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The Nearer Your Destination (The More You're Slip-Sliding Away)
5222008
Title: The Nearer Your Destination (The More You're Slip-Sliding Away)
Fandom: OITNB
Pairing: Piper/Alex
Rating: R (language)
Length: 7800
Spoilers: End of Season 4
Summary: A serious of connected, but nonlinear, scenes inspired by the great American philosopher Paul Simon. Canon-compliant except for one Season 1 scene I think the show got wrong. Vauseman. (Is there any other pairing?)

This is my first time writing ff since Glee, but I've been busy writing lots of original fiction. (Anyone want to read my novel?) I hope someone out there enjoys this.  Thanks!
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(1)

"I cannot believe you talked me into this," Piper said, as she tried unsuccessfully to pull down her skirt.

Alex placed her hands on the blonde's hips, smoothing the green tartan beneath her fingers. "I can't believe you still have your high school uniform," she whispered. She placed an open-mouth kiss against Piper's neck and winked at her in the mirror as she bit down gently. "It's hot."

"It fit a hell of a lot better ten years ago," Piper grumbled.

"I actually don't think that's humanly possible," Alex said. She played with the hem of the skirt, which rested sinfully high on Piper's tanned, toned thighs. "You are so fucking hot in this. People are going to be all over you tonight."

Piper rolled her eyes. "You say that like it's a good thing."

"Of course it's a good thing, Pipes." Alex ran her hands up the blonde's sides and rested them on her stomach, bared by the white shirt tied just below her breasts. "It's a fucking great thing. The hottest girl in the place and no one can touch her because she's coming home with me." She scratched her nails up Piper's torso and felt the blonde shudder beneath her fingers. "And everyone fucking knows it. Everyone at this party will know that this insanely hot woman--that the hottest, smartest, funniest woman there — is all mine."

"You say that," Piper said, grabbing a tissue to blot her lipstick, "but the last time a dude flirted with me at a bar you cold-cocked him and almost broke his jaw."

Alex didn't even bother to cover her smirk. "He wasn't flirting, Pipes. He touched your ass." She demonstrated, and Piper leaned into the touch. "Didn't his mother ever teach him that we look with our eyes, not our hands? The only one who gets to look at your ass with their hands is me."

Piper blushed and, to cover her reaction, turned and adjusted Alex's tie. "Is this even authentic?" she asked. "It's been a long time since I read it, but I feel like Lolita didn't wear Catholic school girl uniforms. And Humbert wore Hawaiian shirts, not ties."

"Dolores Haze in the book might not have worn plaid skirts," Alex said, dropping her hands to rest on the swell of Piper's ass, "but my artistic interpretation of Lolita does. And besides, Humbert wore camp shirts, not Hawaiian shirts, and I don't own either one."

"Artistic interpretation?" Piper asked, smiling in spite of herself.

Alex grinned and kissed her.

"You smeared my lipstick," Piper said. She pulled away and turned back towards the mirror. "We should go." She tucked her lipstick into the black lace bra that was visible under her Oxford shirt. "I cannot believe Aydin is throwing a naughty literary characters party. It's too fucking weird."

"Aydin went to Oxford," Alex said. She leaned against the vanity and looked deliberately casual as she folded her arms over her chest. "And you know these people — my coworkers, I would remind you. We aren't stupid, even if most of us didn't go to college."

Piper and touched Alex's cheek. Her hand hand felt cool against the brunette's flushed skin. "You are many things, my love, but you are definitely not stupid."

Alex shook her head. "I could go back, you know." She pushed off the vanity and returned to her place behind the blonde, who was still carefully doing her makeup.

Piper looked at her curiously in the mirror. "Back to school? Why would you do that?"

Alex shrugged and picked at a non-existent spot on her white button-down shirt.

"Sometimes I feel like you should be with someone better, you know? A Dartmouth dyke who works for Houghton Mifflin or something."

Piper sighed. The longer they were together, the more often Alex brought this up, and the more frustrating Piper found it.

"I've asked you to stop saying that," she said. "No Dartmouth dyke would take me to Bali, or Amsterdam, or South Beach, let alone all three in six months. No Dartmouth dyke could possibly be as well-read as you are, even if she worked at Houghton for two hundred years." She reached back and placed her hand on Alex's thigh, pressing lightly against the gray chinos as she grazed closer to the pack and play tucked into her girlfriend's boy shorts. "And no Dartmouth dyke could fuck me the way you do. So enough. I don't want to talk about that."

Alex nodded, her mouth dry. Her head swam as she looked down, taking in miles of smooth skin ending in black fuck-me pumps that made Piper slightly taller than the brunette.

"Good," Piper said, and turned back to the mirror to finish applying her mascara.

Alex watched her fix her pigtails one last time and drain the last of her vodka soda. She felt a sharp pain in her chest.

"Ready, Mr. Humbert?" Piper asked, grabbing Alex's hand and winking as she backed out of the bedroom.

"Dolores — " Alex swallowed hard against the sudden lump in her throat. Her chest felt like it was vibrating, and she wasn't sure why.

Piper's smile faded when she saw the look on Alex's face. "Al, what's wrong?"

Alex dropped Piper's hand. She couldn't breathe. Her head was swimming. The blonde's face showed only love and concern as she placed a warm hand on Alex's cheek.

"Seriously, babe, what's wrong? Are you okay? Are you having a panic attack? Come on, let's count five things you can see — "

Alex swallowed again and shook her head. "Sometimes I just get so scared, Pipes."

"Of what, Alex?" Piper rubbed Alex's arm gently with her free hand. "There's nothing to be scared of."

"I feel like an ice cube in love with a flame."

Piper looked really worried, then. "Baby," she said, "I think you might be having a stroke or something. That didn't make any sense."

Alex laughed mirthlessly. "I'm not having a stroke," she said. She sighed, frustrated, and raised her hands to her hair, releasing the tight bun she had arranged for her costume and running her fingers through the blue-black waves. "You burn so bright, and I just love you so fucking much. But sometimes... sometimes..." — she's aware as she says it how stupid it sounds — "I worry you'll swallow me up and I'll just... disappear."

Piper slipped off her heels and hugged Alex, tucking her head under the brunette's chin. Alex clutched her tightly. She was very aware how fast her heart was beating and consciously took three slow, deep breaths.

When Piper spoke, it was with her lips pressed lightly against Alex's shirt over her collarbone. "That's not something to be scared of," she murmured.

"No?" Alex asked.

Piper pressed a kiss to the shirt beneath her lips. "Nope," she said. "Not even a little bit. Because I love you so fucking much, too. So if you disappear, I'll just...." She shrugs. "I don't know, I'll just disappear with you, I guess."

Alex kissed the blonde's temple and let out a shuddering sigh. "Okay," she said. "Okay."

"Okay."

Alex slumped on the bed, tugging Piper's hand to pull her along. "Let's just skip the party," she said.

"Al," Piper said gently, "we can't skip. You have to go. Fahri will be there."

"Fuck Fahri," Alex said, tugging Piper's hand again and smiling as the blonde fell into her lap. "Disappear with me."

Piper smiled and pushed Alex's hair out of her face. "Okay," she said. She kissed the corner of Alex's jaw and inhaled deeply. "Al, baby, I will always disappear with you. Just name the time."

(2)

Piper always has a hard time getting out of bed on rainy days. By the third rainy day in a row, she doesn't get dressed, doesn't shower, doesn't even drag herself down the hall to brush her teeth. She ignores the call to go eat breakfast, ignores the sounds of the world waking up, and holds her pillow tight against her head to block out the light.

For two days, she's been thinking about how her life could have gone. Maybe how her life should have gone. At this point, she's not even sure. It's been over 36 hours since she talked to anyone, and she's hopeful she can continue the streak another day. Her head hurts and her chest aches and she just wants to be alone with her might have beens.

"Come on, kid."

The words are accompanied by a dip in the mattress and the feeling of a warm hand on her side. She grunts in response and feels her pillow being pulled away. She scrambles to grab it back but misses, squinting against the sudden light.

"You cannot wallow away another rainy day, Piper. I won't let you."

Alex sounds angry. Piper listens to her breathe, in and out, in and out.

"I'm not wallowing," Piper finally says, her voice raspy from disuse. "Introspection is a valid therapeutic tool."

"You're a therapeutic tool," Alex says, and Piper can't help but smile. Alex's eyes soften at the sight. "Scoot over, at least."

Sandals drop to the cold floor and Piper inches over, leaving just enough room that Alex has to hook her left leg over her own and half her body is covered by the taller woman. Piper shivers when the brunette's cold foot makes contact with her own warm calf.

Alex runs her fingers up and down the blonde's exposed arm, raising goosebumps in her wake.

"You're starting to smell," she says. "What's wrong?"

"I hate the rain," Piper says, averting her eyes and hoping Alex doesn't notice.

"Bullshit," Alex says, tracing the line of Piper's jaw with the tip of her finger. "You love the rain. You've always loved the rain. Remember that day in Bali? We got caught on that beach and we were so soaked, but the boat wasn't coming back for us for hours yet, and then the school of manta rays came up almost to where we were — "

Piper puts her hand over Alex's mouth before Alex can say what they were doing. "Stop, Al," she whines. "I've always hated the rain."

Alex talks against Piper's palm. "Nuh uh. What about that day in Amsterdam? We walked all over the city, it was pouring the whole time, and you started sneezing outside Anne Frank house? By the time we got back to the hotel I was worried you had pneumonia. I decided the best way to warm you up was sex, remember?"

Piper blushes and turns her face into the pillow. "I mean it, Alex," she says, but her voice is muffled and Alex can pretend not to hear her.

"Now that I think about it," Alex continues, ignoring her precarious position and the hand on her mouth, "wasn't it raining that night we met? It was! There was thunder right when you — "

Piper sits up and Alex tips off the bed. She's laughing when she hits the floor.

"I really mean it, Al. I hate the rain, I have always hated the rain, and I seriously don't want to talk about our sex life. Past or present."

"How about future?" Alex asks, climbing back on the bed and placing a gentle kiss on Piper's hip.

"If you keep this up," Piper says with a glare, "there will be no future."

They sit quietly, Alex gently rubbing Piper's back, until Piper finally relaxes and slumps back in Alex's arms.

"It rained in Paris," she says quietly, when she can't stand the quiet for another minute counting Alex's quiet breaths beside her, "that day." She doesn't want to say which day, but she knows she doesn't have to. They spent six weeks in Paris, but there was only one day.

"Yeah," Alex says, and her hand stills.

Piper bites her lip. She's been thinking about this all morning and didn't mean to say it out loud. "What would have happened if I hadn't left?" Piper asks. "If I hadn't been the worst girlfriend in the world? The worst person in the world?"

Alex closes her eyes. She sighs.

"Do you really want to do this right now?" she asks. "I thought we had some sort of unspoken agreement not to talk about this anymore." She breathes in and out, in and out, in and out. Piper counts eight in her head.

"We have to, sometime, don't we?" Piper's voice is lighter than she feels. "We can't just talk about the good times and forget the shitty one." She feels like she's drowning in the rain. She counts ten breaths, then twenty.

"You would have left when the funeral was over," Alex says, without opening her eyes. "Or when you got back from Istanbul. Or the next time we fought. Or two years later on some random fucking Wednesday morning for no reason at all."

Piper wonders if that's true. "I might be your wife by now," she says.

Alex gives a short, humorless laugh. "You would have left, Pipes. I would have pushed you away, just like I did in Paris. I loved you so fucking much but I couldn't help pushing you away. And, yeah, maybe it would have been in a way that didn't make you the biggest asshole in the whole world, but you wouldn't have stayed. Maybe I would have been the asshole if you'd left some other way. And, anyway, if you'd left some other way..." her voice trails off.

Piper counts to seventy in Alex's gentle breaths. In and out. In and out.

She clears her throat. "If you'd left some other way, we might not have found our way back."

Piper thinks about that. She thinks that might be true.

"Do you remember that Halloween party?" she asks.

"Which?"

Piper pulls herself closer to Alex and inhales her clean scent. Laundry detergent and Dove soap and something else, something deeper, something that she remembers from New York and Bali and all those places before Litchfield.

"The one we didn't actually go to, when I dressed as Lolita."

"Oh," Alex says. She shifts her legs, suddenly uncomfortable and restless. "Yeah."

"Was it true?" Piper asks.

"Which part?"

Piper sighs. "The thing about the ice cube and the flame."

It's Alex's turn to sigh. Three breaths. "It was for a long time," she finally says.
"Not anymore, though."

Piper nods. "It took me years to figure out what you meant. To figure out I felt the same way. Finally just last year I realized that's why I left, in Paris. I didn't plan it. I think it caught me off guard as much as you."

Alex shifts her whole body this time, leaving an inch between them.

"I was melting for you and you couldn't see that past the heroin and I was almost gone. My 'me' was disappearing and I had to get it back. I felt like a pathetic fucking housewife and I couldn't stand it."

Piper loses count of the breaths.

"I think we're better now, though, don't you? Better than back then when we were both melting?"

Alex doesn't respond, and Piper snakes her arm over Alex's stomach. She hopes the other woman won't turn her away.

"Is this why you hate the rain?" Alex asks. "Because of melting ice cubes and stupid fucking Paris?"

Piper doesn't answer, opting instead to listen to the thunder. It sounds close.

"I almost married Larry," she says finally. "Like, the day before I signed the plea. It was raining and we almost went to city hall and just took care of it before I signed. I thought maybe that way... I don't know. I don't know what I thought."

Alex clears her throat. "Why didn't you do it?"

Piper is shocked by the question. She's shocked Alex is still here — that she didn't growl out a "Fuck you" ages ago and leave Piper alone to mope. She thinks about the answer, about how to say what she means. She feels like it's never been more important for Alex to understand exactly what she's trying to tell her.

"I guess because... it would have been all I was," she says. "Before Larry, I was a human person. A real woman, with hopes and dreams and plans for my life. And marrying him would mean just being his wife. That's all I'd be from then on. I didn't want that. And as much as I hated the feeling of loving you so much I thought I'd melt from it, I never felt that with him even for a second. I guess I didn't want to settle for less than a flame."

"What do you want, Pipes?"

"I don't want to lose myself to be with you."

The pressure of Alex's fingers on Piper's hip tightens momentarily. Piper's skin bruises so easily lately, and she idly wonders if she'll have five perfect fingerprints there when she showers next. She hopes she will.

"I don't either. I want to be two badass flames who love each other."

Piper smiles. Twelve breaths. Thirteen.

"I think I'd like to be your wife," Piper says.

Alex laughs. "Weird prison girlfriend isn't cutting it?" She hugs Piper closer and kisses the top of her head. "I think you're skipping prison wife all together. I haven't even come close to proposing, you know."

Piper sits up and tugs on the collar of Alex's shirt until she opens her eyes and looks at the blonde.

"Maybe I was proposing, asshole."

Alex smirks. "Who's to say you wouldn't just be my wife? Who's to say you'd still be a human woman?" She gasps. "Or worse! What if I was just your wife? I mean I know my life as a multi-millionaire heroin importer is over, but I don't want to just be Piper Chapman's wife."

Piper scowls. "You're really going to make me do this?" she asks. She can feel her heartbeat thumping wildly against her eardrums and wonders if she's going to pass out.

"Pipes — "

"Will you marry me?" Piper interrupts. "Not, like, tomorrow or something. But when we get out of here? Will you?"

Alex smiles and Piper sees bright sunshine in the gray clouds that fill the window. She sits up and takes Piper's hand.

"This isn't how I saw this morning going when Red told me you were still in bed," Alex says.

"We've just" — Piper runs her hands through her hair, frustrated — "we've wasted — I've wasted — so much fucking time already. I don't want to waste any more time."

Piper looks at her, expectantly. She counts Alex's fourteen breaths and compares them to her own thirty. She might be dying, she thinks. She might hyperventilate right here in these fourteen breaths before Alex even answers the most important question she's ever asked and she can't imagine a better way to go. Alex is looking at her with something she can't quite identify in her eyes and Piper is terrified she will never know what it is because she's about to die.

"Of course I'll marry you, Piper" Alex finally says. "When we get out of here."

Piper grins and surges forward, kissing Alex deeply. They topple back onto the bed, Alex cushioning Piper's fall.

Alex breaks the kiss after several minutes and pants, catching her breath. One, two, three. "I do have one condition, though."

Piper's face falls and she bites her lip. Her mind races, trying to think what Alex could want. "I have some money from my grandmother," she says, "but I don't know how much — "

"Jesus Christ. I don't want your money, Piper!"

"Oh." Piper worries she's offended Alex and waits. Six breaths.

"I want to get married in the rain."

Piper blinks and rocks backward. She pushes her hair behind her ears and tugs gently on her earlobe. "How can we possibly plan that? Al, that doesn't even make any sense. Good days don't have rain, and our wedding should be a good day."

Alex shakes her head. "Baby," she says, and pulls Piper's hand away from her face, "good days may not have rain, but lots of our great days do. Bali, Amsterdam, New York. Yeah, fine, even Paris. But without Paris we wouldn't be here, and if we weren't here...." She presses a gentle kiss to Piper's palm. "Besides, our wedding won't just be good, it'll be fucking fantastic."

Piper smiles and is grateful when Alex lies down and opens her arms, welcoming Piper into them. As she settles in, she counts Alex's breaths and listens to the rain. It sounds gentler, now. The thunder has passed. She counts Alex's breaths as her eyes drift shut. Her last thought before she eases back into sleep is that she's starting to rethink her position on rain. It really wasn't so bad.

(3)

Diane didn't really believe in organized religion, at least not in any particular organized religion, but Alex grew up knowing absolutely that spirituality was important to her mother.

"All of this" — Diane gestured vaguely at the world around her — "is only temporary, Alley Cat. Something must come next. I hope it's great, whatever it is!"

Alex would roll her eyes. Only her mother could get away with calling her Alley Cat. A girl at school overheard it, once, in fourth grade, and teased Alex with it for a week until Alex snapped and punched her in the nose. She was suspended for a week, which would have been a reward, rather than a punishment, if it hadn't been for Diane's frustration when she heard.

"What am I going to do with you, Alley Cat?" she sighed. "I can't stay home with you for a week!"

"It's fine, mom," Alex said. "I can stay home alone. I'm old enough."

Her mom shook her head and ruffled Alex's hair. "You know, baby girl, you can't just go punching people. You've gotta just stay calm when people try to get you down. You've gotta be the bigger person. They say God has a plan for all of us, and we don't get to know what the plan is — it's all over our heads."

"Who says?" Alex asked.

Her mom sighed again. "Oh, lots of people I guess. Most religions, I would think. They call it different things, but all the different words for it mean the same thing — things happen for a reason."

Alex thought about that. "Well," she finally said, "if God has a plan, then it must have been part of the plan for me to punch Jessica."

Diane laughed at that, long and hard, and Alex's face lit up. She wasn't in trouble and making her mom laugh was a treat she didn't often get.

"Maybe it was, Alley Cat."

But after that, they started attending religious services. There was no real method to it; they'd go to a Reform synagogue on Friday night and a Catholic mass on Sunday. They went to Hare Krishna services for a month, while her mother dated Hare Dave — a motorcycle riding soldier who deployed and left them behind six weeks after he'd met Diane at a farmer's market.

In the car, on the way, they'd listen to John Lennon and her mom would turn up the sound during Beautiful Boy and sing along. "John really got it, baby girl," she'd say, "life is absolutely what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."

Alex would nod, feigning understanding.

Her mom would put her hand on Alex's knee and squeeze gently. "I had other plans, once," she'd say, a wistful smile playing on her lips. "Plans that didn't include a kid at seventeen and four jobs and this beat up piece of junk." She would shake her head and sigh. "But life happened."

Alex leaned her head against the cool window and closed her eyes. She hated John Lennon for making her mom sad, week after week, and for singing songs she just didn't get.

Alex had given up on religion long before she met Piper — about the same time she met Kubra and started working for the cartel. Her mom kept with it, though. She settled into a Methodist congregation near the house Alex bought her and went faithfully the last ten years of her life. When Alex would call, from Istanbul, or Jakarta, or San Diego, Diane would ask her to visit whatever the local temple was called and light a candle for her.

"It can't hurt, you know, Alley Cat?" she would say.

Alex would sigh. "You're right, mom. I'll say a prayer to Jesús Malverde. Clearly he has a plan for me, after all." Then she'd laugh and tell her mother she was only kidding.

Alex didn't tell her mom when she first met Piper because there wasn't anything to tell. She'd slept with twenty-five women so far that year and hadn't told her mom about any of the rest of them, either. But when she asked Piper to go with her, when Piper agreed and all of a sudden Piper gave up her apartment and they were living together, she knew it was time.

"I feel good about it," she told Diane in their weekly phone call. "Really good, mom."

"I prayed for this," Diane said. "Not Piper, necessarily, but for someone for you. I prayed, and the universe listened. There's a plan, Alley Cat."

Alex laughed. At that exact moment, Piper came out of the bathroom wearing only a towel around her hair, and suddenly Alex didn't have time for the universe's plans — she had her own.

"Maybe there is, mom," she said. "I've gotta go now, though. I love you."

"I love you too, Alley Cat," Diane said, "and so does the universe."

Alex smiled and kept smiling until she and Piper went to bed that night, the blonde's head tucked tight under Alex's chin.

"Did you family go to church when you were growing up?" she asked, idly watching the headlights of passing cars drift across the ceiling.

Piper burrowed deeper under the covers and sighed. "Of course," she said flatly. "The Chapman family has attended St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greenwich every Sunday since the late '60s."

"It must have been nice," Alex said, "knowing everyone and having a community like that."

Piper sat up and pulled Alex's beige linen comforter with her, drawing protests from the suddenly cold brunette. "Not exactly," she said. "I hated it pretty much as soon I figured out how to hate anything."

"How come?" Alex slid across the bed, wrapping herself around the blonde and encouraging Piper to lean back against her and share the blankets.

Piper shrugged. "I didn't fit in, I guess. Not that I fit in anywhere in Greenwich, really. And it was so... forced. Any attempt to skip the eight am service was met with Carol's pursed lips and 'I don't think so, Piper Elizabeth. Downstairs, please. And wear that nice pink dress this week, dear.'" Piper laughed, and Alex was surprised by the venom she suddenly heard.

"God, I fucking hated the nice pink dress. I fucking hated St. Barnabas. I hated Sunday School, I hated the sermons, and I hated taking communion. I just feel like religion is kind of like a penis, you know?"

Alex pressed a gentle kiss to Piper's knee. "No, I have no idea, babe. How is religion like a penis?"

"Well it's all well and good to have one in the privacy of your bedroom, but it's really rude to whip it out and start, like, waving it in my face."

Alex laughed and pulled Piper back against the mattress. She straddled the blonde and cradled her face in her hands. "You've never once complained when I whip out my pussy and wave it in your face, regardless of whether or not I do it in the bedroom."

Piper rolled her eyes, but lifted her head and kissed Alex. "Yeah, well," she said, "that's the difference between religion and pussy. Besides, you're different in a lot of ways. I probably wouldn't even mind your waving dick."

When Piper and Alex would travel together, Piper would scoff at Alex's insistence on checking out whatever the local religious practices were.

"Are you fucking kidding me with this, Al?"

They were in Manila and Alex wanted to see the cathedral in Cebu, a full day's trip. "Come on, Pipes," she wheedled. "It's built on the site of the first Christian church in the country! It's real history, live and in person. And besides" — she winked — "think of the story you'll have!"

Piper groaned and pulled on Alex's hand, slowing her rapid pace across cobble-stoned streets and bending down to adjust one scrappy sandal. "Just promise me this is about your mom," she said, "and not about, like, Jesus, or anything."

Alex laughed and kissed the blonde, not caring who saw. "Jesus is just alright with me," she said. "I promised my mom. She was really jealous that we're here and she's stuck in Massachusetts."

When Diane died and Piper left, Alex didn't know what to do. She wept until she ran out of tears, and then wept some more, and then found herself flat on her ass in her Paris hotel room, dehydrated, depressed, and out of options. She wrapped her arms around her knees and started talking.

"Dear God," she said, "is that right? Is that how it starts? I've never done this before." She sighed. "Mom used to say you had a plan, God. She used to say that people just work, and do our earthly jobs, and that you've got a plan for all of us. She used to say that the more we focus on our earthly goals, the further we get from your plan." She started to cry, again, surprising herself with the number of tears she had left to shed. "Well, God, or the universe, or fucking whatever you are, if that's true — If you've got some sort of master plan here, mind filling me in? Because it seems like a real shitty fucking plan. It seems like you must be a shitty fucking guy. Because this — This is too much for me. It's too much for anyone, and it's way too much for me. I was so fucking close. So fucking close to everything I ever wanted and you pulled it all away. So I don't want any part of your fucking plan, okay?" She listened for some kind of response, for a sign, for Piper to race back through the door and apologize. Nothing came. She sighed. "Maybe mom was wrong," she finally said, and that hurt worse than the pain of losing her mom and Piper in a single afternoon.

For a long time after that night, Alex didn't believe in making plans. She would find herself waking up in Tahiti, in Guam, in Panama, and one Wednesday night she found herself in Lebanon, trying to close a deal between some Russians, Kubra, and an Israeli guy named Shmueli. Just like the opening line of some terrible fucking joke. It was sometime after last call, at a hookah bar in a residential area of Beirut, and Alex and the Israeli turned idly to the subject of religion.

"For myself," Shmueli said with a shrug, "I'm an Orthodox Jew, and that is an important part of who I am. I am a moral man — a good Jew. I do mitzvahs every day. I give tzedakah. I read Torah with a little study group. My father says I'm a failure because I'm not a Chabadnik but... what could I do? I wear tallit, I wear kippah, I keep a kosher home..."

"And you're a drug dealer?" Alex asked.

"Importer," he said, grinning, "but never on Shabbat. My father, he had other plans for me. But you know what they say — Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht."

Alex stared at him blankly.

"Man plans, and God laughs," Shmueli said, raising his double vodka in a salute before downing it in a single gulp.

Something about that night, about the avuncular Israeli kingpin with the twinkling eyes, stuck with Alex, and from then on she tried to take his words to heart. God had already laughed at too many of her plans — she didn't want to give him any more chances. She gave up her New York apartment, threw herself even deeper into her work, and stopped lighting candles when she visited new cities. She was spiraling when she started using, slipping further and further out of control. The heroin slowed her down. It calmed her urge to make plans, to strategize, to call Piper and beg her to come back.

Then four more years had passed and she was high in a suite at the Wynn in Vegas when the Feds came knocking. She laughed when she opened the door and was greeted with badges instead of room service. There was no plan in place for this. Her lawyer told her the terms of the plea and she said "fuck it" and named Piper and Shmueli and a handful of others — whatever names she could remember as she detoxed. She wondered what the universe thought it was doing, and why no one had let her in on the secret.

She didn't plan to say hi to Piper at Litchfield. Suddenly she was just there and doing it and she was glad she'd stopped believing in God's plan because clearly God's plan was so fucked up it seemed like pretty clear proof that God didn't exist. She didn't plan to tell the truth on the stand in Chicago — felt wracked with guilt as she put on street clothes and walked out the door and on to a commercial flight back to New York. She woke up with Piper's screams echoing in her apartment for days afterward; could taste Piper's name hot like blood. Just when she started to plan her escape, when she thought about the money she'd left in an offshore account, just enough to buy her a beach-side bar in Playa Rincon, God laughed and she found herself back in Litchfield with Piper.

When she saw Aydin's face in the greenhouse and suddenly realized she had bigger issues than Piper's dalliance with the dingo fucker, a plan came to her in an instant and she executed it in no time at all. She was shocked by how easy it was in the moment. She had never killed anyone before — never even thought about it, really. But when it came down to it, she realized she'd always had the plan waiting for her.

The aftermath was more troubling. The planning with Lolly — Jesus fucking Christ, she thought, as if ever I could do anything to beg God to laugh at me — with Red, even with Piper. Best laid plans, she kept repeating. As time went on it got harder and harder to make plans with a straight face. She figured that, if she invited a screw up, it wouldn't destroy her when it came, even though all she wanted — the only thing keeping her going through it all — was the idea of getting out of Litchfield. Not just getting out, she reminded herself. Getting out with Piper. When Piper found the note under the tomato, Alex couldn't catch her breath in the cold, sharp air. She was giddy with relief, although she covered it with gruff annoyance. She'd offered the universe a chance to fuck her over, and instead, Piper had saved her. Just like Piper had saved her in New York. Just like Piper had failed to save her in Paris.

"Do you ever think that, like, God has a plan for us?" she asked. The bunk was on lock-down from the riot — it had been hours of not knowing, but at least they were together.

"I don't believe in God, Al. You know that." They were in Alex's bunk, Piper cradling her girlfriend against her chest and rubbing her back soothingly.

Alex nodded. She had known that, once, but it had been a long time and maybe she'd forgotten.

"I think people make their own plans. And sometimes they're good plans and sometimes they're shitty plans, but I think we're the only ones who get to make them."

Alex pulled Piper closer and listened to the strong heartbeat under her ear. "What happens when they get fucked up, then?"

Piper thought about that and brushed the hair off Alex's face.

"If a plan gets fucked up it was a shitty plan. But it gets fucked up 'cause we did something wrong. Not 'cause someone intervened."

"What part of this was in your plan, Pipes?" She grabbed Piper's left arm and pushed up her sleeve, revealing the milky-white words etched below.

Piper pulled her sleeve back down and laughed, and Alex felt it rumble through her ligaments and into her bones and out her nerve endings through her skin. Piper gestured at the sterile bunk and the dorm around them. "No part of this has ever been part of anyone's plan, Alex." She slipped her hand under the brunette's thermal shirt and continued her gentle rubbing, her hand warm against Alex's cool skin. "But you were. From the day I met you, Al, you've always been part of my plan. You're the very best part of my plan, an inevitable part of my plan, even if it's taken me a long time to realize that."

Alex blushed and moved her head to kiss Piper's neck. She inhaled deeply. Even in prison, Piper smelled like almonds and spice and something undefinable and familiar. Something that smelled a lot like her mom's house and the temples in Cambodia and the mosques in Izmir. Something that smelled a lot like coming home.

(4)

"Did I ever tell you about my dad?" Alex asks, already knowing the answer.

They are wrapped in a blanket on a beach chair outside their hotel in Tarpon Springs, Florida. When Piper had proposed the trip, she'd thought Florida would be the perfect place to spend their first New Year's Eve since getting out of prison. It would be warm, they'd be able to live in bikinis, get tan, and soak up the Vitamin D they'd missed so dearly in Litchfield. As they walked out of the Tampa airport, though, the cold breeze surprised her and she'd grabbed Alex with a shout. They'd spent the first three days of the trip huddled in bed. "For warmth," Alex said, grinning. On the 31st, however, they decided to ring in the new year while staring at the ocean — cold be damned.

"The drummer?"

"Yeah, that time I met him."

"You've met him, Al?" The surprise was evident in Piper's voice. "I always thought — "

"Yeah, once. He was playing in New York. Like six months, maybe, before I met you. I just happened to see it in that morning's Metro, and I actually canceled a date with Sylvie to go."

Alex pulls the blanket tighter around them and tucks her chin more securely against the side of Piper's neck. The blonde sniffs at the mention of Alex's ex-girlfriend.

Alex laughs. "It's been thirteen years, Pipes. Seriously?"

Piper turns and kisses Alex's cold cheek. "Okay," she says, "you canceled a date with... her."

Alex nudges Piper's jaw with her nose. "So I went to the show, and just watched him the whole time they were on stage."

"How was he?" Piper asks.

Alex shrugs. "It wasn't really my kind of music, but he was fine, I guess. I don't know. That's not really the point."

"Okay," Piper says.

"Then after the show I went backstage and — "

" — they just let you backstage?" Piper interrupts.

Alex sighs, sounding frustrated. "Piper. Focus."

Piper has the grace to sound sheepish when she apologizes.

"Besides," Alex says, pushing her glasses up into her hair, "I was wearing a really revealing tank top and flirted with the bouncer."

Piper laughs and pulls Alex's arms tighter around her. "That makes more sense."

Alex clears her throat. "So, anyway, I walk backstage after the show and there he is, stoned out of his mind, with some fucking groupies or whatever." She is suddenly acutely aware of the breeze on the back of her neck and the ache in her ankles where they're pressed against the edge of the chair and she wonders why she even brought this up in the first place.

"And I look at him, and he looks at me, and he makes some lewd comment about having a good time."

"Baby, I — " Piper starts, but she is cut off by Alex's lips against her neck, and Alex remembers why she brought it up. It's important to her that Piper know this. Piper has told Alex all about her parents' failures — about their separation when she was in the seventh grade, about her dad's drinking and her mom's pills, about the time a spanking turned into a plain old beating and her mom had to call her out of school sick for two days. Alex knows all of that, but all Piper knows is Diane, and she needs Piper to know this part, too. Piper needs to know before they get married in six months. It's important.

"So I didn't really say anything to him, I just, like, stared at him for a minute before I turned to go. And I walked back to the door that would lead to the alley and I looked back at him and he was watching me."

She takes a deep, shuddering breath. She has never told anyone this. She never told Diane that she'd gone to see him, knowing she'd take it as a betrayal. Best case scenario, it still wouldn't have been a betrayal. Alex always knew where she stood with Diane when it came to her father and nothing he could have said in that green room — no explanation he could have offered — would have changed any of that.

"We made eye contact, and, I swear to God, Piper, he knew exactly who I was."

Piper gasps. "What did he say?"

Alex shakes her head and pulls Piper even tighter against her, dissatisfied with even the slightest gap between them.

"He didn't say anything. He just looked at me for a minute, and then he fucking winked at me, and then I went back outside."

Piper rises to her knees and turns around in the chair so she can look at Alex head-on and not over her shoulder. Alex sees her unshed tears and is vaguely aware of quiet murmuring as she kisses the blonde's palm. She clears her throat, again, and wonders if she's going to cry.

"I don't know what I wanted him to say, anyway. I still don't know why I even went. It's not like I needed him growing up. My mom did enough parenting for two."

"Baby," Piper says, "it's only natural that you — "

" — I just felt like I was so close, I guess." Alex doesn't notice that she's interrupted Piper. She's not really telling a story, anymore, any way. She's just thinking out loud. "I had just bought my mom the house, and work was going really well, and I guess I just thought... I guess I thought he was the last piece to that."

Piper kisses the top of Alex's head as she stands up.

"You thought I was the last piece, too, once," she says, bouncing on the balls of her feet and looking out across the quiet water.

Alex nods and watches Piper carefully. "I know better now," she says. She doesn't mean it to sound harsh but worries it might.

Piper winks at her and she grins. "We both do." Piper stretches her arms as far above her head as they'll go and then pulls Alex to her feet.

"You know what?" Piper finally says, when they're face to face, shivering, with their toes in the sand and the faint sound of a midnight countdown drifting towards them on the cold breeze. "Fuck that guy. You didn't need him. And he lost out on getting to know how incredibly amazing you are — all without his help."

It's taken a long time, but Alex knows, now, that there's never been a "last piece." She has fought hard for every thing she's ever had — every plan she's ever made. Her plans now were airtight. Let the universe do its worst. Alex smiles and counts down, three, two, one, before capturing the blonde's lips with her own and greeting the New Year.

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