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Blood Ties

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I.

Until the night after her husband died, Marie had never been alone.

She had not realized this before, but it was true. Even during the worst times with Hank, when he'd been so depressed and hopeless about ever recovering that he'd taken his misery out on her, when he'd snapped at her at every turn, they'd still shared a bed every night. And it wasn't just his physical presence, either: he'd still been there when she had gotten herself into another scrape. They might have been arguing, but Marie had known in her bones that things would get better. She had listened to his breathing in the night, thought about what a miracle it was that he was alive at all, swallowed her tears for another day and hoped it would be a better day the next morning. And eventually, it had been. Many better days, and they'd laughed and joked again, they'd shared joys and terrors, and she had never doubted for a moment that he would be with her for the rest of her life.

Her house was a crime scene now. When the cop who'd driven Marie back to it had found it trashed and robbed, he'd of course reported it immediately. She wasn't even allowed to clean up, because they were looking for fingerprints. It was a crime scene, they said. The only thing she could do, later, once they had done an inventory, was to tell them whether anything was missing beyond the obvious: the recording Hank and Gomie had made of Jesse Pinkman's confession.

"You want me to take you back to your sister?" one of the cops asked, and Marie shook her head, not opening her mouth, because if she did, she would not be able to stop screaming.

She ended up in a hotel room, pumped full with chemicals that should have made an elephant sleep. They bought her three or four hours. Then she woke up, and there was no sound other than the quiet hum of the air conditioner, and the occasional car, deep down on the street, passing the hotel. Hank wasn't snoring next to her, or quietly breathing, or making that overly loud breathing noise that meant he couldn't sleep, either, but wanted her to think he was. The sheets around her were free of any scents. She'd never smell Hank next to her again.

When he'd been in El Paso, she'd slept on her own, true, but she still hadn't been alone. She could call him, if she wanted to. Or she could call Skyler. Because before Hank, and then with Hank, there'd always been Skyler, as long as Marie could remember, Skyler to rely on, to argue with and to complain to. Marie had said "Mama" first, like most babies, but her second word had been "Sky", and not just because at that point, their father hadn't even around anymore to be called "Dada". Skyler must have repeated it in front of Marie a thousand times, until she'd made Marie say it, because Skyler had been that kind of little girl, so their mother told the story, usually when she was in her cups and feeling sentimental.

Marie had switched off her mobile phone, but the hotel room had its own device, and it gleamed at her through the darkness until she'd let her fingers dial Skyler's number, without even thinking about it, fingers following motoric memory. She must have dialed it a million times.

Skyler's voice was hoarse when she said "Yes?". Not "White Residence". Skyler always used to say "White Residence". When had she stopped?

"He would be alive", Marie said, her own voice slurred because of all the psychopharmaka she'd been given, but she knew Skyler understood every word. "Hank would still be alive if you'd just helped him when he asked you to. He's dead because of you."

She listened to the beeping noises of the phone long after Skyler had hung up, and wondered whether she'd ever be able to sleep again.


 

II.

When they were children, Marie and Skyler spent a lot of time in cars, because their parents changed residences so often, and then they divorced and married other people, which meant even more shuffling between this place and that.

That was when Skyler started the story game. They were not on the road towards some awful new place where they didn't know anyone and everyone at the new school would make fun of them, they were the President's children, undercover and secretly brought to a new location because there's been a threat by some evil terrorist to kidnap them. Their clothes weren't the wrong size because Marie was wearing Skyler's hand-me-downs and Skyler was growing too fast; it was all part of the cunning disguise. And that man who sold them tacos at the gas station, smiling at them, he was really from the CIA. "The Secret Service", Skyler said, correcting herself. "That's who is responsible for the personal safety of the President and his family. Not the CIA."

"But isn't the CIA our secret service?"

"Yes, but there is also a second secret service which is called Secret Service", Skyler explained. It sounded silly to Marie, but Skyler knew best, so Marie went along with it. Besides, it was fun. They pointed out potential spies and kidnappers to each other among the cars and motor bikes passing them, and the long journey towards yet another new place that wouldn't be their home for long became, just for two hours, an adventure they shared.

Marie was thirteen when she started to steal. She was still playing the story game then, only now she was the spy, that glamorous Russian agent played by Barbara Bach in one of the Bond movies. She was on a mission, and that lipstick wasn't just lipstick, albeit a very expensive one she couldn't afford with her monthly pocket money from Mom. It carried a tranquilizer with it.

The store detective who caught her was less than impressed by this explanation. Luckily for Marie, her mother wasn't at home to be called, and mobile phones didn't exist yet. Instead, the store employees holding her reached Skyler, who came in and in no time flat had insinuated the detective had made a sleazy sexual pass at a thirteen years old innocent girl. When she mentioned their non existent uncle the lawyer, the people at the department store were too frightened to do anything but let the both of them go. With the lipstick, as an apology.

"I can't believe you," Skyler said crossly when they were out of the store and walking hurriedly away.

"I can't believe you," Marie replied defensively. "What if they fire that detective? He didn't do anything wrong!"

"Well, you did, and it was you or him", Skyler said. "If they'd told Mom, she wouldn't have let you go out for the next two months, that's for sure."

Something in Marie doubted this justified potentially ruining the store detective's livelihood and general reputation, but then again, she would hate being grounded, trapped at home with her mother and her mother's second husband who were fighting all the time now.

"Promise me you won't steal again", Skyler demanded.

Marie promised, and meant it. She always would.

The next day, before they went to school, she offered the lipstick to Skyler for sharing, because it really was a good one, guaranteed not to smear even when you're kissed, that's what it said on the wrapping. Not that Marie was currently getting kissed by anyone. Skyler wasn't, either. But she eyed the lipstick and decided she might as well. Marie watched Skyler applying the color and stashed the memory away for the next time Skyler told her off.

That look in Skyler's eyes when she put on the lip stick, guilty and thrilled at the same time, that was the same look she had when telling Marie that they'd managed to buy the car wash Walt used to work for. Marie should have recognized it.


 

IIII.

They gave Marie a paid vacation at Kleinman Radiology Center , so she could "put her affairs in order", as her manager said. How she was supposed to do that, she didn't know. Neither the APD nor the DEA have found any hints as to where Hank and Steve Gomez' bodies could be buried. Marie remembered the stories from El Paso, the one about the head of a man on a turtle, imagined Hank's head somewhere as a bizarre kind of trophy, and promptly threw up.

Then she told herself to be reasonable. Walt was the one who killed Hank, he had said so on the phone, she heard him herself, talking to Skyler in that voice full of hate, and Walt had no reason to do something like that.

The problem was that Marie had no longer an idea of what Walt was and wasn't capable of. For all she knew, he'd fed her husband's remains to hyenas just for kicks.

Holly had been found at the fire station, and was back with Skyler again. Even in the mixture of numbness, rage and despair that had filled Marie since hearing Hank was dead, this was a tiny drop of relief, a smidgeon of feeling that might have been happiness at a different time. If Walt had taken Holly to wherever he was now, and they'd never known whether she was alive or dead for the rest of their lives, Marie wasn't sure she wouldn't have killed herself. Holly and Flynn were the last two people she could love without reservation, and when she got out of bed each morning, they were a main reason why.

She knew this was true of Skyler as well, but she still couldn't bring herself to have a real conversation with her sister. Sometimes she wanted to. She started a call with the full intention of saying, Skyler, explain it to me. Tell me why. Or: Skyler, tell me none of this has ever happened. Tell me we're still celebrating your husband's 50th birthday and meth is something we occasionally hear awful news about on tv, and only Hank knows more.

But what comes out of her mouth instead were short, matter-of-fact sentences filled with bitterness like: "I'll pick up Flynn for the weekend. Don't be there."

She went through all the photos in her house that showed Walt and Skyler, usually, but not always, together with either the children or Hank or Marie. First she cut out Walt, starting with the photo that showed him as Santa Claus, the one that always used to make Hank smile and say what a good sport Walt was. Destroying Walt's face over and over again, with scissors, her nail file and once or twice with fire felt better than anything her therapist had suggested. Then she cut out Skyler, crying and cursing while she did so. She had to stop when she reached the photo showing Skyler with her firstborn, Flynn as a baby, because she remembered that day too well, remembered Skyler somewhere between anxious because the doctors were already making troubled noises about potential diseases, and filled with love.

Isn't he the most beautiful thing you ever saw, Skyler had said, just look at him, and she'd hummed a lullaby. Skyler was ordinarily such a no nonsense person that you rarely caught her singing, whereas Marie frequently did, every time one of her favourite songs was on the radio, but when she heard her sister humming with a baby in her arms, something in Marie had reached back to a time before words when she'd heard the same thing, Skyler, voice higher, the voice of a child but unmistakably Skyler's, humming a lullaby.
Take care of your sister, Skyler, their mother had often said, more and more as the years went on, and even when they were arguing and Marie thought Skyler was a stick-in-the-mud control freak too wearying for words, she had never doubted, not even for a second, that Skyler always would.

Marie sat among torn photographs, took up the scissors and put them down again. She touched the photograph's surface with her fingertips. Then she hid it away in one of Hank's Louis L'Amour novels which she would never, ever read, keeping it out of sight and undestroyed.

 


 

IV.

As a teenager, Skyler had gotten it into her head that they should change the story game, make it more systematic, and write it down. They should make the stories connected, she'd explained to Marie, all part of the same world. And then, one day, when they had enough stories, they would publish them and become famous, like the Bronte sisters.

This had sounded great for a few days, until it became clear to Marie that what Skyler had in mind would take out much of the joy the story game used to give them. Well, for Marie, anyway. Previously, they'd kept changing the stories, a different one all the time, and sometimes they'd changed the premises mid-story, so that Marie started as a mutant with the power of telepathy and had ended with having the power of flight, because she thought that was way cooler, and who wanted to know what everyone else was thinking all the time anyway? Now, however, Skyler kept using expressions like "world-building" and "logical character development" which she'd picked up from some books Marie wished Skyler had never read.

"Look", Skyler said, "if Tiana is an astronaut at 26, she can't have been a super successful violinist as well before that. World star violinists practice all the time, back when they're babies, even. And astronauts have to do years of training. She can't be both. It makes her totally unbelievable."

"Not if she can do everything superfast, like Superman", Marie argued.

"This is a universe without superpowers."

"But why?"

"Because we said so when we started the story."

"No", Marie said rebelliously, "you said that. You never asked me. You keep making all those rules and that's so boring."

"Oh, you're hopeless!" Skyler said in disgust and stalked away to continue the story on her own, which hurt, until Marie vowed to do the same.

She never did, or at least, she never wrote any of her stories down; instead, she acted them out, when she was unhappy, among strangers. They kept coming to her; Marie was never lacking in new ideas. But sooner or later, her stories tripped her up, because the people around her never knew they were a part of the story game, not like Skyler had always done, and so they responded wrongly, and then it ended in embarrassment.

Skyler didn't show her the stories she finished, but Marie stole a glimpse at them anyway. She thought most of them were too much like the stories they made you read at school, where you could tell what would happen by how everyone was introduced, and nothing really cool ever turned the story around. It wasn't nearly as good as what they'd come up with together during the story game, and that comforted Marie, because it made her sure that sooner or later, Skyler would apologize, tell Marie how much she missed the game, and they'd get back to playing it, the two of them.

But Skyler never did. Instead, she took up maths, for which she had a talent that Marie never shared, and after the last of the acne and the baby fat had faded away and left Skyler, post puberty, that most impressive thing, a long legged, full-breasted blonde, she started to date.

Marie felt deserted and betrayed, until she realized Skyler never dated anyone for long. The boys who were drawn to her looks usually ended up intimidated by her as soon as they got to know her better. Once the captain of the football team who'd invited Skyler to watch the newest blockbuster at the local cinema, presumably in the expectation of a great make-out session, ended up bringing her home early because they'd started to argue about the movie while it was still running.

"You said something about world building, admit it", Marie said, but she sat next to Skyler on the sofa and put her arms around her.

"Well, it was a stupid movie which made no sense", Skyler returned frustrated. Whether it was the movie's illogical plot that annoyed her, or the fact the captain of the football team would not ask her out again, she was miserable, and Marie swallowed a comment about how annoying being lectured was. She could feel the tenseness in Skyler's body slowly ebbing away while they sat next to each other, huddled together as if taken to another place to live again on the backseat of some car.

"I'll make you hot chocolate", Marie offered.

"You mean you want me to make hot chocolate for you", Skyler said. "You always use too much water and leave powder on the table."

Stick in the mud, Marie thought, but had to admit Skyler wasn't wrong. In the end, Skyler did make hot chocolate for both of them.

"He didn't want to date you anyway", Marie suddenly said while they were sipping chocolate out of their mugs.

"What?"

"No, he didn't", Marie said, eyes gleaming, heart beating faster, because she so wanted this to work. "Because in reality, he's not the captain of the football team. I mean, he is, but he's not a human boy. That's just his cover. He's a Russian super secret robot, an android used for spying. Because President Reagan is backing Star Wars, that's why. So you see - it couldn't work."

Skyler stared at her over her mug, and for a moment, Marie felt cold. Then the corners of Skyler's mouth curved.

"No," she said, "no, that's not it. Androids are smarter. He's a clone, that's what he is. The Russians have a super secret cloning facility and they mean to double each and every one of us, but they just can't manage to double our brains."

 


 

V.

As it turned out, you could hold memorial services for people whose body hadn't been found. Hank had never been religious, and Marie wasn't, either, but Steve Gomez had been, and Blanca, his widow, suggested a shared service for the both of them.

"But I don't want your sister to come", she said. "I'm sure you understand that."

Marie nodded.

"Or your nephew. I'm sorry, Marie, but his father murdered my husband. I know he's a good boy ,but I couldn't look at him and not think that."

"Flynn loved Hank", Marie said indignantly. "He's been - you have no idea what all of this is like for him! Flynn is like a son to Hank and me..."

"But he's not your son, is he", Blanca said, cutting Marie short. "And his name isn't Flynn. The last time I've met him, his name was Walter White."

Some sensible, suspiciously Skyler-like sounding voice inside Marie told her that Blanca was hurting and needing someone to blame, like Marie herself was. But such reasoning drowned in the tidal wave that rose in Marie. She thought about how Flynn had held her while they were both listening to his father's voice on the loudspeaker, proclaiming Hank dead. She thought about how he'd adored his uncle. How hearing the truth about his father from Skyler and herself had destroyed a world in his eyes. How there were reporters following him to her house whenever he visited, which meant they had to be outside his school and even more outside his home as well, yelling their questions at him.

"I'm not telling Flynn he's not allowed to mourn for Hank along with everyone else", said Marie firmly. "If he's not coming, I'm not coming."

"Then that's your choice", Blanca said icily.

Skyler called Marie that night, which was unusual, both because during what few phone calls were still made between them usually happened during day time, and because Skyler did not sound numb, worn out or apologetic; Skyler sounded scared.

"If I bring the children to you for a few days", she said, "will you promise to give Holly back?"

"Is he with you?" Marie said, immediately jumping to the only explanation that she could think of, the only person she could now imagine frightening Skyler into sounding like that. "Is Walt back? Skyler, you have to call the police! I will if you won't!"

Skyler made a little noise, some swallowing sound between irritation and amusement that was so Skyler like and belonging to a better time that it made Marie's eyes burn even while it arose her anger.

"No", Skyler said. "Call them if you like, but they won't find him here. It wasn't Walt, Marie. Believe me or don't. He's gone."

Marie told herself she was only relieved for the children's sake, not for Skyler's. Then she picked up on Skyler's phrasing. She knew she didn't have the type of mind Hank did, trained to look for clues, but she knew her sister inside out, and she knew Skyler was so precise with her words that if she simply wanted to express that no one had been in her house, frightening her, Skyler would have said as much.

"There was someone, though, wasn't there", Marie said slowly, and her throat tightened. It was for Flynn and Holly's sake, she told herself, and tried not to think about the prison murders and the photos Hank had of them, or Jesse Pinkman's later confession that these had been organized and ordered by Walt.

"I'm under police surveillance in case my husband contacts me again", Skyler replied pointedly. "My telephone line is tapped, and there is probably a police car on the other side of the road, next to the one from the local news. How could there possibly have been someone these people missed?"

There was sarcasm in her voice, and the condescension which she occasionally showed towards people, but underneath it all, Marie could still hear stark fear. Then she understood that there had been someone, someone who'd threatened Skyler and the children, so much so that Skyler was willing to risk losing Holly again, because Skyler had to know that if Marie didn't want to return her, the law would not help her anymore.

"You know the children are always welcome", Marie said and wanted to add that Skyler was, too, she truly wanted to, but she couldn't. And yet the thought of Skyler suddenly not being there anymore, not estranged but gone entirely from this world, the way Hank was, was too horrifying to contemplate. "But they need their mother, too. So you take care."

She hung up after she said it, voice breathless as if she'd talked for ten minutes the way she used to when on the phone with Skyler, instead of forcing out a few sentences like unwanted food.

She wondered whether Hank would think her a traitor for still worrying about Skyler. For not wanting a shared memorial service for him and Steve Gomez if the price was disowning her nephew. For a moment, she could almost see him, shaking his head. "Babe, that's bullshit," he'd have said. "Gomie was my partner. Gomie, not his widow. But he's dead, and Flynn's alive, and you bet I loved that kid to pieces."

That's what Hank would have said, Marie just knew, and she could hear him in her head, right as rain. But she couldn't imagine what he'd have said about Skyler, and while she tried, it hit her again, with undiminished force, that she'd never his real voice again. All she had left were memories, and she was already starting to refashion them to what she needed them to be.

And he could still be alive, that's what it came down to. If Skyler had only helped him, there would have been no need for Jesse Pinkman and some mysterious trip to from which he never returned. If Skyler had only told her the truth long before that, right after finding out herself, Hank would still be alive.

That was the only truth that would never go away, and it kept breaking her into pieces.

 


 

VI.

Marie hadn't been surprised when Walter White turned out to be the man Skyler became serious about. He didn't resemble anyone from their old story game, true, but he was smart, really smart in the way Skyler herself was, meaning he could rattle off random facts, could solve crosswords and complain about the lack of logic in the latest Murder One episode, while at the same time being absolutely clueless about when it was time to shut up and maybe not point out all the time the other people in the room weren't as clever. Just like Skyler.

Marie didn't want someone like herself, she wanted someone who was different yet didn't mind her the way she was. She had no problem attracting men, but those she was interested in tended to say things like "why are you wearing purple all the time?" or "why did you lie about where you were yesterday if it was harmless?"

Then there was Hank, and he was perfect. Oh, not because he didn't have faults. He was loud and made some jokes that made her flinch, and he was stocky even as a young man. But he looked at her as if she was someone wonderful instead of someone whose flaws he had to erase before considering her worthy of him, unlike most of her previous boyfriends. He didn't ask her why she liked purple; he just noticed that she did and bought her purple suitcases for her next birthday. When he heard her say that she and Skyler had never gone trick-or-treating as children because their mother had never taken them, he'd shown up in a goofy knight-in-armour costume at Halloween, absolutely unembarrassed, and said: "Princess Marie, let's go", and taken her to various doors of colleagues of his who'd had sweets ready. It was cheesy, and she'd loved every second of it, and known she loved him and wanted to spend the rest of her life with him.

She'd felt safe with him. Marie hadn't stolen anything during the first few years of her marriage, not until she'd found out she could never have children, and while Hank hadn't been thrilled to be called from the local police station, his anger had been like a summer breeze, soon replaced by the question of how he could help her.

He'd accepted that she'd spend much of the week with her sister, too. As children, Marie and Skyler had drifted in and out of various family formations, and they'd learned that someone who was your stepuncle this week in the next might not care if you lived or died and never get back into contact again. They 'd learned that brothers- and -sisters-in-law could despise each other.

"Promise me," Marie had said to Skyler after a ghastly family Christmas during which their mother and the sister of her mother's third husband had poured out undisguised loathing over each other, "promise me you won't ever marry someone who hates me."
"Anyone I marry better know what's good for him", Skyler had said, "and I won't let you marry anyone who doesn't know what's good for you, either. So don't worry, silly."

Hank never once said that it would be enough to see Skyler, Walt and Junior for Thanksgiving and Christmas. He occasionally argued with Walt about the right way to grill, because Walt couldn't resist lecturing him about chemical reaction, and said that playing Monopoly with Skyler was frustrating because she somehow always ended up with all the railway stations and Fifth Avenue, but that was about it as far as grousing about her family went. If Walt ever complained to Skyler over the fact Marie was in his house a lot of the time, Marie never heard about it. She liked Walt, soft-spoken Walt who sometimes exchanged a conspirational exhausted glance with her when Skyler made everyone go through an exercise straight from the latest self help book she'd read, reliable Walt who didn't leer at other women, not even at the actresses on tv, patient Walt who after finding out he had a son with cerebral palsy talked Skyler through her panicked fear this was somehow her fault for something she'd done wrong during the pregnancy by proving to her it hadn't been, no matter how long it took to go through every meal Skyler had ever eaten.

Loyal Walt who showed up at the hospital after Hank had gotten shot despite the fact he and Skyler were mysteriously on the outs at the time, sat there with them in the waiting room without complaint, brought Marie new clothes and a toothbrush. When they were all exhausted enough for Skyler to fall asleep, with her head resting on Walt's shoulder without her realising it, Marie, still awake, and exchanged another quiet smile with Walt and had hoped so much, oh so much, that Skyler and Walt would get back together again.
Only a few months later, Marie had seen her sister enter a swimming pool, fully clothed, while Walt was in the middle of praising Skyler's support during his initial cancer treatment, had seen Skyler enter the pool and sink to the ground as if never intending to get out of the water again. It had frightened Marie more than anything other than Hank's shooting.

"She didn't want to kill herself", Hank had said to her afterwards, trying to comfort her, "she would never."

No, she wouldn't, Marie had thought, she'd never do that to her children, and in a tiny corner of her mind she'd never have voiced out loud, she'd never do that to me. It didn't make the memory of Skyler in the pool less disturbing, and the memory of Skyler afterwards, feverishly insisting Marie was to take the children. Because that was either Skyler playing the story game, which Skyler, sensible Skyler had abandoned such a long time ago, or Skyler deeply scared, scared out of her wits. Not that Skyler never had been before, but it was rare, and took something like the initial diagnosis for her son, or realising her husband would die, possibly while she was pregnant, and leave horrendous medical bills.

Only now Marie couldn't think of something that would scare Skyler that way. Not the affair Walt informed Marie about. That would make Skyler feel ashamed, perhaps, and embarassed, certainly, but not afraid.

"Nervous breakdown", Hank said. "Has to be. Walt, too. The other day he showed up to cry at my office. Some after effect from all the stress with the cancer, and the gambling, and really, your sister should cut him some slack."

"She's had to cope with all that too, and a baby", Marie had said loyally, though she had to admit she thought Skyler was hard on Walt at times, too. Walt, who'd never looked at another woman in his life.

There was just this unexplainable undertone of fear in Skyler's voice, more and more, and the fact she'd taken up smoking again, you could smell it, she didn't even try to hide it anymore. Skyler had originally stopped smoking after Walt had given her the exact odds for lung cancer and shown her some graphic illustrations, before they were even married. Every few years, she'd have a relapse, the way Marie sometimes just had to take something which didn't belong to her, but if you didn't pay very close attention to Skyler, you'd never notice, because she was very careful about not having cold smoke clinging to her. Not now, though. Now, Skyler smoked as if she didn't care if her lungs ended shrivelled into black clots before the year was out.

There was something terribly wrong, and Marie didn't know what, all her attempts of making Skyler tell her failing. And then it became better again. Less smoking, Skyler acted like her confident self once more, wanted her children back, and strode through the car wash like a queen surveying her realm when Marie visited her there one day.

It told Marie she'd done the right thing when telling Skyler she couldn't enable her any longer and that Skyler needed to take the children back. Which had been her therapist's advice when Marie had confided her fears to him, had told him she had this awful sense of her sister slipping away and not helping her, despite desperately wanting to. "Tough love", he'd said, and "sometimes we help those we love best when we make them confront reality". Marie had listened to him, and it had been the right thing to do, surely, because Skyler was her old self again, and all was well.

Maybe Hank had been right, too. Maybe all of this had been a long delayed nervous breakdown because of Walt's cancer. Skyler was a bit like Hank in that she would never admit to being afraid, she'd rather first lock herself up and then do something drastic, and then, only then, accept being held and comforted.

She's fine, Marie had thought, and until Hank found out the truth, she'd made herself believe it.

 


 

VII.

Skyler lost the house, which wasn't a surprise, and the apartment she moved into was what she could afford with a taxi dispatcher's salary. At least by then the local media had lost interest, not least because there had been no Walt sightings in Alburqueque since he'd fled, and no one thought anymore he would return.

At Kleinman, someone said within Marie's earshot that surely, certain people and their relations had milions of drug money stashed away safely on some account on the Cayman Islands and thus should not take away direly needed jobs from honest working folk. She wasn't sure whether that was supposed to be a dig at Skyler or herself. At first she'd been seen as the widow of a hero, yes, but by now people were talking about how bad a detective Hank must have been not to realise what was going on right under his nose. If, that is, he really overlooked it, as opposed to secretly participating in the profits. Maybe his death had been nothing but a fallout between thieves. When Marie had heard that rumour, under the guise of a concerned "Marie, better someone tell you, but recently someone said that..." from Blanca Gomez, she'd hit the roof.

"Well, I hope you called that someone what they deserve to be called", she'd said and had known Blanca hadn't. Blanca still hadn't forgotten about the memorial service and was out for blood now.

"I told them that as far as Steve knew, Hank was an honest man", Blanca said mildly. "That's why Steve agreed to help him instead of alerting the agency at once about Walter White. Surely you can understand that now I wish Steve hadn't."

"You did destroy all the copies of that dvd, didn't you?" Marie asked Skyler after Flynn had given her Skyler's new phone number.

"Yes", Skyler said monosyllabically.

"You helped him make it", Marie said, the words escaping her at last before she could hold them back. To her horror, she sounded like a child, bereft and bewildered. "You did that. If it was just fear, if you'd been so afraid of him, it wouldn't have been so - I know your stories, Skyler. You helped him."

Skyler was quiet for along time, but neither of them hung up. Then she said: "I never would've let him use it, Marie."

"Yes, you would have", Marie yelled, tears by now streaming down her face. She thought she'd dealt with this already, when making Skyler confess the truth to Flynn; she thought she'd put it behind her because what happened afterwards, Hank's death, had been so much worse. But Blanca Gomez and her skillfully dealt blow had brought it all back, that ghastly moment when Skyler had risen from the table together with Walt, and both of them had left a dvd behind, a dvd full of lies that were so perfectly logical. Good world building, Skyler would have said in the past, or some other fanciful term that Marie never quite understood. Good world building.

"I would have killed him when he told me Hank was gone", Skyler whispered, "if Flynn hadn't stopped us. I had his blood on my hands."

Though she didn't want to , Marie understood what Skyler meant. It wasn't logical, no. But when it came down to it, what she'd just asked Skyler was "how could you betray me for him?", and what Skyler had said back was "but I did try to kill him for you afterwards". It was crazy and a lie and true, all at the same time, and she felt anger and guilt at the same time. She wanted to continue blaming Skyler, and she did, but she also remembered how she had never, no matter how worried she'd been for her sister, even considered Skyler could have been afraid of Walt. She remembered how much she'd wanted Skyler to take Walt back after Skyler had tried to make him leave. How glad she'd been when it happened, without wondering even once whether it was the right thing. How she'd accepted Walt's story of Skyler's affair as the explanation for Skyler's state unquestioningly.

Maybe she, too, had betrayed her sister.


 

VIII.

When Skyler stood in front of her, without Flynn or Holly as an excuse for her presence, safe and sound, Marie exhaled the breath she hadn't been conscious of holding. When they'd told her Walt had been sighted all around Albuquerque, she'd known she had to call Skyler to warn her. To warn her, and to say, if not "I forgive you", then at least that she absolutely wanted Skyler to be safe. Since then, she'd been on the phone with Hank's old colleagues, pestering for more recent news than what the media would give her, until they'd said there was a report of mass shooting at some industrial compound coming in, a compound with a meth lab where they'd found him, Walter White, her brother-in-law, Skyler's husband, Flynn's and Holly's father, dead, really, truly dead.

The names of the other dead people found there meant nothing to Marie. They didn't include Skyler or the children, that was the only thing that concerned her right now, for that had been the most recent of her nightmares: that Walt, having returned, would find a way to take the rest of her family with him when he died. She couldn't help but imagine some crazy hostage scenario, and Skyler shot, or Flynn, or even Holly, by a random bullet. But none of that had happened, nor would it ever.

"I thought he might try to see you", Marie said, because it was this or "I'm glad he's dead!", and even though she was, fiercely so, she didn't want to say so to Skyler right now. For Skyler had loved Walt, that was the worst of it. Not necessarily till the end, at least Marie hoped not, but for a very, very long time. "Thank God he didn't."

There was cold smoke clinging to Skyler again, but also an odd sense of peace.

"He did", Skyler said. "And he told me where Hank and Steve Gomez are buried, Marie. That's what I came here to tell you."

It was too much to take in all at once, Walt having managed to claim something of Skyler one more time, and the knowledge that at last, Hank could find peace. Her hands flew to her mouth, fingers pressing against lips, and then somehow Skyler had caught them and held them in her own hands.

"I need my sister back", she said, as she'd once before, under so very, very different circumstances. "I know it won't ever be alright. And I know what I've done. And why. Believe me, Marie, I know all about bullshit rationalizations. But I also - I know there's nothing worse than to be hated by someone you love."

Maybe she was talking about Walt as well as herself. The headmistress of Flynn's school had said Flynn had completely lost it when Walt had called him, had screamed how he hated his father and wished him dead. Marie couldn't find it in herself to feel sorry for Walt, and the part of her that wanted vengeance felt viciously satisfied. But she did feel sorry for Flynn, who'd loved his father even more than he'd loved Hank and had fought so hard to help him beat the cancer, who'd, only a few months ago, have rather died himself than let anything happen to Walt.

Flynn had never asked her to forgive his mother. But he'd also never asked whether he could live with Marie instead, and after the last time Skyler had sent him and Holly to her, he'd moved back within the week, saying that if his mother was in danger, he wanted to be with her. Flynn had been angry with Skyler for so long, first for sending Walt away, then for sending himself away, and then for not having told the truth. But when it had come down to it, he had defended her without hesitation, and now, when it would have been much easier to leave her and build a new life for himself, he remained with her.

"You're not", Marie said and removed her hands. "You're not hated by someone you love."

Skyler's face grew still, and Marie saw that Skyler had taken the pulling away of her hands as a rejection, so she clarified.

"It won't ever be alright, no. But I can't hate you anymore, Sky. I don' t know about the future. I'm not good with plans, and maybe it'll get worse again. But right now, I hope it'll get better instead. Either way, I can't imagine it without you."

They didn't hug. It was too early for that. But Skyler followed her inside, and Marie found herself preparing hot chocolate, carefully, without spilling powder once.

When she brought it to the sofa Skyler was sitting on, it was dawn, and they could have been on the backseat of a car, driving to they knew not where, only knowing what they were leaving behind.