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Studying her cards, Piper frowned. It had been years since Alex had first sat her down and explained the rules of poker, but she still couldn't get a handle on the game. She was grateful for the patience that the girls showed her, especially Alex who she was sure would have been able to win a number of hands ago. The woman had always had a flair for the game and they had ventured into many a casino back in the day for her to play a few hands. She had always said that it wasn't just about the winning, it was the adrenaline and the excitement. At those times, Piper had always wondered if Alex Vause ran off anything other than the high of taking a chance, a risk that could end up with her losing something, be it money, her freedom, or Piper herself. At the end, as she had pulled her suitcase behind her and walked out onto the Paris streets alone, Piper had decided no, she didn't run off anything else. It was what fuelled her. It was what she lived for. For Alex, life was not for merely living; it was for dancing on the edge, waiting to fall and as long as you had danced hard enough, the damage endured was worth it.

Pipers pile of hair pins was rapidly dwindling and she knew that she wouldn't last much longer. The use of hair pins as a gambling tool had made Piper laugh at first, but she supposed matchsticks were few and far between here, so it made sense. Morello didn't have many left either, but Alex and Lily were still going strong, with one of them usually winning the hand and taking the prize. Piper heard Lorna sigh from next to her. She felt her pain. The cards staring up at her were useless and she could kiss goodbye to the pins she had just put in the pot.

"Hey, what're you playing?" Nicky Nichols came through the rec room doors, hands deep in the pockets of her uniform, and made her way over to where the four women were sat.

"Poker" Lily told her, rather unnecessarily as it was pretty damn obvious. Nicky raised her chin in acknowledgment and leant down slightly next to Lorna, one arm casually thrown around her shoulder. Lorna looked miserable, her red lips pouting at her cards. Nicky, after having barely studied them, pointed to them and looked at Lorna with one of her smug half grins. Lorna's brow wrinkled.

"Can I do that?" Nicky let out a snort of laughter.

"Yeah, you can do that". Instantly, Lornas frown turned into a wide grin and she knocked a couple of hair pins into the pile. Alex and Piper caught each other's eye and Alex raised an eyebrow. Piper already knew what she was trying to say. See. We're done. But she still felt slightly awkward around Nicky. She wasn't even sure that the woman knew that she was aware of her shenanigans with Alex, but she felt responsible for them stopping. Nichols was clearly quite keen on the idea of Alex if she had gone exclusive for her and Piper had been the reason that that had stopped. She didn't regret that it had, but she felt kind of bad for Nicky none the less. Although, by the way she was draped around Lorna, she was moving on to bigger and better things. But you could never presume with Nicky.

"You know, I used to play poker all the time on the outside. My boyfriend loved it. If someone didn't know how to play, he would sit them down and teach them until they were experts at it. He didn't like playing with people he could outright beat" Piper spotted the corner of Alex's mouth pull up.

"Sounds like someone I used to know" she said, her eyes never leaving her cards. Piper knew she was referring to her ex boss. Kubra was a piece of work, but there were few things that he liked more than a game of cards. She'd heard, through Alex, tales of him going to Vegas and blowing insane amounts in the casinos. Drug money that he would gamble away recklessly, knowing it would soon be replaced. Alex had mentioned once that he had been the one to teach her and had been impressed by the speed at which she had picked the game up. A couple of evenings, Piper had sat and watched as the cards came out and so did the money. She had been sure that Alex kept large amount of cash on her when she went to see Kubra on the off chance a game was proposed. On those nights, with the drinks flowing and laughter filling the room, Piper almost forgot that she was sat with the most dangerous man she would ever meet and the most dangerous woman she would ever love. They felt like a group of friends having an evening in and it wasn't until she would make the mistake of looking at the table where huge piles of cash sat would she be reminded that these were not normal people playing for petty cash. Everything about this group was serious, despite the din of laughter.

Pipers eyes stayed fixed on Alex, knowing exactly what she was thinking.

"Did you ever play in Paris, Alex? You were there for a long time, weren't you?" Lily asked, her big eyes inquisitive. Piper wondered when it was that Alex had spoken to Lily about Paris. She didn't think the pair were close and Alex rarely talked about her life outside of Litchfield to anyone other than Piper. Seeing as Lily thought Alex didn't like her, she sure seemed to be opening up to her.

Alex, with the eyes of all four women on her, seemed to freeze up momentarily before forcing a calm look over her face as if the woman's words hadn't sent cold water down her spine.

"Erm. Yeah I went a couple of times" Lily nodded.

"You lived there for a while, didn't you?" she paused "With Piper?" she looked to Piper with a smile. Her words had taken Piper completely off guard. However reserved Alex was with details about her outside life, she knew that she was even less talkative about their relationship. Hell, even when she was furious with her, she hadn't said anything to Nicky about their life together so what the fuck had made her open up to the little blonde? Piper looked immediately to Alex who was looking straight back to her, her eyes hard and unreadable. There was a moment of silence as the two women stared each other down and Piper tried to figure out what it was exactly that Alex's expression meant. It wasn't often that she couldn't read her, but right now she was completely closed off.

"Yeah, we lived there for a bit" Piper said eventually, breaking the awkward silence that had fallen over the table.

"No way. You fuckers had a hidden life of luxury. You take all Vause's money, Chapman? S'that why you two were so fucked up when you got here?" neither of the women replied, just sat looking at the other, trying to work out what was going on. Nicky looked between them. "….And still kinda are?" Alex rose suddenly from her seat, pushing it back so it nearly tipped over.

"I'm gonna go bring my laundry down. I forgot to do it earlier" she told the group, her voice almost completely monotone. Not waiting for a response, she turned on her heels and walked out of the rec room. Lily jumped to her feet too, a huge smile on her face.

"Oh, I did too. If she's going down there they'll probably take mine. I better go with her" she waved brightly to them all and, with her nonsensical explanation, was gone. Nicky moved to the seat that Alex had been sat in and Lorna looked at her blankly for a moment. With a sudden intake of breath, she too stood up to leave.

"I need to go and write to Christopher. He's been wanting to know about the flowers and he's definitely going to get them wrong if I don't tell him" she rolled her eyes and shook her head slightly. "He tries so hard to get it right but men are so useless with the small things, you know. Bless him." Her words trailed off and after pausing momentarily to look at Nicky, she left the room too, leaving only Piper and Nicky. Piper wasn't sure what to say. Nicky adjusted her position, leaning forward onto the table.

"So you and Vause are back together". It wasn't a question and Piper wasn't sure how to respond and first. She opted for shrugging her shoulders.

"We're seeing how it goes. She doesn't hate me anymore. That's a bonus" Nicky shook her head.

"She never hated you. Not even close. I don't understand how you two can be so fucking crazy about each other without understand the first thing. Look, I know Vause and I had a bit of a thing but her heart was never in it. Pretty sure she even called your name once" Pipers eyes shot wide and Nicky shrugged. "She said she actually said 'please' but they don't really sound the same, ya know?" Nicky raised a cynical eyebrow and Piper tried to hold back a laugh. "I knew it wouldn't last," she continued "but it was fun while it did." The casualness with which Nicky spoke confused Piper. She knew that Nicky never really had a serious conversation, but at the same time she was almost certain that Alex had been more to her than a quick fuck every now and then. Nothing as serious as Lorna, but Alex had said that she'd been pissed when she had put a stop to it.

"Alex does love you, you know that, Nicky?" Nicky looked up at her through her heavily mascaraed lashes.

"So does Lorna. Just not like they love you and Christopher." Piper had only heard Nicky using that tone of voice when she was upset with Red; it was hurt. It was someone who meant a lot to her picking someone else. That tone sent a shock of realisation through Piper. Nicky wanted to be chosen by someone. Her mother had chosen some guy over her own daughter. Red, the woman Nicky now thought of as a mother, had chosen Lorna for WAC. Alex had been mad as hell at Piper and yet had still chosen her instead of the comfort that Nicky provided. And Lorna. Piper was convinced Nicky was in love with Lorna and she had chosen a man who hadn't come to visit for god knows how long and seemed to give nothing in return for all that Lorna gave him. Everyone in the prison loved Nicky and they meant it, but when it came down to "who do you chose?" it was never her. Nicky was hurt when Alex went back to Piper because she was left alone again. Nicky was lonely.

Reaching out, Piper took hold of Nickys hand. "Lorna will see sense. Give her time." Nicky nodded, her eyes downcast. She didn't reply, instead, she simply hooked one of her fingers over Pipers and the pair sat in companionable silence.

-x-

"Why are you following me?"

"I needed to go to laundry too"

"Bullshit"

Carrying her duffle bag of clothes, Alex could feel annoyance rising in her. The girls words at the table had slapped her around the face once more. She'd never mentioned Paris to her, nor living there with Piper. This girl knew shit, and every casual piece of information she threw out put Alex more and more on edge. She had felt the sudden desperation to get away and out of the rec room, away from the young girl who was abruptly throwing her life inside Litchfield into chaos. Deciding that enough was enough, Alex turned around, almost making Lily walk straight into her, not anticipating the sudden stop.

"How do you know me?" she asked coldly. Lily simply smirked.

"Wouldn't you like to know" immediately, a hand was on either of her shoulders and Alex was forcing her backwards against a wall, towering over the girl and glaring down at her coldly.

"Yes I fucking would. So you're gonna tell me or I'm gonna make damn sure that pretty little grin of yours won't be making an appearance for a very long time". Lilys look of defiance wavered momentarily as an increase in pressure on her shoulders pulled out a gasp of pain from her but it was soon back. Letting Alex hang on for a moment, a slow, smug smirk came over her and she said one word with absolute adoration and glee.

"Kubra" Alex let out the breath she didn't realise she had been holding and her shoulders slumped ever so slightly.

"Fuck"

"Oh yeah, fuck. He's not very happy with you, Alex. Very disappointed, in fact. You let him down." Shoving the girl back once more, Alex let go of her, running a hand through her hair.

"How the fuck have I 'let him down'?! I'm doing time for that bastard!"

"And for that he was grateful. Until you decided to give up some of his best men" Alex could feel her heart beginning to hammer in her chest. She had seen Kubra angry and it wasn't a sight she was going to forget any time soon. She'd been on the receiving end of his slight annoyance and it hadn't been pretty but anyone who dared make Kubras blood boil were certainly never going to do it again. That is, if they had the chance too. If they were alive to.

"You named people, Alex. People you shouldn't have". Alex paced back and forth in front of the girl. She knew that she shouldn't have. Mules, sure. When she had handed over a list of mules, Piper included, with details of when, where, what, she knew that she would get a small amount of time knocked off, but she would still see her 40th birthday in behind bars. And the rest. Everyone expected you to name those under you. It was your right. If you didn't want it to happen, you better work your way up the power ladder as best you fucking can. But you don't name those above you. Alex had. She'd spent hours trying to hit on just the right people, those with more power than her that were more desirable to the feds but those that had pissed Kubra off, those that were on their last warning. She had knocked her sentence down a significant amount with their names and had, apparently foolishly, placed it all in the box marked 'history' in her mind.

"Who are you?" Alex asked, stopping directly in front of Lily. The girl didn't answer immediately, instead bringing her chin up a little higher with pride.

"I'm his girlfriend" Alex looked at her blankly and then laughed loudly in her face.

"His girlfriend?"

"Yea, his fucking girlfriend. Nice innocent looking girl like me, practically invisible to the cops. They never checked me or thought I was more than a pretty dumb blonde" she let out a triumphant laugh "idiots"

"Invisible enough to land you in here?" Alex asked cynically, an eyebrow raised. Lilys expression instantly turned darker.

"Yeah, well you weren't so brilliant either, were you? Look around. You're here too" she snapped. Alex crossed her arms over her and examined the women in front of her.

"Kubra didn't have a girlfriend anyway. He fucked anything that he could find when we were going from place to place. I even hooked him up a couple of times" Lilys fists clenched at her side as Alex spoke.

"No, that's not true. I've been with him for 6 years. He's faithful to me. He loves me" Lily snarled, her teeth gritted. Alex simply shook her head.

"You're fucking delusional. I've never heard of you –"

"He didn't want me named. He cared too much about me. He knew you'd all name me if you knew about me. You can't be trusted. And look what happened. He was right" Lily sneered, trying to turn the conversation back on Alex but she was having none of it.

"And the kingpin in a drug cartel is the most trustworthy guy?" she laughed "right. You're dumber than you look if you seriously thinks he cares about you. Kubra cares for no one bar himself". Lily took a step forward.

"He cares about you, Alex. He cares about you very much" the sudden change in Lily took Alex aback. Her voice had dropped and she sounded much more sinister, as if she had had enough of talking and was ready to move onto the serious shit.

"So what, he's sent you in here to shiv me?" she sounded her usual, confident self, but inside Alex was nervous. This girl flicked between apparently vulnerable to deadly in seconds and Alex knew she would have to be prepared for any number of things if she were to stay ahead of this game. She was unpredictable, something Alex had learnt to fear the most in a person.

Lily let out a loud laugh as she took another slow step forward, moving herself much closer to Alex in the narrow prison hallway.

"Shiv you? Oh no, Alex" she laughed again, closer. "Didn't you ever learn that violence is never the answer?" she shook her head and her laugh now came out as a low chuckle. "Words hurt more, don't they? They can cause far, far more damage. Especially in a place like this". She grinned up at the taller woman, pausing for effect. As Alex's mind ran a mile a minute, trying to work out what it was the girl had planned, she was surprised to see her take a step back and clap her hands loudly.

"Anyway. I must be off. I'm supposed to be meeting Pipes. She said she'd help me pick out a couple of books from the library to read. We have such similar taste in books, don't know you? It's as if I know everything about her! Isn't that funny." Lily shrugged and pulled a 'who'd have thought it' face before turning and making her way down the corridor. "See you around, Alex! Nice talking to you!" she called, holding up a hand and waving as she walked away, leaving Alex's heart pounding.

Kubra knew what he was doing. Alex was strong and could take any kind of physical pain if she had to. But when it came to her emotions? He'd seen the playful laughter and the glances between her and Piper all those years ago. He'd seen her trying to teach Piper poker, patiently explaining the rules. When Piper had left her, he had seen the dark circles and the redness around her eyes. He had told her that it was probably for the best, that she was getting too close, she'd had a lucky escape, that the girl would have been her downfall.

Apparently there was still time.

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