A childhood full of books and after school specials had taught Piper Chapman that everyone chooses whether or not to be a good person.
She knows now that’s bullshit.
Choice only comes in for simpler, surface level things. You can choose to be nice or mean, polite or rude. But good and bad have deeper roots, down to the very core of a person. Some people just have natural disasters rumbling in their blood.
Something else Piper knows now: her core is fucked up. It's rotten and gnarled and there's no changing that.
The way she figures it, there are two kinds of bad people. There are the ones who don't try to fight it, who learn to relish it. They aim to be feared: those are the bullies, the dictators, the powerful. Piper had tried that for awhile, but she doesn't have it in her. All her not-giving-a-fuck had fell apart like everything else that day in the greenhouse.
Now she's trying to be the second kind: the kind that fight and fight against the core of themselves, the way she'd done for too many years, and finally crash up against the inevitable truth: she is who she is, down to the core, and all she can do now is try to minimize the collateral damage.
Picture yourself as a hand grenade without a pin.
Picture everyone you care about, tossing it among themselves, some fucked up game of Hot Potato, waiting to see who gets obliterated next.
Picture Alex, catching too often, holding on for too long.
Picture yourself exploding in her hands.
Picture the blood.
The first two days after, Piper doesn't speak.
No, more than that. She doesn't think or feel, either. She doesn't function.
It's too awful to comprehend, to give in to. She isn't equipped, so she shuts down, waiting for the world to turn itself right side up again before she has to readjust.
On the third day, she bumps her knee on wall of the shower and starts sobbing so hard she has to stuff a towel down her throat, muffling howls that feel like they're made out of blood and bone until she starts to physically gag.
For a week after that, she demands answers from any CO she sees. She gets four shots for it, all within a week, and finally breaks down and begs in a counseling session with Healey. He tells her she shouldn't be concerning herself with Alex Vause, and that confidentiality means he couldn't tell her even if he did know.
The next day, when Alex still isn't back and someone new moves into her old bunk, Piper's brain started to work against her, insisting over and over that Alex is dead.
For the next month, she mostly believes it.
Piper makes herself small and quiet and the days start to blur together.
She eats with Lorna and Yoga and Boo and Sister Ingalls sometimes, if they come to sit beside her, but she rarely speaks and they've learned to leave her alone. She works in the sweatshop and throws the excess fabric away. She wears long sleeves under her khakis every day so she doesn't have to look at the tattoo on her arm.
Her parents haven't visited since her birthday, anyway, so all she has to do is stop calling home. Cal gives up after the third visit when she refused to change her mind about quitting the business. She can go days without saying a word.
Any time she starts to feel so faded it scares her, Piper sneaks away to a chapel with the homemade tattoo gun and scrawls something new onto her ribcage. She'd started on the day she found Alex's list of songs, tucked behind boxes of Ramen, and world breaking screams had stacked up in her throat and stayed there until the moment she pressed the needle too hard against her skin, copying the song titles just above her hipbone without thinking about why.
Now, she adds something every few days, slanting lines written from awkward angles. Song lyrics, or phrases from Alex's old letters (she doesn't have to reread them anymore, has them all memorized). She doesn't really grasp the permanence of what she's doing to herself. She hasn't even seen it altogether; her eyes flit instinctively away from mirrors, but not to avoid the messily inked tapestry of her body. She's just sick of the sight her own face.
Piper tells herself Alex's words are teaming up to outnumber the scar tissue white words on her forearm. And yet every time she adds something new, it's Stella's voice that floats, unbidden and unwelcome, through her head.
Honor the pain. Really feel it. Tell yourself you're into it.
Piper isn't into the pain, and she doesn't think she's capable of honoring anything, but she does start to crave it. At least when it hurts, she's getting a tiny fraction of what she deserves.
Picture Alex in all the ways you never used to let yourself remember her.
Alex in your Smith sweatshirt, asleep on the couch in Northampton, her glasses crooked on the bridge of her nose.
Alex soaked through with rain on some street in London, dropping her leather jacket over your head and practically giggling like some giddy teenage kid.
Alex with wide beggar eyes in a hotel in Paris when she asked you not to leave.
Picture Alex in the ground somewhere, with a headstone next to her mother's, two graves you've never been to.
She has Alex's glasses.
No one else had noticed them in all the blood and chaos, lying next to the gardening tool cabinet.
At night, Piper runs her fingers over the crack in the lens, the proof that it wasn't all a nightmare. That a shovel knocked Alex's glasses off her face and kept going to skin and bone.
These days she spends a lot of hours just curled in her bunk, and she usually ends up with the glasses perched on top of her head. Sometimes she forgets and goes to the cafeteria or work duty with them still there, earning herself pitying looks. Piper doesn't want that. She knows she lost all claim to anyone's sympathy, and when they look at her like that it makes her want to speak up and explain it was all her fault.
She doesn't get much sleep anymore. Every time she closes her eyes, she sees Alex's face.
Well. Not really her face. She hadn't even been able to see Alex's face.
It was all just -
Sometimes Piper forgets why she's here.
One night she remembers and has to press face into her pillow to muffle wild, 3 am laughter.
Carrying a suitcase into Brussels is so fucking low on her list of crimes. It's not even in competition for the worst thing she's ever done.
She can't believe they're going to let her out of here at all.
She's standing in the shower, watching rivulets of hot water run over her handiwork. It stings a little - she keeps picking at scabs, not letting it heal - and Piper tilts her head down, watching water run into the drain, halfway expecting it to be stained black with ink.
Out of nowhere she thinks of the boards in the floor of the greenhouse. Imagines blood seeping between the cracks.
For a second, the shower water turns thick and red and Piper's whole body starts to panic.
She's hyperventilating, steamed air knifing in and out of her lungs without settling, and she twists out of the water's spray, bile rising in her throat.
Half out of her head, she ends up taking a razor to the bubbled up skin of her arm, shallowly shredding the letters of Trust No Bitch, just to prove to herself what's blood and what isn't, but once she starts it's hard to stop.
It takes too long for the pain to catch up to her, and the plastic razor clatters out of her fingers and onto the tile. Trembling, she crouches on the floor of the shower with her arm held gingerly under the spray. There are light scratches and a few deeper gashes, flaps of peeling skin right across letters, but the words are still readable. Still mocking.
Piper wishes she had the guts to properly destroy herself.
Picture yourself destroying Alex instead.
Picture taking a blade to her, shredding and shredding until there's nothing left of her to recognize.
A slice for every time you said she was crazy.
A slice for every time you made yourself ignore the fear in her face.
A slice for every kiss with Stella, every time she touched you.
One two three four for being the reason she was standing in the greenhouse in the first place.
A dozen more for not letting her go.
"Big day tomorrow, huh?"
Alex turns her head and tries to smirk; Tanya is the only nurse here who likes her. The others apparently heard animal instead of prisoner, not feeling the need to engage with her like she's anything more than a body. She's long since given up politeness with them, but Tanya at least deserves an attempt. Not least because she has an accent and a smile that reminds Alex a little bit of her mom, and more than once she's found herself fighting an embarrassing lump in the throat when Tanya gives her the slightest bit of compassion.
"Can I see the mirror again?"
The older woman's eyes soften with almost-pity, but she only snarks back, "I can guarantee you it hasn't changed in the past two hours."
She passes over the handheld mirror anyway, the one she deliberately keeps out of Alex's reach, and as always Alex stoically sets her jaw and prepares for the sight of her reflection.
The soon-to-be scar is a fault line down her left cheek, starting just above the eyebrow and meandering down to her chin. The skin is thick and pink and jagged; it makes her look off-kilter. Damaged. No matter how long Alex looks at it, no matter how normal she wants it to become, she can't stop seeing how ugly it is.
Tears start to twist her throat into knots, and Alex grits her teeth, hating herself for this. She almost died. She'd been a few seconds away from the most pathetic death imaginable - alone, in prison - and compared to that, this is nothing. This is lucky.
Except. It makes her feel like a teenager again, in the wrong shoes and the patched up clothes, too tall and too gawky and wearing glasses with tape around the center because someone at school broke them, and her mom couldn't afford another pair until Christmas. It makes her feel like the thirteen year old girl who'd been sure no one would ever think she was pretty.
Alex knows, now, what happens to girls' faces when she approaches them in a bar, back when she was a normal person who could pick up girls in bars: they'd looked lucky. Thrilled to be chosen. They couldn't look away from her. And that feeling had been a long time coming.
She's pretty sure she'd get a whole different kind of look now.
"Hey..." Gently, Tanya plucks the mirror away from her, setting it down on a chair well out of Alex's limited range of motion. "Not gonna tell you this again. Swelling hasn't even gone down from the last surgery yet. No use making your final judgment." She arches an eyebrow, tone going smartass again as she pointedly flicks one of the lengthy chains on Alex's handcuffs. "Besides, don't know who you think you're trying to impress where you're heading."
Alex instinctively looks away, her fingers drifting up to trace the mottled, split skin. Piper's voice drifts into her head. What happened to that scary professional felon I fell in love with? She was so hot.
Well. Scary might still cover it - she's taken scary to a whole new level, but hot is definitely far less applicable.
Truthfully, Alex has probably never been further from the version of herself that Piper fell for. If Piper thought paranoid and needy was bad, well fuck. Try broken. Try helpless. Try - though Alex hates hates hates admitting it - traumatized.
She keeps waking up in the middle of the night, out of nightmares and into panic attacks. Already she's worried about that will mean when she's back in Litchfield. She always comes to, half chained to an unfamiliar hospital bed, feeling for all the world like she's back lying on that greenhouse floor. She'd stayed conscious for so long, through the shovel cracking her cheekbone, then clipping her temple, through blood dripping into her eyes, obscuring her vision of Aydin looming over her, in total control.
It wasn't until he'd grabbed the pair of gardening shears and driven them into her gut that Alex had started to fade.
She doesn't really know what happened after they found her.
She wonders all the time if Piper saw.
Alex is probably owed a dozen or so I told you so's, and sometimes she wants them. Always in her most frustrating moments, the lowest indignities, when she hates herself and hates the world and maybe even hates Piper, too.
When she's struggling to walk the length of a hallway even with a walker and PT assisting, a police officer always hovering along behind them.
When she's having to be helped in the shower from one of the nurses who won't make eye contact and seems to hate having to touch her, like she's some dirty monstrous thing.
When she's in so much pain it's hard to breathe, but she's too scared of becoming reliant on the meds to ask for more.
In those moments, yeah, Alex hates Piper for making her feel crazy, for putting her in this position. But those are usually the same moments that make her want Piper so badly it aches.
So most of the time, she can't get to vindictive. She'd woken up from her first surgery, barely aware of what was going on or where she was, slurring demands that someone tell Piper Chapman she's alive.
She remembers what it was like to be the one not knowing.
Blood in the snow. So fucking red against the sparkling white.
You follow the commotion outside, getting there seconds after the COs. For a second, it looks like two dead bodies. Your chest caves in on itself, Piper's name filling your head.
You'd been with Nicky when it happened, both of you snuck away from the Christmas pageant to an abandoned dormitory. Your fingers are still damp and clammy when you burst into the winter night air.
(It takes months to forgive yourself for that. That was the second and last time for the two of you.)
Piper's moving on the stretcher when they carry it past, moaning, her eyelids fluttering. Your eyes fill up with tears and you think they might freeze there.
You get stuck inside the memory of her coming to your bunk, you turning her away.
Rage starts simmer in your blood when they carry that fucking meth head by, but it turns instantly inward when you remember this should have been as much your fight as hers.
You're the reason she's in here. You made her an enemy and then left her alone.
You aren't surprised she put up a fight. You've seen Piper kick doors and throw a hot glue gun out of frustration. Rumors filter down fairly quickly that Doggett is the only one sent to medical, so your worry switch flips to imagining Piper in seg or max. You're still picturing her bruised up and beaten.
Everyone talks like she's never coming back, and you're half twisted up with worry, half furious at yourself for somehow fucking up this miracle second chance with her.