Author's note: Welcome, readers. This is a Black Swan alternate universe fic, so it needs a bit of explanation before you dive in.
It all started like this: someone who read my other story, Coda, came over to the blackswan_fic community on LJ and posted a really thought-provoking prompt. She said that a lot of the current Nina/Lily fic assumes that Lily is a good person and that Nina's hallucinations pretty much misrepresented her as being dark and dangerous. The specific spin the reader requested was a dark version of Lily.
The same reader also asked what would Black Swan have been like if the director of the company was a woman? Specifically, what if it was Lily? The two requests combined open up all kinds of interesting questions. And my muse can't resist a challenge.
So this is Black Swan, seen through a glass darkly. You should know the characters, but this Lily has no heart of gold, and she's older than Nina. Not that Lily is straight-up evil; she's just … complicated.
Warning: this fic contains scenes of workplace sexual harassment, flashbacks to traumatic events, lots of profanity, sexual themes, and fairly graphic sex (femslash and het).
Directing a ballet company is a man's game, always has been, but Lily – she is known by the one name only, never gives a surname – plays it well. There are rumors she plays other men's games, rumors that Nina pays no attention to. She tells herself Lily and Beth are just close friends, that it's a good thing for the company if the young director and the seasoned star have such a positive working relationship, that 'princess' is merely an affectionate nickname. Never mind that one glimpse through the not-quite-closed door of Lily's office, never mind that it looked like they were kissing, that surely couldn't be.
Lily is young for her position, not that much older than the soloists, but like her surname she keeps her exact age a mystery. Somewhere in her late twenties or early thirties is anyone's best guess. She arrived from California some years ago in a cloud of intrigue, a beautiful former dancer, more recently a talented choreographer, and all too soon she'd taken over the directorship of no less a company than the New York Ballet. Nina has been working for Lily for four years, growing to appreciate a woman's style in running the company. If Lily pays particular attention to her, it must be because of her skill; Nina is a perfectionist of the highest order.
Erica doesn't approve, but in her day there simply were no female directors, and to hear her tell it the West Coast was untamed wilderness, the prima ballerinas of Seattle and San Francisco no better than the New York or Boston chorale. Nina doesn't disagree with her, just keeps her head down and nods in the right places while Erica mutters angrily about the presumptuousness of it all.
And then the big day arrives. Lily has decided to put on a bold re-envisioning of Swan Lake, but Beth will not automatically have the coveted Swan Queen role. One of the younger soloists will get it, and after Lily makes the first cut of them, seven are left to compete for the honor.
That night, Nina practices and practices until her toes bleed afresh. When she dances the white swan the next day, the other girls glower and Lily smiles warmly. "Nina, honestly, the moment I decided to do Swan Lake I thought of you for the white swan."
Nina blushes under the praise, and Veronica sneers when she thinks Lily isn't looking. Lily isn't finished yet, though. "You're perfect for it – but the white swan is only half the role. Her alter ego is the real challenge, full of passion and danger. So dance the black swan for me now, Nina." There's something about the way she says it, something about the way she leans forward with her mascara-shrouded gaze intent on Nina, that makes her nervous. She dances, but it's all wrong from the first move, tight and tense, technically perfect yet somehow bloodless.
Worse, Nina knows it, sees the scowl on Lily's face. Knowing she's losing her chance at greatness, she tries harder, but only becomes more brittle, more forced, more anxious. Someone scoffs loudly, and the distraction throws off her rhythm so much that Nina almost turns her ankle.
"Stop," Lily says, and the very softness of her voice warns them of her dangerous mood. "Whichever one of you did that, leave. Now. You will show respect for each other's work, or you can go get a job at fucking Starbucks. Do I make myself clear?"
After a long, tense moment, one of the girls flees the studio, and Lily nods. "Veronica, you're next."
Nina draws in breath to protest, but the words die on her lips when she sees the ice in Lily's expression. Instead she takes a seat, biting her lip, trying not to let her disappointment show. This was her chance, she's worked harder than anyone else over the past four years, striven day and night and even in her dreams to be everything Lily wants of her, and now she's lost. Again.
For a while she stews in her failure; when everyone else breaks for lunch Nina sits alone in the dressing room, hugging her knees to her chest. That's the only reason she hears the argument between Lily and Beth.
"No! I will not sit by while you…" Beth shouts, and the end of the sentence is cut off by Lily's voice, low and carrying with barely-suppressed rage.
"Enough, Beth. You know better. You knew what the deal was when it started. Don't try playing these games with me. It won't work."
"How dare you! How dare you talk to me like I'm one of them!"
"You're lucky I let you stay, Beth, with all the trouble you've caused me."
"Trouble?" Beth hisses. "I'm the principal of the company, damn you, I've sold out a dozen shows in the last two years for you…"
"And not one in the last season. It's the business, Beth. There's nothing I can do about it. Except this – I'm not covering up for you anymore."
Beth laughs nastily. "You're not covering up for me? Oh, well then I'm not going to keep your secrets either, Lily. And you've got a lot more to hide than I do."
Lily just chuckles, and the sound raises the hairs on the nape of Nina's neck. "No, I don't. Trust me, Beth, my sins are a lot more socially acceptable than yours. And I never said I'd stop keeping your secrets, just that I wouldn't cover for you. That means when you drink yourself stupid in some filthy little bar, I'm not coming to get you. Take a cab like everyone else. Understood?"
The rest of the argument degenerates into petulant muttering, and Nina's ashamed of herself for having listened. It sounded almost like a lover's quarrel, something private, not for her ears…
But Lily's very disappointed in Beth now, and why shouldn't she be? If what she said is true, Beth's a lot farther gone than anyone suspects. Some of the other girls joke about her age, how the company needs new blood, but Nina's always been kind about it even as she covets Beth's place.
And now she has an idea on how she might win it.