Alex wakes you when the sky is still a sea of indigo shadows, before the morning shift change in the bubble can land either of you in trouble. Instead of sending you back to your own cube, though, she gets up, too, trades pajamas for towels, and coaxes you toward the showers.

You woke up once before, in the middle of the night, with Fahri's laughter rattling in your brain. But Alex was there beside you. She was warm and whole, and the last thing you remember before you fell back to sleep is her voice murmuring in your ear. I've got you, kid.

Suzanne is polishing the bathroom floors when you arrive, but she takes one look at the two of you and begins to squeeze out her mop. "I see you've been following my advice," she says, pointing to her own eyes, then Alex's. She widens her gaze in the direction of your chest. You know she's referring to your titties—specifically, how nice they are and how often Alex should tell you so.

"I have," Alex says gravely. "Thank you."

With a nod and a sweeping bow, Suzanne wheels her bucket out into the hallway.

"I do love your tits," Alex says, once the bathroom is empty.

You grin, stepping into her personal space. "Yeah?"

"Why do you think I couldn't stay in that bunk any longer?" She cups your breasts through your towel, brushing her thumbs over your nipples as they stiffen against the terrycloth.

"Because you missed my winning personality," you say. "Duh."

Alex shrugs, making an exaggerated Meh sound.

You laugh, shoving her backwards into a freshly scrubbed shower stall. "Asshole," you say, but you kiss her before she can answer, long and hard. There's at least twenty minutes before anyone else will be up and using the bathroom, and you plan to make the most of every single one of them.

Alex untucks the towels from your bodies, tossing them over the stall divider, and reaches behind you to turn the water on. It's freezing for a split second, and you jump together, stifling your laughter and shrieks, until her back smacks wetly against the tiles and you've practically climbed up her torso to escape the stream. As she laughs, you press your lips to hers.

Maybe the shower can be your happy place, still.

While the water warms, you drop your mouth to her neck and your hand to her waist. You tease from her belly button to the dark curls between her legs, sucking at the pulsepoint beneath her ear. When you reach your destination, you find she's already soaked, shower or no shower. You wonder how long she's been awake, appreciating your so-called titties—if she even slept at all after your nightmare.

You'll make it up to her, you decide, as you drag one taunting finger through her wetness and over her clit. Alex sighs, her head lolling back to the wall as you cup her with your hand, then slide your fingers inside.

You've missed this. You've missed it so badly that you just stay still inside her, reveling in her tight warmth and the way her breath hits your neck in hot, impatient bursts.

"Piper," she says, from beneath hooded lids, digging her fingernails into your back.

Your make her wait another moment, until her brow creases in need and a demanding moan escapes her lips. You fuck her as she rocks against your palm, water clinging to your eyelashes and running in rivers down your face, between your mouths, slickening your bodies as they grind against one another. She bites your shoulder hard when she comes, and you wonder if it will leave a mark.

You kind of hope so.

When her legs stop shaking, she pulls you in for a kiss so deep it makes you dizzy. You aren't sure you can stay upright, not when she kisses you like that, but she swaps your places so it's you who leans back into the wall. She drops to her knees beneath the shower stream, her eyes holding yours as surely as her fingers grip your thighs. She doesn't let your gaze fall when she nudges your legs apart, or when she leans in and licks a line of fire across your hips, or when she finally, finally, finally dips her head lower.

You cry out as she laps at you, louder than you know is wise, but you can't bring yourself to care. Alex is all you can think about—the way her tongue drives you mad and her stare bores into your soul. It's only when she pushes her fingers inside you that your eyes clench shut. And then you can't think about anything at all.

You lose track of how many times you come, Alex's forearm pinning your hips to the wall and her fingers curled inside you.

She seems to sense when you can't take any more, when you're just a single orgasm from unconsciousness, because at last she stands, holding your quaking body steady as she straightens. Alex kisses both your closed eyes, then rests her forehead against yours.

While you gasp for air, you think of a hundred beautiful things to say to her. A thousand eloquent ways to tell her how much you love her and how much you've missed this. Missed her. In your mind, you toy with all the vows you could make and the radiant, resplendent words that would bring them to life.

When you finally open your mouth to speak, though, this is what your sex-muddled brain spews out: "I never meant to pick Larry."

She flinched at his name. You put a hand to your furrowed forehead, as if the motion could block out your blunt, graceless words. Alex deserves an apology sooner rather than later, you know that. But you did not mean to do it like this. You consider making a joke about the unnatural proximity of your foot to your mouth, but this is too important to obscure in self-conscious humor. If you and Alex are going to move forward—if you have any hope for a real future, beyond fucking in shower stalls—you can't cover up the second biggest mistake of your life.

Your final betrayal has been the elephant in the room for days—months, really, if you count the time you spent down the hill—and you are determined to grab this particular emotional chaos by the tusks even if it tramples you to death.

Alex steps back slightly, shrugging, and you grab her wet hands to keep her from fleeing. A chill ripples over your skin at her distance, though the shower water is still warm. "I was never choosing him," you rush to say, your heart in your throat. "I was choosing stability. A predictable life."

An impassive mask slides over her face. She looks down at your hands in hers, as if she's planning to pull away.

But she stays still. She listens.

"The last time I went freefalling with you, we ended up in prison. I mean, you started talking about Cambodia and ecstasy and... I just panicked. I always felt so out of control back then. I was terrified of hopping on a runaway train again." You lick your dry lips, desperate for her to understand. "Even as I was doing it, Alex, I knew it was bullshit. Who chooses an easy life over one that's worth living?"

Tears threaten to bubble over inside you, but you shove them down. This apology is supposed to be for Alex, not for you. You will not resort to manipulating her with your sadness.

"I'm so sorry, Al," you whisper, staring at a freckle on her shoulder to keep the bathroom from swimming. When she slips her hands from yours, you risk a panicked glance up at her face.

Alex is watching you with pained, loving eyes. "I know," she says, her voice thick. "I'm sorry too, kid."

"What?" You interrupt, incredulous. "No—"

"Yes," she says firmly, reaching around you to turn off the water. "I didn't mean to make you feel like you had no say in how our life would be." She runs a thumb over your cheek. "If you want to do yoga on the beach with three strangers in drag instead of doing X, Pipes, I'm cool with that. If you want to remodel a bathroom..." She trails off, smirking. "...I'm sure your mother has one you can help her with."

You wrap yourself in your towel, laughing through the remnants of the tears you were holding in. You punch her playfully in the arm.

Alex catches your fist and uses it to tug you against her, arms around your waist. "You're in control now, kid," she says softly, her lips over your neck. "We both are. I don't have a fucking clue what I'm doing. Look where I got us. If you want to live a different kind of life than we had before, I wanna hear your ideas." She leans away, grimacing, and holds up a stern finger. "No Tevas."

You pull her back into your arms, grinning so hard it hurts. "Deal," you say.

In the breakfast line, you chat with Sophia and Sister Ingalls as the morning sunlight streams in from high, steel-fenced windows. You mean to eat with them—you really do. But when you reach the end of the counter, Alex is watching you from where she sits with Morello and Yoga Jones. She winks, coffee in one hand, and you take an involuntary step in her direction.

"Go on, girl," Sophia says. She laughs as she nudges you toward Alex with her shoulder. "But you owe me the full report at lunch."

Alex pats the stool next to her as you approach, and today you don't even try to conceal your joy as you slip onto it. You aren't sure how you got here, to this magical place where Alex saves seats for you and tangles your fingers in hers under tables.

You do know that you don't ever plan to leave, not even once you're free from Litchfield and could go anywhere in the world. Especially not then.

Taystee sits down on the other open stool beside you, which elicits low grumblings about tribes from a table of black girls next door. She rolls her eyes and holds up a hand in their direction, as in talk to the. "I call dibs on Miss Claudette's blanket," she says, pointing at you with her toast.

You frown, scooping up a spoonful of bland oatmeal. "What? No way."

"Don't even try to tell me you need it now that you moving in with Vause. Girl gonna keep you warm all night." She does a humping dance on her stool, complete with stomping feet. Poussey snickers at the adjacent table, leaning over to wiggle her fingers with Taystee's in appreciation.

You think about hiding in your scrambled eggs, but they don't smell particularly fresh. "How did you—?"

"That shit is written all over your face, Taylor Swift." Taystee clears her throat and sings in a nasally, uptight falsetto. "'Today was a fairytale...'"

You bury your face in your hands, groaning.

But it's okay. Because as the table dissolves into cackles around you, Alex's fingertips ghost over the small of your back. And when you peek at her through your fingers, the smile she wears is just for you.

While the others fling Taylor Swift lyrics at each other like missiles, Alex leans toward you between sips of coffee. "I have something of yours to return," she says, reaching into the chest pocket where her prison badge is clipped. From her pocket emerges a photograph. No—the photograph. The one of you together on the beach in Bali, looking as blithe and incandescent as if the world and everything in it had been created solely for the purpose of your love. Alex holds it out to you beneath the formica tabletop. "Figure I've held it captive long enough."

You stare at the girls in her hand, blissfully unaware of their futures, and wonder how you were ever that young. How she was ever that invincible. The picture's corners are more worn now than when you slipped it into The Sound and the Fury all those months ago—its creases more prominent. But you suppose that's only fitting. You're more worn now, too, and so is the glib, blue-haired mastermind captured beside you in the camera's lens.

And the love that shines out from the glossy image—the one you thought you'd never see again, except here in the rectangular confines of memories—it's been frayed and jaded, too. But perhaps, you think, as you glance up at Alex—just maybe—it's been worn to a polish.

You touch her wrist, pushing her hand back to her lap. "I already had Cal send me another one," you admit sheepishly. "So that's yours, if you want it." Alex had never been one for sentimental tokens, but the erosion of the once-crisp corners tells a different story.

Her eyes narrow, teasing you, but the pleasure on her face is unmistakable. "You did? When?" She tucks the photo back into her pocket.

"The day after I got out of the SHU. It's one Polly took of us in the city, at that first party we threw." You give her a small smile. "So I guess we've both been harboring secrets in our lockers."

She smirks, raising an eyebrow suggestively. "I've been harboring more than that," she says.

The innuendo in her voice makes your blood rise. "Me too," you manage to say, your breath caught in your throat. You hide your flushing face with a sip of water, which you promptly swallow the wrong way.

Alex laughs as Taystee claps you on the back. "You a'ight there, killer?" Taystee says, eyeing you as you splutter.

"Ya know, breathing is hard when you're so exhausted," Morello says with a grin. She crouches close to the table to deliver her gossip, glancing conspiratorially between members of her audience. "Somebody was in the showers before dawn this morning."

Her words bring a fresh round of whooping and catcalls and congratulatory winks.

Nicky sinks onto the seat next to Lorna, and the buzz at the table quiets a notch. You're grateful for the respite, until Nichols spears a potato cube on her tray and gives you a pointed look. "Now, College," she says, gesturing at you with her spork, "I don't have to give you the shotgun speech, do I?"

Alex frowns, but you rest your hand on her leg. "The one where you tell me you'll chase me down with your double-barrel if I get Alex pregnant?" you say to Nicky.

She doesn't smile. "Something like that, yeah."

"No," you say seriously, looking her in the eye. "I'd hunt myself down first."

Nicky holds your gaze for a long moment. You try to call every one of your feelings for Alex to the surface for her perusal. Nichols may never be your favorite inmate, thanks to her taste in Christmas gifts, but she's important to Alex. And every time it's counted, she's been there for you, too. At last, Nicky nods. "In that case," she says to the rest of the table, "I've got a bowl of extra-fine Corn Flakes I'm looking to trade for some non-dairy creamer. Who wants in?"

As she turns to the others, you let out a breath you didn't realize you were holding. Alex seems to have noticed, though, because she leans over to kiss the hair at the back of your neck. She squeezes your thigh beneath the table—three times exactly.

Morello offers Nicky some of the Coffeemate she bought last week, and soon the conversation devolves into who is more of a Commissary ho—Lorna, or the new white girl with a face tattoo of a dolphin.

Their voices fade into the background of your mind as you watch Alex. She's so striking when she talks—so stunning when she laughs—and you can't comprehend how you ever, ever let her go.

You know there is still so much left unsaid. There are still so many hurts unatoned for and plans unmade, and still so many mountains to climb before you're free. But for now, in this moment, you're happy just to look at her.

The rest will come.

You've got time.

Well, this is the end! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks so much to everyone who's come along for the ride, and special thanks to those of you who have taken (or are about to take) the time to leave a comment—I can't tell you how much I appreciate it :) Also, my endless gratitude goes to Arbryna and Spiffy for taking a look at this last chapter before I posted it.

I have to go on a bit of a hiatus from writing fic to focus on writing my thesis for grad school, since all my free time for the past several weeks has been completely absorbed by Alex and Piper. Not that I'm complaining, but I would very much like to graduate at some point ;) I'm hoping to eventually come back to this universe, either in one-shots or a sequel. The former would be added here as new standalone chapters, while the latter would be posted as a separate story. I don't know for sure if I'll be able to make either of those things happen, but if you want them I will try! :)

I'll still be around lurking and reading, so don't be a stranger. I feel like I don't have nearly enough OITNB fandom friends, so please feel free to PM, tweet, stalk, etc. ;)