He tried, he really did. Everyone saw how Rowan, wearing just ordinary baggy trousers and a shirt, spun and did his very best to protect Netta, but nobody could stop Alekzander. The lights went out -- just for a second, it was hardly a power cut at all -- and when they came back on, Netta was gone.

Rowan blamed himself. He said that he should never have let go of her hand. "Netta." And he was weeping as he spoke, weeping as he stared at the spot of blood on the floor from her toes as they struggled to stay upright without the support of her pointe shoes, weeping as he looked at where she had been before she vanished, weeping as he thought of her alone with Alekzander, terrified, a prisoner, unable to escape.

"It's not your fault, Rowan," said Will, putting an arm around his shoulder.

"I shouldn't have let go of her," he sobbed. "It's all my fault -- all my fault -- and now she's gone. Now she's not coming back." Standing up, he turned to the window and shouted, "Why? Why me?"

Nobody who heard that shout could sleep that night. It was haunted by loneliness, an agony of longing and disappointment, and it spoke volumes about how Rowan felt about the ballerina. They saw in his eyes a frenzy, like he was lost in the wilderness, but the only wilderness  here was the forest of guilt in his heart.

"Calm down! She's not gone forever. She'll come back." They were shaking him, hugging him, ruffling his hair. "Netta's a fighter, she'll get out of it all right. You can't just give up on her because that man's taken her away."

"You don't understand! It's Alekzander..." But that meant nothing to them. "He would have killed me. You've never seen him like that, but he would have done, if he'd had the chance. We mean nothing, do you understand? Human life is nothing!" His tears fell faster. "And now she's gone."

"You loved her, didn't you?" said Will, coming over and perching on the edge of a table. "You were in love with Netta."

"So what if I was?" replied Rowan. "It's no good now, is it? She's not here! Fat lot of good love did her in the end." He couldn't help thinking it was his own fault; if he had only held her hand tighter she would have still been there and Alekzander would be gone. "She's hurting, I can tell."

"But she's alive?"

"I expect she wishes she wasn't." There was a long silence. "He's hurting her." Rowan's voice was strained and thin, hoarse from all the crying. "She's crying out -- screaming -- calling ... to me." 

"You've got to go to her." Will gave him a drink of water. "I'm not letting you stay here and pine away, eaten by the guilt. Go find her, rescue her, bring her back."

"I can't do that alone!" Rowan looked at him like he was mad. "Are you serious? 'Go rescue her', like it's the easiest thing in the world?"

"Peace, Ro. I wasn't suggesting you went alone. I'll come with you, don't you see?" He picked up a bag by the table. It contained his dance shoes and clothes, a few bottles of water and lots of energy bags: one day's supplies whenever they had rehearsals. Rowan nodded, picking up his own.

"This isn't exactly going to be risk-free," he said, but the fight had gone out of his voice. How had he not realised before how much he needed Will to be with him?

"You think I don't know that?" Will shook his head. "Let's go, before I change my mind." Without saying a word to anyone they made their way to the door of the cafeteria, and the milling students parted to let them past. All was silent -- silent as the grave.

The End

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