The Moulin Rouge was in full swing that night. Music boomed through the club, so loud that the patrons could hardly hear themselves think. The dancers spun across the floor in a flurry of colours, and the men moved across the hall, dancing with one woman until he had his fill and moved on, like bees dancing from one flower to the next. Satine spun down the centre of the room, sometimes with the Duke, sometimes with Christian, laughing and smiling as she always did. Zidler stood on the stage, shouting out across the floor, adding to the colourful, delightful chaos of the underworld scene. Everything was the same as it had always been. That is, nearly everything. Only the most frequent visitors would have noticed the subtle difference, the empty spot in the ensemble of dancers. One of them was missing, nowhere to be seen the whole night. She could be found in the depths of the Moulin Rouge, makeup streaked down her face, drunk out of her mind, hiding away from the world.

Nini lay curled up on her cold, hard mattress, head pounding from the bottle of vodka now lying on the floor. She was pressed into the corner, as if maybe if she tried hard enough she could fade away into the walls, and simply cease to exist. Her hair fell around her shoulders, a bedraggled knot, stiff with leftover hairspray and a multitude of pins. Her bangs were stuck to her face with sweat and tears, disgustingly sticky from the mess of hairspray and alcohol. Her mind was a mess. She couldn't focus on any one idea long enough to make sense of it, her thoughts were nothing more than blurs of colour or a burst or emotions, or a wisp of a scent. Through all the turmoil, only one thought was clear in her mind.

He did this to me.

The Argentinian. She remembered the day he had come into her life, strong and silent, striding into the Moulin Rouge with a confidence she had never seen before. He had stirred something within her; something she thought had died long ago. She had spent so long trying to get rid of love, not wanting to feel, trying so hard to distance herself from everything and everyone, but then there he was. It was a sensation unlike anything she'd ever felt before, and what scared her most was that she loved it.

That was how it began, the feeling growing inside her, this desire, so alien and strange. Gradually they got to know one another, and she could see that he felt the same way. Glances across the room turned to longing stares, and before either of them realised what was happening, his lips were on hers, strong and loving and everything she could have asked for. He loved her so fiercely and passionately she didn't think it would ever stop. She lived in a flurry of rehearsals and then dancing and then him, and it was everything she had ever wanted. They loved each other, and she wanted to shout it out to the world. But of course, she couldn't. She was nothing more than a prostitute, a woman who sold herself. So for now it was a secret, but it was still a love.

For a while, she was happy. She would visit him after rehearsals and in the day and they'd spend all their waking hours together, making breakfast together or making love together, she didn't care as long as it was the two of them. He told her all about his life in Argentina, and taught her words of love in his own language. They would dance in his small apartment, and the world would melt away for a while. For a while it was just the two of them.

But then, the real world called. He hated the idea of her with other men, and while she hated it to, it was her job. She owed Zidler, and besides, she could never leave. She was from the underworld, a creature of the night. This was where she belonged. He began to grow suspicious, asking her if she ever had feelings for the men she danced with. She told him no every time, she told him that he was the only one, but it wasn't enough. He began to grow jealous, saying other men didn't deserve to be near her, telling her to stop sleeping with other men. She protested, telling him she had to, it was her job. He said that if she really loved him, he would stop.

It was then that their relationship fell apart. He hit her across the face, accusing her of loving other men, saying there was no way he could trust her. He was blind, blinded by love and by anger, lashing out violently. Even then, she still loved him. Even now she still loved him, even as she cried her heart out, soaked in vodka and her own tears, all because of him. But he no longer loved her. She remembered the last time they had made love, passionately, angrily, and lovingly all at once. It had been raining that night, and it was still raining the next morning when she woke up, alone. The bed was cold, and he was gone. A note sat on the table by the bed. She clutched the note in her hand now, reading it over and over, although she had memorised the words on the tear stained scrap of paper by now.

When love is for the highest bidder, there can never be trust. When there is no trust, there is no love. I am sorry. Goodbye, Nini.

Though she had only lost her lover this morning, she knew life would never be the same. She knew she had been right to block out love, because it can only hurt you. She remembered, years ago, being told that it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. As she sat alone in this concrete prison of a bedroom, shivering and shaking, feeling pain all over, she turned that over and over in her mind, asking herself: is it true? The pain of her love was worse than anything she had ever felt. She sunk further into her mattress, a new wave of anguish overcoming her. She sobbed into her arms, her breath coming in ragged bursts. There was nobody here to hear her cry, so she let it all go, tears pouring down her face like a fountain. He had done this to her, love had done this to her, and what did she have to show for it? A crumpled up piece of paper and a heart that would never be whole again. Nini knew in that moment that she'd rather have never loved at all, because when you're nothing more than a plaything of rich old men, a creature of the underworld, you can't afford luxuries like love. All it will do is break you.