Hey guys, I'm back with another one! The idea for this came after watching Taylor Schilling in the short-lived 'Mercy' series, so if you've seen it and notice some parallels or familiar stuff, that would be why. I've had ideas for a lot of AU stories for other fandoms but this is the first I've really worked on and actually written, so if I veer from what you pictured for any character, I suppose I've taken creative liberty. There's a lot of things I've tried to kept true to OITNB, a lot of things I've been inspired by in Mercy, and a lot of things I've deliberately made different, so all I ask is that you keep an open mind and try not to yell too loudly at me for making a mess OTL

'Piper, I don't like this.' Polly Harper squeezed between two men, muttering her apologies as she followed her best friend through Brodie's Scottish Pub's Thursday night crowd. It wasn't packed, exactly, but there were way too many people per square yard as far as Polly was concerned. She liked her space, at least in public, and especially in questionable Scottish bars that she'd never heard of. 'I don't like this. At all.'

Piper Chapman's grin came with a snort. 'Oh, come on Pol, pull the stick out of your ass a few inches.' Resisting the urge to roll her eyes as Polly's fingers tightened like a cuff on her arm — clearly scared she'd get lost like a child in a mall — Piper led her towards the bar, finding a pair of vacant stools near where one of the bartenders stood. She waved at him. 'Hey Pete. One Sam Adams and a Blackfriar,' she said, laughing at Polly's hesitation as she wiggled in her seat.

'What the hell, Pipes,' Polly whined, eyeing the bar counter suspiciously before leaning her elbows on it. 'I haven't seen you in ages because you're always working at the hospital, and when I finally do, you take me to your after-work Paddy McGuire's.'

'Oh. Oh, don't say that, Pol, they're likely to stone you in a pit if you mix them up with the Irish guys,' Piper told her very seriously, grinning at the bartender who set two chilled bottles on the bar for them. 'I, however, will excuse you just this once, because I can appreciate a good drink after a nine hour shift.' Since moving out from her parents', Piper had indulged her taste for just about everything her mother would have frowned upon, including pale ale, lagers, and microbrews. She was nearing the end of her second year of residency at Hudson-Vaucluse Adventist and, only the next block over, Brodie's Scottish Pub — or Brodie's, for the familiar — was the unofficial haunt of the majority of the hospital's medical staff. Piper had never considered herself a pub kind of girl, but Brodie's was the kind of place Polly and her high school friends had never favoured. There was nothing wrong with a good cocktail, but slick and snotty had never been Piper's style, and every second bar from Broadway to the Village seemed to specialise in it. Granted, Polly was her best friend in the history of anything, ever, so Piper humoured her, tolerating the primp and the pretence that came with the obnoxious waiters and the bizarre drinks.

Polly had no such reservations. 'I don't know why you like this place so much,' Polly said, taking a resigned swig of her Samuel Adams. She smacked her lips, then made a face. 'I have no problems with beer, Pipes, but I'd pictured something else when you said you were free to hang out. Cosmos on Fifth, maybe?'

Piper choked on her drink, covering her mouth to hide the dribble of ale that sprayed out in her laughter. 'It's a pub, Pol. They've got vodka if you feel like getting hammered quicker, though.'

'Everyone thinks it's all about the Irish when it comes to the pubs,' the bartender interrupted loudly above the suddenly-cranked up music, winking at Polly, who looked at him as though he advanced with an axe. 'The Scottish have got them tooth and nail, I'll tell you now, lady.'

'But-... But you have an English accent,' Polly pointed out.

'Dad's Scottish,' the bartender replied, 'but my mum's a Pom. Grew up in England.'

'Polly,' Piper said, a sly smile pulling her lips upward, 'this is Pete. Pete, this is my best friend, Polly.'

'You definitely don't work at Hudson,' Pete said with a chuckle, pouring a bourbon and Coke.

Polly flicked her hair over her shoulder, drinking her beer. 'Can you tell?'

'Pete's the bar manager. He knows everyone from the hospital,' Piper explained as she turned, leaning her elbows on the bar and drinking from her bottle of Blackfriar. She nudged Polly, lowering her voice as she leaned over towards Polly's ear. 'And he's single.'

Polly smacked her best friend's arm. 'Don't even go there.'

Piper rolled her eyes then, shaking her head before lifting her bottle to Pete in goodbye as she pulled Polly along to a freed-up booth by the wall. 'Don't rule him out just yet,' she said, sliding into the booth as Polly sat opposite. 'All the nurses love him, and he's totally funny.'

'And totally incapable of maintaining a clean shaven face.'

Groaning, Piper waved over a passing waiter, shaking her bottle slightly to call for another. She turned back to Polly, pointing the open end at her accusingly. 'You just don't like the fact that he works as a bartender.' Polly wasn't a snob, not compared to the people they'd grown up with and the people in their family social circles, but she was a realist in the sense that she knew that love and/or amazing sex did not pay the bills.

'Well, yeah, that's part of it!' Polly agreed, to Piper's obvious chagrin. 'I don't want to date someone who can't make rent, can't take me out to dinner, and thinks I need to put out because I ordered dessert. I don't even believe in marriage, and I like working to support myself and all, but if I wanted to date somebody or God forbid, hitch myself to them forever, I at least want the option of doing the stay-at-home thing!'

'And what, turn into our moms and make wheat-free snacks with the nanny while our husbands bang their sexcretaries?'

Polly gasped loud enough to alert the next table over. 'That is a horrible life I wish on nobody, and you know it!'

Piper shrugged lazily, leaning forward on the table and downing the rest of her beer, examining her nails. 'I'm just saying.'

Med school hadn't always been the plan, or even her idea, but the further along she went, the more Piper realised that it would do her more good than she imagined. Her father was a surgeon, and she'd never possessed the ambition to go beyond a liberal arts degree at a small, but prestigious college in New England somewhere, until she realised that she thrived off the excelling, the drive and the aspiration. She'd never been lousy in class, and straight A's were never too much trouble, but as she grew older, the freedom and benefit of the doubt her parents had granted her began to subside.

It began in the middle of junior high, with an offhand comment from her mother about her future. One comment had turned into more comments, and comments had turned into expectations, and expectations had turned into a life that everyone but Piper had planned. Perfect Piper, good in school, lots of extra-curriculars, likely to get into a good college, get a good husband and have a good life.

Piper didn't want good. She wanted her own life, where she lived on her own terms. She wanted to be able to choose.

Her father had always suggested medicine to her younger brother Cal, who, having dropped out of Brown, spent most of his days smoking weed and running around staging protests with some Greenpeace warrior named Neri, and was more likely to end up being admitted to hospital than working in one. The idea had planted itself in Piper's brain, however, and she'd never looked back. Doing medicine meant that she could keep her parents happy — Daddy's princess was now forever the favourite child for following in his footsteps, and her mother gushed about how smart and striving her only daughter was, albeit accompanied by the constant mention that she needed to find a potential husband sometime — and eventually support herself for the kind of life she wanted.

She wasn't entirely sure about the kind of life she wanted, but Piper sure as hell didn't want the one that had originally been mapped out for her. Becoming a doctor killed a few birds with one stone, and it was always a bonus that not only was she good at it, but she enjoyed it. Residency was never going to be easy, but there was something so unmistakeably satisfying about crash-landing in her bed after enduring monstrous shifts, often filled with more sad stories than happy ones, working harder than she'd ever worked at a desk in school. Piper was doing something, something that seemed to matter, more so than she could have ever hoped for as a trophy-slash-housewife for one of the Fortune 500.

It wasn't as if she didn't like nice things, or didn't want the perks of having money to burn. Piper just wanted to do things on her own terms, and she'd relished the freedom like a zealot once she'd moved out for college.

'Do you know any hot doctors?' Polly asked, tapping her fingernails on the dark wooden table. 'Because you can absolutely hook me up with those.' She looked over at the bar, her nose scrunching. 'Instead of... Pete.'

Piper blew a raspberry. 'Pete is sweet, funny, and mildly attractive. The nurses think he's sexy with the accent and all, so I guess it depends who you ask. You could do a lot worse.'

'Yeah, but I could do a lot better.'

'You, Polly Harper, are a stuck-up bitch.'

'You, Piper Chapman, are a dyke with no real life outside your hospital... And this place.'

'Hey now,' Piper defended, 'I like boys too.'

'I stand corrected,' Polly said. 'You, Piper Chapman, are an equal-opportunity lover with no real life outside your hospital and this sad excuse for a bar.'

'This place is the best.' The waiter returned with a new bottle, and Piper took it gladly. 'I can have a drink and play pool without some jackass advertising executive making passes at me with his shitty power tie.'

'Eight years of med school has changed you,' Polly said sombrely. 'For the better, I admit, but come on, the only clothes you wear are jeans and leather jackets. And hooray for you, choosing between wife-beaters and button-downs. I mean, I don't think I've seen you in a dress since Cal's high school graduation. And you're the only person with a vagina that I know that actually likes playing pool. What kind of debutante are you?' She tilted her head, sipping from her bottle. 'It's good you still wear make-up. And I guess the wifebeaters kind of flatter your chest.'

'What's wrong with my chest?!' Piper exclaimed.

'Oh, you mean besides what's barely there?'

Piper put her hands over her chest defensively, her lips drawn in an O as her brows drew together.

'...Well, they aren't big, but they're pretty, I guess.' Polly burst out laughing, finishing her beer. 'Okay, can I please have something that has hard liquor? I'm gonna need it if you want me to hang out in this place.' She looked to the bar for a waiter, then automatically ducked. 'Oh my God!' Polly hid her face behind one hand, as though it would make her invisible.

Piper only lifted her eyebrows. 'What?'

'Your stupid bartender is looking this way!'

That made Piper sit up. 'Really? Pete?' She craned her neck, only to be yanked down to the tabletop by her shirt front. 'Oof!'

'Don't look!'

'Why?' Piper whined. 'Give Pete the Cute Bartender a shot. Excuse the pun. He'll probably buy you a shot.'

'Pete the Cute Bartender is a bartender. What kind of career choice is that?'

'Have you ever considered the fact that you could get free drinks if you dated him?'

'I'm not sleeping with a guy to get wasted for free!'

'Well, I guess that makes one of us.'

She had enjoyed the beer. A couple of drinks after a long shift were always welcome, particularly with friends. The shots that Polly had demanded they do afterwards, on the other hand, were most definitely a mistake. A throbbing, nauseous mistake.

Piper wanted to roll on her back, but was aware that any sudden movements would probably cause the room to spin. All she'd asked for was to catch up with her best friend, and all she'd gotten were lectures on how she needed to get out more and a hangover. Even in high school, Piper had shown a strange affinity for tequila — something Polly took advantage of. Often.

Way, way too often.

She cursed her airy, well-lit room; the big windows lining the far wall in her bedroom been one of the reasons Piper chose to travel across the length of Manhattan every day rather than live nearer to the hospital. It was a two-bed, two-bath exposed-brick apartment on 7th Street in the East Village, a present for both graduation and for her acceptance at Columbia from her parents — one of the few luxuries her parents afforded that Piper was openly grateful for. Hardwood floors, decked out kitchen, and more space than Piper knew what to do with on her own. No cramped dorms, no questionable roommates, and all the freedom she wanted. All the windows of the apartment faced east, taking all the morning sun and none of the afternoon heat.

Today, however, Piper felt that the sun had no business being so happy and shiny and... Bright. Her shift at work was in the afternoon, so assuming she hadn't slept past twelve, Piper had plenty of time to piece her seemingly-fragmented skull together with aspirin and brood over a bowl of cereal before she headed to the hospital. At least her shift was short, and at the end of it, she was probably going straight to a barstool at Brodie's again anyway, preferably with people who would order her a burger instead of a line of tequila shots.

She blearily glanced at the clock — 10:42am — as her hand groped over the bedside table for her phone, but Piper found a sticky note on the screen.

Left early for work, bought a donut for your fat ass to soak up all the tequila. Call you later! — Pol xx

The donut was a golden, still-warm monstrosity, covered in cinnamon sugar, in a brown paper bag next to a pack of Advil Polly had apparently left out as well. A sober Piper would've been pretty damn sure that the donut was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen — but this was hungover Piper, and so she tucked it back into the paper bag to save it for later in the day when she didn't want to hurl at the thought of swallowing anything but water or painkillers.

Brushing her teeth and hauling herself into the shower, Piper was happy to let the hot water scald her skin, soaking under the spray far longer than necessary. Showers and baths were happy places, where all could be washed away with warmth and delicately scented soap, better than any hospital antibacterial and more satisfying than losing herself in bottle of vodka. Or a bottle of anything, really.

She scrubbed, slowly because her body couldn't go any faster even if she wanted to, rinsing and lathering, repeating a ritual that a million times before had calmed, soothed and cleansed when nothing else had. Some people slept, or wolfed down on a greasy breakfast to cure their hangovers. Piper Chapman bathed. It wasn't a cure-all, but God, Piper knew it should have been.

There was some kind of therapy in it, in letting clean water wash over her — occasionally with someone else — that Piper had never found anywhere else.

'Back again, P?' Pete grinned from behind the bar, smartly sending a waiter with a large glass of iced water in Piper's direction as she plopped into a booth. 'This is a record, even for you.'

'Just feed me, Pete,' Piper groaned, slumping face-down over the table, arms outstretched as her aviators clattered against the wood from her face. 'Just fucking feed me, for the love of God.' She'd devoured the donut on the way, far sooner than she'd planned.

And she was still hungry.

'Regular breakfast sandwich, coming right up.' Pete sent the order to the kitchen and looked around at the empty-ish pub; people came for lunch and breakfast, with more drinks orders coming in after twelve, but until the late afternoon suits and off-duty medical staff straggled in, Brodie's was a relatively calm place, good for quiet meetings or lazy lunches. Or hungover staff from the hospital who needed something to soak up the alcohol from the night before. Rounding the bar, Pete slid into the seat opposite Piper. 'Your friend Polly is nice.'

'Great casual segue, Pete,' Piper mumbled, lifting her head from the table and sitting upright. She rubbed her eyes, folding her sunglasses away; the sun was still being unnecessarily cruel outside, and now the dim lights in the pub seemed out to get her pupils as well. 'I'd give you her number, but she might, you know, smother me in my sleep.'

'Is she single?'

'Are you interested?'

'Are you bringing her down here again anytime soon?'

Piper barked out a laugh, then winced as her own eardrums shirked at the loud sound. 'Um, not unless the prize for your next trivia night is a pair of shoes.'

'Pretty sure I can arrange some Tevas as our grand prize.'

'Oh dear God.'

'How about some Ugg boots?'

'One regular breakfast sandwich, for our favourite pool player-slash-Hudson resident,' another waiter announced as he interrupted, sliding a plate in front of Piper with a wink.

'I only win when I am fairly inebriated,' Piper said, holding a finger up before looking down at the plate; fried eggs and crispy bacon with a slice of cheddar, in a toasty, golden roll. 'I'm pretty sure my arteries are clogging just looking at this thing. God bless it.'

'So it's a go on the Ugg boots, then?' Pete asked.

'...No. It's a no on the Ugg boots, Pete. A spectacularly huge no.' Turning the plate round to find a good angle to start on, Piper hunched down, levelling with the sandwich. 'If I eat it from this side, the bacon might slide out.' She rotated the plate. 'If I start here, the runny eggs might ooze too much to the other side.'

'Are you specialising in breakfast or medicine, P?'

Piper didn't bat an eyelash, poking her sandwich with a fork. 'Go away. Whether my bacon falls out of my sandwich is a serious issue.'

'Are you still drunk?'

Piper did react then, reaching out to smack his arm before he stood from the booth, laughing. He spotted a new group of customers by the bar, making a bee-line for his regular spot behind it to avoid Piper's hand. 'What're you after?' he asked, hopping over the bar counter.

Piper, meanwhile, had returned her attention to the sandwich. Half of it was already gone by the time Pete had pulled out a bottle of Heineken and poured out a row white wine spritzers for the group that had walked in.

'Go easy, you little fatty,' Pete called affectionately from across the room, and Piper gave him the finger as she wiped her mouth, drinking her water in large gulps. She looked at her watch; she still had a little over an hour before her shift started.

'What?' one of the customers, the one who'd ordered the Heineken, asked.

'That little lady right there,' Pete told them, pointing to Piper who was pulling her leather jacket off and heading to the pool tables, 'just took down our giant breakfast sandwich in under five minutes.' It wasn't a new feat for Piper, but for someone her size, it certainly should have been.

Piper shook her head, chuckling as she polished her cue with chalk. 'Seven minutes,' she said, not bothering to look over her shoulder, bending over at the head of the pool table to see if she was centred for the break. 'It was seven minutes — '

'Anything under ten minutes deserves some kind of medal.'

The familiar sound of a beer bottle settling against the wood didn't make Piper look up, and neither did the tall figure that came to stand beside her, but the corner of her lips twitched up as she made practice strokes at the white ball. 'It's a bacon and egg sandwich, not a 10x10 from In-n-Out,' she said, another chuckle coming from her throat but not making it past her lips as she broke the pyramid at the other end of the table. Piper straightened, one hand around her cue, and turned to the stranger. It was a woman; dark hair — almost jet-black— tipped in blue framed a pale, attractive face, and the enviably faultless eyeliner and mascara made sure Piper couldn't quite see the colour of the eyes behind the black-rimmed glasses.

'And what does a East Coaster know about In-n-Out?' the stranger asked, her voice curiously husky and smooth all at once, a smirk curving her red lips with more teasing in her question than any polite conversation warranted. She leaned a hip on the edge of the pool table, her fingers wrapping around the green neck of her Heineken as she took a swill.

Piper tried not to stare, an eyebrow quirking up instead. 'Enough to know the East Coast is deprived of a beautiful, beautiful thing.' New York burgers had their charm — particularly if one knew where to go — but in terms of fast food chains, Piper was willing to admit the West Coast had a little one-up.

The stranger's smirk grew, and something not unpleasant seized in the pit of Piper's stomach. 'Not a totally stubborn New Yorker,' she said, grinning, 'I didn't see that coming.'

'Oh, I'm stubborn, but I'm from Connecticut,' Piper told her, realising that she probably should have moved around to make another shot on the table, but found she was perfectly happy to stay right where she was, where she was within inches of a flirty, attractive woman whose slender shoulders were exposed by her dress, and whose vocal cords seemed to be made of sex. 'You should see me at work.'

'The bartender says you're a doctor at Hudson.'

There was a gleam in the stranger's eyes that made Piper's face grow warm. 'Well, not yet. I'm a resident, actually.'

'You do realise that this is my roundabout way of asking for your name,' the stranger told her with an unashamed grin, laughing as her arms folded over her chest. The sound was comfortable and easy, as throaty and silken as her words, and did nothing to help the sparks that had flickered over Piper's spine. 'Doctor...?'

'Dr. Piper Chapman,' Piper said, only half-succeeding in pushing down the laugh that bubbled up in response. Why was she being so giggly? 'So, who are you? You're not a regular, and you're not from the hospital.' She leaned on her cue slightly, tilting her head with a small smile. 'I'd definitely know you if you worked at the hospital.'

Oh, yes she would.

'I bet.' The stranger's eyes narrowed, but not in an unfriendly way, because her mouth continued to smirk. 'My name is Alex.'

'And what do you do, Alex?' Piper bit the corner of her lip, smiling impishly. 'Besides make fun of strangers in bars.'

'I work for an international drug cartel.'

'...Oh, I see.' Piper snorted softly, moving round the table to make her next shot. 'And how's that going for ya?'

'Pretty swell, I'd say,' Alex replied.

Though Alex smiled, Piper faltered for just a second, having to glance back to assure herself that Alex was only joking.

Wasn't she?

'It's a hell of a pick-up line, though,' Piper said, lowering over the green baize of the table and taking aim, her cue resting on the guide she'd formed with her thumb and the knuckle of her index finger.

'Mm.' Alex followed her around the table, taking her beer and coming to stand behind Piper as she straightened. She leaned over Piper's shoulder, her lips right by her ear. 'But is it working?'

The tiniest shiver ran through her, but Alex withdrew as quickly as Piper turned around to face her. 'I don't know,' she managed to say, hopefully as confidently as she'd intended. 'If you were trying to pick me up, you probably would've bought me a drink by now.'

Piper's confidence backfired when Alex stepped forward again, backing her up against the pool table. 'So what'll you have?' she asked, the smile on her lips reaching her eyes, her words a sultry breath that Piper felt so much as heard.

Settling back, Piper pressed her lips together in a thin smile, her head cocking to the side. 'I can't, I have work in an hour.' Alex was warm and the room was cool and all she wanted to do was press closer — but Piper resisted.

'So I owe you a drink, is that what you're telling me?'

'I think it's safe to say that.'

'Good, so you'll have dinner with me later.'

'L-later?' Piper went stiff, blinking. Alex was forward, if the way that their hips kept brushing was any indication, but didn't people ask other people out for the next day, or the next Friday, or the next weekend? 'Like, today, later?'

One of Alex's perfectly shaped brows arched upward, but her lips curved in amusement. 'Yeah?'


'Is that not a good time, or is that your way of telling me no?'

'Oh — no, I just — I mean — I'm working till late today, that's all.' Till 1am, to be exact.


Piper's own brows lifted a little. 'Well, as long as you're fine with a... Really late dinner.'

Alex's chuckle seemed to slide straight through Piper's skin and into her bones. 'I can be very flexible.'

Piper had a feeling that she didn't mean her schedule.

The chapters for this fic are going to be long and substantial — or at least, that's the plan — so updates definitely won't come daily. I've planned this to be a long-running fic, longer than anything I've ever attempted, if not a pseudo-serial story altogether. I hope you guys enjoy this one, because I was way too excited for it! Thanks to endgirl for being my magical unicorn sounding board, and to everyone who read Soldier and decided to read this too.

Since this fic is basically the baby giraffe still learning to walk of all the things I've written, I'd really love to hear what you guys think; constructive, critical, any feedback is a good thing.

Stay tuned!