tone.

"Oh no...Aden won't be going anywhere. We searched his apartment early this morning. There's lots of evidence and we're still sorting through it all, but there's no doubt that he's involved in trafficking and prostitution. As you say, Isa is a minor, so that adds to the seriousness of the offenses."

Nadja was quiet, not trusting herself to react to the news. Isa was safe and Aden was going to be punished. On the other hand, Gammage was free and Mac was going back to prison. Should she be happy? Furious? Was this justice?

She felt Everett lean closer. "I should also say that we found...evidence...to support your claim that you were a victim of trafficking. There shouldn't be any problem getting you the declaration you wanted. I'll process it myself, after the investigation is complete." He sounded happy to be able to offer her that much.

Another crazy blend of elation and dread swirled around inside her, jumbled up.

"What evidence?"

"Well," the officer hesitated as though searching for the right words, "there were...pictures. Documentation. That sort of thing."

Pictures? She'd forgotten the pictures; she couldn't see them, so they existed in her memory as shutter-click noises or computerized beeps. At the time, they'd seemed like minor humiliations when stacked next to everything else she'd been forced to endure.

But there had been pictures. Pictures of her sucking and fucking. Posing. Begging. Gagging. Crying. Different men, different acts. So many pictures.

And now the police were sorting through them, examining them. Entering them into evidence, to be presented at Aden's trial in front of a judge and a courtroom full of people. Had Sergeant Everett seen those pictures? Was he recalling them even now as he interviewed her? Would Maria see them?

Would Mac?

"I see," she said quietly. A flush of mortification burned her face. She felt stripped and exposed. It was hopeless. The Whore would follow her all her days.

Mercifully, there was no more news and the officer led her back to the foyer of the police station. He offered to get her a cab but she declined. She wanted to get to the hospital to check up on Mac, but needed a pause to regain herself first.

Lack of sleep and wild swings of emotion had left her feeling raw and unsteady. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream. Instead, she found a molded plastic seat and sat with her face in her hands and tried to fight through the hurt and confusion. She didn't know what to focus on. Her life – and Mac's – was in shambles.

Nadja took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She'd heard Mac do it so many times. She began to count in a whisper. Breathe. Count. After a few minutes she began to feel a little more stable.

"Are you okay, miss?"

The man's voice was in front of her, above her. She realized how pitiful she must have appeared and sat up in her chair.

"I'm fine, officer, thank you," she replied in a tone that wasn't at all convincing.

She heard the man slide into a seat next to her.

"I'm not an officer. Dan Fowler, nice to meet you," he said. There was an easy familiarity in his voice that she immediately distrusted. It was a tone that invited her to open herself, to engage him.

She tried to find his eyes based on where his voice was. It was fitting that with the kind of day she was having that she'd have to fend off the advances of a strange man – in a police station, no less. Just the latest indignity.

"I'm not interested, thank you," she said, aiming for a tone that was assertive but not unkind.

To her surprise, he chuckled.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not asking you out," he said, "You look like you could use a little help. Anything I can do?"

It was Nadja's turn to laugh, but hers was bitter and humourless.

"A monster is walking around free, and a good man is going to prison. So what can you do? Are you a judge?" her tone was mocking, caustic. She didn't care. What kind of man tried to pick up a woman in a police station, anyway?

"Sounds like quite a story. And no, I'm not a judge – I work for the Tribune. I'm a journalist."

"And you hang around the police station 'helping' young women?"

"Not usually, no. I'm here to interview one of the officers for a story, but he's tied up and won't be around for a bit. I've got some time to kill...why not tell me what's bothering you?"

Nadja paused. If he was feeding her a line, it was a good one. Very believable.

"How will that help me?" she asked. The harsh edge was gone from her voice.

"If it's a good story, I might write it up and put it in the paper. Maybe someone who reads it will be able to help you."

She was silent as she faced him. If he was telling the truth – and that was by no means certain – his reasoning made some sense. Surely someone out there would want to help her keep Gammage off the streets and keep Mac out of prison?

But there were downsides, too. There would be no way to sugar-coat the truth about her; Nadja the Whore would be exposed for all to see. Could she bear to be out in public if everyone saw her for who she was? The scrutiny would be uncomfortable and humiliating for her, and perhaps for Mac too. Would he want her around if everyone they passed knew the truth about her?

Of course, with his injury and pending prison time, his reputation might be the very least of his worries.

"Can I think about it?" she asked guardedly.

"Absolutely. I'll give you my card," she heard movement and he pressed a small rectangle of stiff paper into her hand, "Or...uh...if you can't read the number I can give it to you out loud?" Obviously he'd noticed her blindness.

"I'll need to check with Mac...my boyfriend," she said, "but I'll be in touch. Thank you."

She stood up, found her way to the reception desk and asked them to get a taxi for her. The day was slipping away and she hadn't even been to the hospital yet.

***

She arrived at the hospital late in the afternoon. Her chat with Sophia and her ordeal at the police station had eaten away most of the day.

She hadn't been able to get any information about Mac's condition over the phone, but she figured maybe showing up in person would make a difference.

The cab driver was kind enough to guide her to the reception desk in the lobby of the hospital. She could hear a fair number of people about – it was a busy place.

"I'd like to see a patient you have here. He was admitted last night," Nadja said to the receptionist.

"What's the patient's name?" the woman asked in a bored but businesslike tone.

"Michael Dagnall." It felt strange to use his real name. He'd always been Mac to her, and always would be.

There was a pause. Nadja could hear mouse clicks and typing.

"He's on Two South. Visiting hours there are ten to four. You'll need to come back tomorrow," the woman said.

Nadja dared to hope that this was good news. If there were visiting hours, wouldn't that mean that Mac wasn't on death's doorstep or in a coma? They wouldn't admit visitors to someone in life-threatening danger, right?

"Thank you," she said, "But...would it be okay if I saw him for just a few minutes? Just a quick..."

"Ten to four, hon. They need their rest up there."

"But Mac...Michael...might be worried. I need to see him..."

"Look, miss. I understand, but hospital policy..."

"You're looking for Michael Dagnall?" asked another woman. The voice came from the same direction as the receptionist.

"Yes, I really need to see him."

"Your name wouldn't be Nadja by any chance?" the second woman asked.

"Yes, why?"

"This is the guy I was telling you about," the second woman said in a hushed tone to the receptionist, "Let me take her up. He's driving us crazy up there."

"You'll sign her in?" the receptionist asked, obviously reluctant to allow the breach of protocol.

"Sure."

There was another pause, then Nadja heard the second woman's voice again.

"Come with me, Nadja."

"Could you please lead me?" she asked.

The woman took Nadja gently by the elbow and led her slowly out of the reception area, through a door and down a hallway.

"I'm Beth. I'm a ward clerk on Two South," the woman said, "You have no idea how happy I am to see you."

It was a puzzling comment, but the tone in Beth's voice sounded genuine.

"Is Mac okay?"

"He's stable. The surgery went well and he's...resting. Sort of."

Nadja felt a chill. How badly injured was he? "Is he going to be okay?"

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byNorth200© 17 comments/ 19029 views/ 25 favorites

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