A/N: Sorry for the long wait. I hope to update this at least twice a month. Thank you for all the thoughtful feedback, you guys make me want to be a better writer. As for the bumpy plot, this is ultimately a Piper/Alex fanfic, so have faith.

Chapter 6

Alex sauntered her way towards the bar. Her white sleeveless shirt showing off her fair shoulders. Her skin gleamed like the moon against the blood rose tattoo. She wore suspenders to layer with the white top, dark blue jeans, suede black boots and a grin.

The caramel blonde swung her eyes towards the approaching ebony-haired woman, a small smile played across her pink glossed lips.

Alex felt the quick, stealthy eye frisk from the blonde and thought, this girl is a pro. And judging from the slim titanium Piaget time piece that slung around the blonde's wrist and the whiff of Chanel No. 5 that veiled the air, Alex knew this was the type of girl she would've scoped out and sweet talked into muling for her back in her old life.

Well, that's the old life. Now that the swirling blackness in her mind is receding, the numbing void of prison retracted like waves rolling back to the sea. Alex doesn't care if the clearing left her marooned on sand or concrete. As long as it is her own ground, fuck everything else.

'Enjoying the scenery?' Alex dove right in with a half smirk.

'Much,' the woman said without a trace of embarrassment. Her caramel locks cascaded in sleek waves, a coiffed disheveled mane. She had a small, heart-shaped pixie face. Her eyes were twin torches of emerald that teetered between wide-eyed innocence and mischief.

'I'm Francesca.' The blonde said, her gaze grazed Alex's lips before looking into the eyes of the brunette.

'Alex.'Alex said as she took the empty bar stool beside Francesca and settled her bottle of lager inches near the woman's wrist.

'Alex,' the woman rolls in her tongue, feeling the name for the first time. 'Can I get you a drink?' Francesca asked, her finger tips tracing the shape of Alex's beer bottle.

'No, thank you. But maybe I can get you something you want?' Alex said, an arched brow declaring who is in charge of this tussle.

'Hmm, you don't happen to be carrying a jet plane in your pocket?'

'No, just fresh out of jet planes. But I do have something in my pocket that can turn zero to sixty.'

'I'm impressed. You just discovered iPhone's calculator app.'

Alex's deep, throaty laugh took Francesca by surprise. From the elegant way the brunette carried herself, she thought she would get a mild chuckle. She wasn't prepared for the careless, unabashed and completely disarming chortle.

Francesca took a breath and made up her mind.

'I have an idea…' the blonde ventured and turned on her seat to fully face Alex, her knees almost grazing the brunette's thighs. 'Guess three facts about me and I'll take you for a spin on my ride.'

'Hmm... intriguing,' Alex said, shifting her eyeglasses on top of her head to peer intently at the blonde. 'But you need to work the part on why I want this incentive. '

'Let's just say… turning zero to ten thousand is me being modest.'

'Are you fucking kidding me?'

Fran replied with a shrug. 'Only one way to find out, right?'

Alex slid her glasses back on top of her nose and took in every detail of the blonde. At first glance, she looked like an average sorority girl coated with thick syrupy saccharine, but years of deciphering women made Alex wary of the obvious. She learned the hard way how women, no matter how sweet, have their own grade of toxicity. The question is whether they are good at containing it or not.

'It's your first time here, otherwise you would know not to order the whiskey sour. You like women. You play bait and wait if they will come to you. Recently unattached, you are looking for something with no strings, but enough pull to excite you.'

'Holy. Shit. How did you figure the last one?'

'Left hand, third finger. Your skin is lighter where a ring used to be.'

'You must be a trained spy or something.'

'No..' Alex said with a casual shrug. 'Just your garden variety four-eyed music shopkeeper who observes customers.'

'Girl, if you are garden variety, the rest of 'em are compost,' Francesca made a vague gesture towards group of suit and tie men who had been avidly eyeing them both.

'Did you just call those guys shit?'

'No, I'm calling you hot.'

Francesca's forthright admission was a breath of fresh air for Alex. Though she typically gravitates towards shy sexy women, forthright and sexy has its rewards.

'You are not half bad yourself,' Alex winked, taking in the tan, toned arms of the blonde and the hint of enticing cleavage that peeked from a low neck black shirt.

A comfortable silence settled between the two women. Each one taking a moment to openly admire the other. It was easy and comfortable until Alex spied a couple of twenty-something suit and tie men making decisive strides towards their direction. The tall, mud-brown haired guy caught Alex looking and gave her a blindingly cheesy grin.

'What do you say about getting outta here and claiming your prize,' said Francesca who also saw the approach of impending testosterone.

'I'd say you've read my mind.'

.

.

Alex didn't know what to expect. She usually takes the lead in each dance, whether it is recruiting a mule, or luring a woman into her bed. Though she never has a script or an MO, she always knew how to play it by ear.

And right now her ear is telling her to take control of the situation.

After a quick goodbye to her friends and entrusting her Ducati bike to Trojan, Alex was led to a building a few blocks away from the bar. The building was one of those vintage, iron-cast structures that had seen its glory days. Alex faintly recalls this was one of those old vacant buildings that usually had a no-trespassing sign and security at the front. She was surprised at the ease in which they got inside.

'Parking lot on the top floor?' Alex asked as Francesca pressed the button on the elevator.

'You'll see,' was all Fran said as they got in the lift. The blonde pulled out a slim flip phone hidden inside her jacket's inner pocket. 'Eduardo, let's go,' she commanded to the person on the phone.

They stepped off at the twenty-fifth floor.

'C'mon,' Fran held out her hand. Her wide pink-lipped smile and merry emerald eyes hinting that Alex was about to get a treat.

Alex firmly grasped the proffered hand. She was cool to the touch. Nervous?

Fran pulled her to a flight of stairs into the roof deck. Upon stepping into the paved clearing, Alex was engulfed by the immense ceiling that is the night sky. Though the city smog layered the inky blackness, the pin pricks of flickering stars shone bright, like a hundred paparazzi clicking away in some distant universe.

For a fleeting moment, Alex felt a twinge of something akin to regret that the friends she left behind in Litchfield won't be seeing this view in years, maybe a decade. She almost felt bad that she personally put Piper in a box that will keep her from seeing this beautiful sky. Then she remembered.

I was the binky. She only chose me when she thought Larry was gone. But when he came back… She should've just said she wanted to nest in her Park Slope fantasy and not throw me a bone like that. I ruined her life? Hell no. She fucking ripped mine.

'Never seen stars before?' Fran teased as she observed Alex who seemed burning a hole in the sky with blazing green grey eyes.

'It's just… been a while,' said Alex quietly, trying to compose herself.

'Well, when was the last time you tried something for the first time?'

'Isn't that an ad?'

'No, it's my motto. Here's our ride.'

Alex felt Francesca's ride before she saw it. It was a good thing she wasn't wearing a skirt, otherwise the sudden gust of wind would've overturned any dignity she had. The thundering whirr of rotor blades invaded Alex's ears. The dust on the floor swirled and rose in disarray. Alex's hair whipped off her shoulders. She glanced at the blonde whose hair billowed like a golden cape. The very ground rumbled as it received the weight of a landing helicopter. After the rotor blades slowed to a halt, the night's silence rang shrill in Alex's ears.

With its four massive rotor blades and a powerful body gleaming in an onyx finish, the helicopter look like a magnificent hawk waiting for its master.

'Fuck,' was all Alex could muster.

'I'll take that as a favorable response,' Fran said as she offered her hand. 'Shall we?'

.

.

And they were off, maybe 15,000 feet into the air. Beyond the 10,000 that Francesca promised. The vehicles crawling along lower Manhattan were reduced into palm sized toy cars. The tapestry of glittering stars and drifting clouds become immense, clearer and ever near. Alex mused if took a leap now, the thick velvet fabric of the night sky would catch her.

A slow contented smile crept up on Alex's face. Fuck yeah. This is free falling bitch.

Alex felt a sudden lurch in her stomach when the chopper made a swift plummet in mid air.

'What the-'

Francesca guffawed at Alex's stricken look.

'Relax..Eduardo is just teasing you. See? Smooth sailing again.'

The chopper was back to its slow steady pace. Alex cursed herself for losing her cool. She is usually unfazed but maybe prison made her soft.

'Don't ever fucking do that again!' Alex hollered over the thundering rotor noise as she slammed her palm against the back of the leather seat where the pilot sat.

'Si señora, my apologies. I thought you were tough lady.' Gruffed Eduardo behind a closed smile. With his shiny bald head and musculature reminiscent of Vin Diesel, Eduardo looked more like a bodyguard than a pilot. 'Lady Fran usually likes her women strong like Amazon.'

'Eduardo. Fly more. Talk less. Comprendez?' Francesca's tone was cooler than the night air.

'Apologies, Lady Fran.'

'What?' Fran asked at the curious stare of Alex.

'Oh forgive my peasant manner mah Lady.' Alex said in a mock southern belle accent. 'My humble cow milker's upbringing didn't prepare me for dealing with royal asses who accost Amazon women.'

Fran grinned. 'Sorry to burst your low born bubble, but Lady Fran is just Eduardo's nickname for me. And though I do get attracted to tall, tough women, it would be a stretch to say they all hail from an ancient race of women warriors.'

'Tattoos gave me away? Too urban to be a powerful, ancient warrior?'

Fran took in Alex's blood rose tattoo. The smooth pale skin against it gleamed luminous. Almost like magic.

'You have power, Alex.' Francesca murmured appreciatively. 'You radiate it when you prowled towards me, like an elegant lioness. '

'Lioness?' Alex snorted at the metaphor and chewed on it. 'Well in the old days, I pounce.'

'Well, shall we bring back the old Alex then?'

Suddenly, Francesca's lips were inches away. Slightly parted. Waiting.

Hovering in the sky, a backdrop of constellations softly illuminating the beautiful woman before her, Alex thought it was time to be fully in this moment. It was time to stop punishing herself for whatever wrong she did in the past. She is who she is. Proud, unashamed and free.

And so Alex pounced.

.

.

.

How the heck did I get into this situation?

Piper wondered. She was bound to a chair. A thick nylon rope coiled tightly at her wrists, locking her arms and hands behind a steel chair. There was a butcher's table on the far corner of the room, a stainless steel knife poked out from a wooden chopping board. Overhead were glaring lights, industrial ceiling fans, and twenty or so dried pork ham, strung around a wire and left hanging like laundry. There were two glass windows, one solid wooden door. A tiny panel near the door showed a small speaker, which presently crackled into life.

'40 more minutes Chapman,' Agent Matthews voice flitted through the speaker. 'Stop over thinking. In real life, you will be tortured for information right away. Make your move.'

'You are supposed to train me Matthews. I need a little bit of instruction here!' Piper demanded. Though she steadily built her strength over the past four weeks (she can even run in the same pace as Watson now), her physicality seemed useless in this situation.

'I gave you all the instruction you need. And that is…get the fuck out in 45 minutes. You already trained your body, time to use that brain of yours.'

Truth be told, other than deciding which wire to cut or strategizing how to catch the chicken that was still playing hide and cluck in the yard, Piper hadn't been using her brain much. Her Neil deGrasse Tyson books gave way to Fifty Shades of Grey as Taystee insisted that they should compete on who reads the book faster.

'35 minutes Chapman. And here I am, thinking you deserve a nice, medium rare porterhouse from Peter Luger. I was going to call someone to get us takeout, but I'm having second thoughts. Do you deserve that porterhouse, Chapman?'

Did he say porterhouse? Juicy soft, stone grilled steak from Peter Luger? Fuck!

'I'm getting outta here Matthews, you better have the porterhouse ready or I will roundhouse kick your ass,' said Piper as she stood up, hunched by the weight of the chair. Thankfully her legs weren't tied, but still, moving with a heavy chair on your back isn't a waddle in the park.

She swiveled around and banged the chair repeatedly against the table. It only succeeded in jolting her spine and making her back hurt. She considered pulling out the knife from the chopping board but didn't trust herself if she could accurately cut the rope from behind without slicing her skin.

Then she saw the dried ham. Its fat glistened under the harsh lights.

Piper tried to stretch up her body straight, straining under the weight of the repressive chair. She remembered the cobra yoga position, uncurling and lengthening her vertebrae inch by slow inch. She reached for the ham with her teeth, bit off a chunk of fat, and spat it over her shoulder. Her hands deftly caught the chunk and now Piper focused on rubbing the fat and letting its oil coat her palms and fingers. Piper changed her posture and let the oil dribble to her wrist.

She bit off another chunk of fat and started all over again.

Piper didn't know if this will work. If she can really slither her way out of the ropes. But she is done sitting around and letting life's prime cut pleasures pass her by.

.

.

.

'Motivation. Anybody could not resist the right motivation, Francesca,' the man on Fran's computer screen rumbled in a soothing, genial baritone. 'Surely after five dates, you would have a full assessment of the woman. Isn't two your batting average?'

Francesca sighed and fidgeted in her office chair. 'Vause is different, sir. She doesn't give anything away. I propose we go for Estelle. She is young, rich and manipulative. And we know she is hungry for more.'

'She is also naïve and inexperienced, didn't you say she disclosed confidential matters only after a few rounds of champagne and coitus?'

Francesca winced at the crassness of the words. Yet she didn't let any trace of distaste seep into her voice.

'Vause is a good candidate, sir. She is perceptive, observant and controlled. But the only reason she was in business in the first place was to get her and her mother out of poverty. Now that her mother is gone, she doesn't want much.'

'She wants something, Francesca. I suspect you're emotional entanglement is clouding your usually keen judgment. Only a few months after Lauren's demise and you are discarding her memory? Weren't you supposed to marry her?'

Francesca stopped breathing. Her fingers clenched against her palms so hard, she almost stopped her blood's circulation.

She wants this done. Just one more assignment, one more betrayal of another person she really liked. Even after years in the business, Francesca has yet to learn the art of steeling herself to survive.

'I'm waiting Francesca. Make your assessment and we can-'

'Self-preservation,' Francesca blurted. 'Alex does what she needs to do to survive. I had a look at her case. She named her drug mules in exchange for a shorter sentence. Maybe she even named a girlfriend or someone close to her heart.'

The man on the screen smiled a razor thin smile. It was cold, metallic and precise.

'Well done, Francesca. Arrange the meet. I'm looking forward to get acquainted with this enigmatic Vause.'

And with that, the screen turned blank.

Francesca slumped on her desk, gripping her head between clawed hands.

I'm sorry, Alex.