The only reason why Piper couldn't hear the sound of bone against bone, the sound of her fists colliding with the side of Pennsatucky's head, the sound of blood splattering across the surrounding snow, was because her heart was pounding so loud inside her skull that she thought that at any minute now, it would just explode. Blood coursed through her veins, thick and heavy, as anger boiled inside her stomach, refusing to ease off even after the twentieth punch to Pennsatucky's nose.
She drew her hand back for the umpteenth time and curled her fingers into her palm, so tight that her nails broke through the skin. But just as she was about to bring it down again for yet another bone-crunching attack, something caused her to fly backwards and land on her side with a heavy thud. The sudden impact caused the air to be ripped from her lungs and she gasped loudly, her chest rattling in pain as she struggled to breath.
Before she had the chance to recover, a heavy weight suddenly pressed down against her torso and two hands landed on her chest. Piper tried to swing her arms upwards in order to push Pennsatucky away from her but she was horrified to find that she was pinned to the ground, and then out of nowhere, somebody was in her face, and that's when she realised that it wasn't Pennsatucky. It was Alex.
Alex... Alex shouting... Alex in her face... Alex.
"Can you hear me? Piper, stop!"
Piper thrashed from side to side in an attempt to escape but Alex's grip merely tightened in response and then suddenly, a hand collided with the side of her face. Her head jarred to the right until her cheek came in contact with the cold, wet snow. And then, as if a switch had gone off inside her head, Piper closed her eyes and ceased all movement.
The only sound that broke the silence was the soft crunching of snow around her body. Somebody else was there but Piper couldn't bring herself to open her eyes.
"Shit Vause, I think she's dead, Chapman's fucked!"
Dead...? No, it couldn't be possible. "I barely touched her..." Piper murmured groggily.
The weight above her shifted as Alex repositioned her body, although Piper could still feel the tension inside her former girlfriend's muscles.
"Nicky, calm down, please, we need to do something."
Crunch crunch crunch...
"I'm being serious. Punch her. Now!"
"What the fuck would that achieve?"
Piper murmured something under her breath as she tried to roll away from the situation, away from Alex and Pennsatucky, away from her life. All the energy and adrenaline that was previously coursing through her body had suddenly been zapped away and... what the hell were they talking about? Punching her?
"Vause, just fucking-" Nicky's demand died on her lips as a loud chorus of screams erupted from inside the building, followed by clapping and cheering. "Now or never!"
Piper opened her mouth to say something, anything, even if it didn't make any sense... but something hard suddenly collided with her nose and her mouth immediately started to fill up with blood. Her head lolled backwards as it trickled from her nose.
"Get the fuck away from her, Nicky. I mean it."
"Vause, if they come out of there and see Pennsatucky dead and Piper... Piper without so much as a scratch on her, she might as well be dead. So fucking hit her or your girlfriend is as good as gone, and you'll never see her-!" She didn't need to continue. Alex got the message.
Piper's head spun. The pain was unbearable. She tilted her head to the side and spluttered noisily, blood spraying from her nose and mouth, further tainting the already tainted snow.
"I'm so sorry, Pipes," Alex whispered desperately, her voice cracking mid-sentence.
But Piper wasn't listening.
Not when another fist collided with her cheekbone.
She was finally put out of her misery when everything turned black.
The harsh sound of metal scraping against metal echoed around the hollow room as the door to Piper's prison cell opened. She turned her head, just slightly, in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the intruder, however; her interest peaked quickly and she immediately turned her attention back to the patch of discoloured wall in front of her.
"Chapman!" the intruder shouted. The loud, unexpected bellow made her flinch. She recognised whom it belonged to though: Mendez. Piper suddenly found herself wondering whether or not he still had his moustache and for a split second, she was half tempted to look and find out. She didn't though, in fact, she didn't even acknowledge him. "Get up. You're done in here."
Piper didn't move. She was tired and all she wanted to do was sleep, and even though she hated the SHU, she couldn't think of anything worse than returning to the main block and joining everybody else. So instead, Piper scrunched up her face and pushed it further into the bend of her elbow in an attempt to block out the fluorescent light that engulfed her.
However, when a rough hand suddenly grabbed her by the wrist and jostled her upwards, Piper realised that her lack of cooperation was not going to work in her favour today. She desperately tried to jerk her hand away from him but he responded by tightening his grip and quickly dragging her away from the bed. She tried to brace herself for the impact that she knew was about to come but it was a futile attempt, and as a result, her body landed on the cold, hard floor with a loud thump. A pained grunt vibrated at the back of her throat, which prompted a small, satisfied smirk on Mendez' face as he yanked her to her feet.
"What's the matter, Chapman?" Mendez spat, "Not excited to see your dirty cunt fucking friends?"
Piper swallowed thickly and shook her head. She didn't want to see anybody. She wanted to stay here, in SHU, forever and ever. Or at least until everybody she knew was already out. She squirmed and jerked, and screamed for him to let her go but he held on and with the aid of another officer, he pulled her out of the cell and eventually, outside of the building.
The great outdoors hit Piper like a tonne of bricks. She spun her head from left to right as she tried to take as much of it in as possible but it was an overload to her senses and very quickly it became too much. She clamped her eyes shut as her knees buckled underneath her tired frame; however, Mendez refused to stop and continued to drag her along instead, ignoring her whimpers and cries of protest.
"I can't go back, please, don't make me go back!" Piper kicked towards the ground in an attempt to bury her heels in the gravel but there was no way she could put up a fight against Mendez' huge frame, "I can't see them, I can't see her!"
Not Alex, not Pennsatucky, not her Jesus loving friends... Beads of sweat formed along her brow as tears crept into the corners of her eyes but no matter how loud she begged, she was still thrown onto the van to be transported back.
The first person that she saw was Morello. Lovely, sweet, Morello. She didn't say much but she did offer a loving, kind-hearted smile. Typical Morello, full of sympathy and worry. Unfortunately, it did nothing to ease Piper's nerves.
She shuffled into the building, one hand wrapped protectively around her midriff whilst the other rubbed and pinched at the bridge of her nose. There was a loud and unrelenting banging inside her head, which she could only assume was due to the copious amount of stimuli that was currently attacking her senses.
Piper was ushered into a room, where she was to stay until she was assigned a bunk. Yeah, she knew the drill but it didn't make it any easier. She would have preferred to crawl back under the covers of the bed that she'd spent the last two months sleeping on, back in SHU. At least she was alone there, alone with her unforgiving thoughts.
"It's lunch time, Chapman," Morello said softly, "You must be hungry."
"Starving," Piper answered bluntly, "But I'm going to give it a miss."
It hurt to talk. Her throat felt barren and unused. She coughed in a futile attempt to clear her throat before turning her back on Morello. It took a few moments for the other woman to get the hint and leave but when she did, Piper's shoulders sunk forehead and she dropped her head against the cool metal frame of her bed. She just needed to sleep.
So she did, until she jolted herself awake at a time she couldn't determine. She wasn't used to sleeping in the dark and for a moment, she found herself beginning to panic until she remembered where she was and what was happening. But as the panic started to subside, the throbbing sensation in her bladder took over.
Piper swung her legs over the side of the bed and jumped down from the top bunk. The other occupants of the room were in bed but beginning to stir so she could only assume that she'd slept through the entire previous day and that it was now approaching breakfast time. She didn't wait to find out though and made a mad dash for the nearest bathroom.
She paid no heed to the other inmates that were hovering by the sinks and instead, rushed into the first unoccupied cubicle that she came across, and landed heavily on the toilet. Only then did she realise that she'd forgotten to grab her own personal roll of toilet paper.
"Shit," She cursed for the second time that morning. It was clearly not going to be a good day.
It wasn't the end of the world though. She hovered for a few seconds longer than necessary before pulling up her underwear and exiting the stall. Once she'd adjusted her nightgown, Piper lifted her head and stopped dead in her tracks as she locked eyes with Nicky's via the bathroom mirror.
She opened and closed her mouth in a desperate bid to say something to end the uncomfortable silence that had suddenly swamped them but her throat was tight and, out of nowhere, breathing became the hardest task in the world.
"Piper..." Nicky said softly, yet with an underlining sense of authority behind her words, "You okay?"
No... no, I'm not okay. I feel sick. I can't breath. I think I'm going to – Piper charged forward and grabbed the edge of the sink as her stomach leapt towards her throat. She retched loudly and although nothing appeared, she continued to do so. A gentle hand against the small of her back caused her body to stiffen but in the same turn, her throat loosened and she released a heavy sigh.
"I'm sorry," Piper mumbled under her breath, "I taste bile."
"That's what you get when you don't eat anything and then dry heave into a bathroom sink."
Piper knocked the faucet on and immediately dunked her mouth underneath the cold stream of water. She gargled it noisily and then spat it back out again before straightening up to face the mirror... and Nicky.
"Feel better?" Nicky asked as she lowered her hand.
It was the truth. In fact, if Piper was being honest, she felt ten times worse. But Nicky didn't need to know that.
She pushed her fingers through her messy, unkempt hair and then turned towards the exit but of the corner of her eye, she saw her old friend (was she a friend?) reach towards her and then falter at the last minute. When she dropped it back to her side, Piper released a soft sigh in relief.
"I'm going back to bed. Catch you later, maybe?"
She didn't wait around to hear Nicky's response.
Lunchtime rolled around and Piper finally decided that she needed to make an effort to eat something. She hoped she could sneak in and out again, undetected, but after one quick peek at the entrance and realising that Mendez was on duty, she knew that wouldn't be possible. She shot him an irritated glance as she walked by but then promptly lowered her head to allow her hair to fall down and around her face.
Piper watched her feet as she walked. One step after the other... don't look, keep walking... almost there. She could sense that her reappearance had garnered her a lot of attention. But she refused to look and refused to acknowledge, as she shuffled awkwardly across the room with her hands stuffed uncomfortably inside her pockets.
She knew that Alex would be in there and she also knew that she would be one of the many people that was watching her, probably with Nicky, and Morello, and heck, even Big Boo. And as much as she wanted to look at Alex and silently plead for a cuddle, and words of affection, Piper knew that it would only steam-roll her into a blubbering mess.
They'd ended on a bad note. Alex didn't want her around anymore and Piper could hardly blame her. But although Alex had warned her away and told her on numerous occasions that she wasn't allowed to approach her for help, Alex had been there during the aftermath of her fight with Pennsatucky. She'd been helping, maybe... Piper couldn't really remember. The memories from that night were fuzzy at best, and complicated, especially anything that happened between the time that she blacked out and the time that she woke up in the SHU, wrapped up in bandages.
Piper was yanked from her thoughts when her tray of food was placed on the surface in front of her. She grabbed it carefully and then weaved her way through the crowds of people until she found an unoccupied seat, as far away from as many people as possible. She ended up sitting across from Yoga Jones, who offered quiet words of support and encouragement but Piper merely responded with a polite, tight smile. Eventually Yoga Jones got the hint.
After she'd forced herself to silence her grumbling stomach with a slice of stale bread, Piper went to stand; however, when a head of dark hair and a pair of thick-rimmed glasses stepped into view, Piper froze in place like a deer caught in headlights. Her hands began to shake uncontrollably and her tray of half-eaten food clattered noisily onto the table, spilling its contents all over the floor. The commotion caused too many heads to turn in their direction.
"Pipes, can we talk?"
No... I mean, yes, wait – not now, maybe later...? No. Talking to you is not a good idea. Her mind was a flurry with thought. So much so that she forgot to verbalise any of it, and instead just stared at Alex with her mouth agape. The taller woman took a step closer and Piper responded by nervously taking a few shaky steps backwards.A frown flitted across Alex's face as she held up her hands in an attempt to convince Piper to calm down but Piper could tell and feel that her own face was alight with a bundle of emotion.
"It's okay, kid. I just want to talk."
Kid. It was so easy to slip into old habits.
"I've got to go, I'm sorry."
Piper spun on her heel and hurriedly ran out of the canteen area, as fast as she could go without earning a shot from her favourite CO.