The drive to the studio was a quiet one.
Nina, with her black bag in her lap, sat as stiff and silent as a corpse in the passenger seat.
I cast side-ways glances at her, trying to lighten the mood a bit by smiling amiably and patting her on the knee.
She looked over at me when I touched her, as if I had asked a question she had not understood.
The blood curdled in my veins and my heart grew cold at her expression. I put my hand back on the steering wheel and watched the road.
A lifetime later, we arrived at the studio.
I got out quickly and went around the car to her side, opening the door.
Nina wouldn't look at me. She slung her legs out and hopped from the car, striding past me with her bag over her shoulder.
"Nina," I pleaded, shutting the door and hurrying after her.
She stopped abruptly and I nearly ran into her. She turned curtly around to face me.
I swallowed. "Nina, listen. I know what you must be feeling, but-"
"You have no idea what I'm feeling," she told me darkly. She whirled back around and marched to the doors of the building.
I caught up to her and snatched her by the arm before she could open the doors. I stood in front of her, blocking the door, and released her arm.
"Nina," I tried again, my heart fluttering excitedly. "Are you sure you want to face her? Does the title "Swan Queen" mean that much to you?"
"You're the one that told me to do this," she spat out venomously.
I was floored only for a moment. "Yes, because I know you have worked so hard for it. You deserve it, not Lily. I only hope you realize that, too."
"You're right," Nina replied softly. "Lily doesn't deserve it. But she will get what she deserves."
I smiled. "Very good, Nina!" I praised her. Impluse took over and I cupped my hands around her face and kissed her on the forehead. "There's my Black Swan."
We went inside the studio. Nina strode ahead of me purposefully, a plan already set in her mind.
My own plan was quite different, though I thought at the time they were the same.
Nina would go in the studio and demand that Lily give back her title, if not, they would have a little contest, a dance-off, if you will. Of course, I would be the judge. The winner gets the crown. I had slept with both of them, now, so no one could claim that I picked favorites.
The pianist played the Black Swan's song, echoing tantalizingly down the hallways. It swelled up inside of me, filling me with longing and desire, yet left me with an emptiness of regret as if I had lost something dear to me.
A few yards in front of me, Nina walked steadily. I gazed after her and my stomach clinched with sadness, as if I would never see her again.
I walked faster as she entered the rehearsal room without me, breaking out into a run so I could catch everyone's reactions.
Lily and David, the Black Swan and the Prince, danced to the maestro's temptational melody. Herds of softer, floatier swans glided and sprang into the air around them, feathers swishing almost soundlessly as they twirled.
I crept into the room on silent paws, the breath catching in my lungs as my eyes took in the spectical.
Nina slowed down yet kept walking as she took her bag off her shoulder and reached into it.
Out of it, she pulled a gun.
The dancers did not notice. All they could see were blurs of colors and smears of faces.
"Nina!" I called, rushing towards her. But the music was too loud. My voice was swallowed up like sand on a shore.
Nina stopped walking and raised the gun to the ceiling, firing once.
Girls screams tore away the happiness of the room, the roar of the gun shaking the very fibers of the atomosphere. Dancers threw themselves to the ground and others stood looking around with wide eyes and striken expressions. The pianist stopped abruptly.
Lily and David held onto each other and turned to the source of the noise as flakes of the ceiling trickled down to the polished floor.
"What the hell?" Lily yelled loudly, then her voice dropped as she saw who held the gun.
The ballerinas and other dancers could tell this was not about them. They began backing away to various exits, grabbing their bags and running away with their cell phones.
Nina slowly lowered the gun from the air and held it straight, pointing directly at Lily. I was amazed at how steady her aim was.
David hesitated before ducking cowardously away from Lily and sprinting all-out to the exit.
Seeing the dark determination in Nina's eyes, Lily flew into desperation and her eyes darted around the room until they found mine. She pleaded at me for help, her eyes wide, helpless, and deep as the sea at midnight.
I ran up and caught Nina around the waist, pulling her arms down by her sides. She struggled and screamed.
"Let me go!" She tried to head-butt me, she legs thrashing wildly as her heels pounded into my shins. Suddenly she elbowed me in the gut, and my grip loosened as pain sent a wave of fire and nausea into my stomach.
She shoved away from me, her eyes fixed on Lily as she tried to sneak away. Nina raised the gun again, but I caught her by the wrist and twisted her hand down. She pulled the trigger out of reflex and, with a thunderous cry, a bullet snagged into the floor before richocheting into a mirror, shattering it instantly.
More screams bit into the air.
A sort of coldness came over me, mixed with sweat and fear, as I finally took the gun from Nina.
She tripped on her own feet and fell to the floor, trembling with rage. She reached up towards me, her fingers flexing around empty air, like an infant wanting a bottle. She was asking for the gun.
You're no longer my Nina, I thought sadly, turning away.
"You're one crazy-ass bitch, Nina!" Lily yelled at her, feeling bold now that the gun was out of Nina's hands.
Nina stood up slowly, the shattered mirror across the room reflecting her in a thousand different ways. She rubbed her elbow absently, walking over to me.
I warily kept the gun out of her reach as she came towards me, my body twitching and my heart racing with adrenaline. She pressed her cheek into my shoulder and wrapped her arms around me. Almost instantly my shirt sleeve soaked in her warm tears.
My hand moved on it's own, crawling under her hair, finding the soft, delicate skin on the back of her neck. My fingers cupped gently around her neck, the baby-soft flush of hairs tickling lightly against my skin. In this tender manner, I hugged her against me, my eyes closing involuntarily as silence settled peacefully within me, the warmth of her scent lulling me into a stupor.
Noise returned with a vengance. My eyes flew open as Nina jerked the gun from me and shoved me hard. I stumbled and almost fell, but someone caught me from behind and steadied me. I glanced at the person, but I did not recognize them.
My eyes swept around the room and with a crazied animalistic jolt I realized I didn't recognize anyone except Nina and Lily. Everyone else was just ghostly pale faces with wide, black pools for eyes.
Something is wrong, here, I thought. Why can't I remember these people, my own students? No. It doesn't matter, I shook it off. They're not important right now.
My eyes steadied and locked onto Nina, who was running after Lily in a bizarre, almost comical cat-and-mouse chase, the gun swinging dangerously after her.
"Stop it, Nina!" Lily screamed. "If this is about your title, take it. I don't want it! It's all yours! Just stop, please!"
Nina ignored her, firing once right past Lily's ear. Lily yelped and clasped her hands to her ears, stunned momentarily. Nina marched to her, fingers twitching around the trigger.
I sprinted to Nina and threw myself in front of her, flinging my arms constrictingly around her.
"Stop this, Nina," I whispered helplessly into her hair. She punched and kicked and her head connected into my nose. Blood began to roll out, hot and wet and heavy with the scent of copper. My vision sparkled with flashes of red and white as the pain from my nose subsided.
My arms held tightly around her. I would not let her go. Desperately, Nina twisted against my body and suddenly the gun went off into my chest.
Fiery, glorious. Pain exploded and curled inside of me, setting my lungs into panic-mode as they began filling with blood. I let out a struggled gagging cough and my arms fell lifelessly away from Nina.
I slipped down to my knees, my hands shaking as they caught me from falling head-first into the floor. Red like strawberry jam and, for a strange reason, equally as lumpy, my blood bubbled out of my clothes from an unseen hole and spread out before me on the floor. I stared down into the blood, seeing myself reflected darkly in it.
She must have hit my nose harder than I thought, I decided lazily, my mind full of watery haze.
Nina turned to me in slow-motion, her wide, innocent eyes flooding with regret and sorrow.
Nina... This is all my fault, I tried to say. "I'm so sorry," I managed to tell her. So sorry... I slipped down onto my side, body spasming as it flooded itself from the inside.
With her terrified eyes locked onto mine, Nina raised the gun to her head. Though it was the gentle and kind White Swan that stared out at me from behind her tearful eyes, it was the Black Swan that pulled the trigger.