one. a house of cards
She has been staring at a dark spot on the white-washed floor for about half an hour. The bathroom floor's painted exactly in the same shade as the rest of the hospital, and while it hasn't quite turned beige yet, by now it's clear no amount of bleach would restore it to its original color. She fights the desire to take a scrub to the small, bruise-shaded stain, just beneath where her feet are wedged and crammed between the toilet and the sink. There are faint scratches around the spot, hinting that previous attempts have already been thwarted.
She absently wonders what it has been. Blood, obviously, is the first thought, but it shouldn't have left any stain. Blood usually comes out. Usually.
She's more than peripherally aware that she cannot afford to spend any more time in this exercise in non-thoughts. She should be getting home soon. Marie's looking after Holly and Walter Jr. for the night, but her sister's got work tomorrow morning and a dying brother-in-law is not an excuse for skipping work. At least not yet.
The thought almost wrecks her into another sob. She restrains it just in time.
She dabs a crunched ball of toilet paper on her face to dry any hint of tear. With some effort, she gathers herself tightly until she feels ready to make an exit from her refuge.
She's almost successful, but not quite. She makes herself get up, but freezes at the sound of the door creaking open outside the bathroom. The nurses have already come and gone, it's well outside the visiting hours, and while a concession can be made for the wife of a terminal patient by sympathetic nurses, no one else is allowed in the private hospital room at this hour.
But someone enters the room anyway, and she can hear, even through the closed door, the slow steps toward the center of the room. The sound stops near the bed, where her husband is slowly withering away.
She doesn't recall any scheduled visit from doctors, but it's still a possibility. She isn't certain whether the nurses would get into trouble for letting her stay this long, so she remains on her spot, hesitant.
That's when the visitor starts to speak.
"Hey, Mr. White."
She thinks the voice sounds a little young to belong to a doctor. There's some scuffling noise of metal against linoleum, and she pictures the chair at the corner being dragged to the side of the bed.
"Um, don't freak, okay? I know you'd yell at me and totally throw fits for coming here, but no one saw me or anything, so you can just chill, alright?" There is a long pause. "I wouldn't, you know, actually mind, though. You know, if you feel like waking up and just yell at me or...whatever."
Suddenly, right there right then she recognizes the voice, because at one point in time she's listened to the same recorded voice over and over half in panic and half in helplessness, trying to figure out what her errand husband was up to. This is that obnoxious kid who sold her husband weed. What was his name? Red, no, Pinkman. Jesse Pinkman.
Her first thought is to fling the door open and scream at him to get out. But the second thought stops her: what if Walt called him in? To get him to bring in something, anything, that would help with the pain? He's now under several different pain medications, and there isn't anything more that would help, but it's possible Walt still could've called in this kid before -
It's too late, she wants to tell this kid. You're too late. He hasn't woken up for two days. They're telling me to prepare for the inevitable. You're too late.
Tears have run out, used and dried up and no more, but her eyes sting just the same, leaving her exhausted and brittle, like she can no longer be glued together as a whole.
For a long moment, she's unable to muster up strength to do anything other than sitting still on the lid-covered toilet and listening to the silence. There's nothing but the sound of feet occasionally shuffling on the floor.
"Mr. White," Jesse Pinkman's voice, finally, begins to make a dent at the heavy silence, "did I, uh, ever tell you how I found my aunt, you know, after?"
There's a moment when she thinks nothing more would be said, but one by one his words begin to trickle out, "There was this time when we thought she was doing okay. Better. I mean, I knew, we knew, there was no hope. You know, hope hope? But still, for those few days before she - well, before, she was actually up and 'round all the time, trying to clean the house and wanting to cook stuff. She, like, got up super early every morning and started vacuuming, kicking me out of the bed and made me help her with gardening and stuff. But she seemed, you know, happy. Happier than ever. So, I just let her do whatever she wanted.
"And one day she woke me up, like, four in the morning, and told me she wanted to bake lasagna for dinner. There was no changing her mind, no amount of begging would get her to just rest, just ease up a little. She just had to make it, like, right now, and we didn't have the lasagna pan anymore, so she was all, could you go to the store and get one, like, now?
"I didn't know what came over her, 'cause, seriously, she didn't even like lasagna, and it was in the middle of summer and the kitchen was basically too sizzling to use the oven and just, and... Maybe, maybe, I don't know, I think I liked it when I was a kid. Or something.
"Had to wait hours, man, until the department store was open, but I got the pan she wanted, though. When I came back from the store, she was sitting in the kitchen - you remember that wooden rocking chair right next to the oven, overlooking the window? She was sitting on that chair, so still. Smiling with her eyes closed. She was waiting for me. She looked so, I dunno, I think she looked happy. But then she just...didn't wake up. I tried. And tried. And she just, she just didn't.
"Just like that, that was it. I, well, I never used to know what that meant, you know. Before. Dying. Gone. Never seeing that person again. We never even said goodbye. I...I never got to say goodbye to her, and I- " There's a brief pause, and Pinkman clears his throat. "Yeah, so that was that."
The silence descends again. Skyler cannot think. There are certain things that start picking at the corner of her mind - Walt knows this boy better than he's said he did, knows him well enough to have been to his place, and why and how and why - but she cannot think, between that infectious sadness sipping through the fabric of air with each word spoken by this kid, and her own fear that she does not want to know the answer to the questions.
"Hey, uh, guess what, Mr. White?" The kid starts again, his voice painfully feigned and excruciatingly light. "We found the buyer. Saul set up the greet-n-meet again. At some random chicken fast food joint, which is just weird, but Saul's sure this guy's totally legit. It took a while to convince him to meet with us, but now I think we can get rid of the merchandise. You know, like, completely in wholesale. Once it's done, we're totally set, yo, the last score we'll ever need, like, ever. So, there's nothing for you to worry about anymore."
There have been questions.
There have always been questions, ever since Grechen called her, profusely apologizing for not being able to offer assistance before, not being able to make Walter accept their help. Questions, ever since Elliot and Grechen offered to pay for this expensive private hospital room and anything else that could be done, even though the treatments have already failed and right now all they could do was make him more comfortable.
There have been questions, even before then. What has he been doing, all the times when he was gone? Where did the money come from, then, for the previous treatments? What has he done?
And now, things begin to fall in place, little by little.
She wants to demand answers. She doesn't want to know. She's left with a newborn daughter and a teenage son to care for, so she has to know. She doesn't want to know.
Her fingers tear at a piece of crumbled toilet paper in her hand.
She doesn't want to know.
Still, she doesn't cover her ears when Jesse Pinkman starts talking again.
"You know, Mr. White? I never thought of her not being there anymore. I mean, not that I didn't think about it before. I knew she was going to go. I knew she wasn't going just to hang on forever. It, just... And I," he pauses, his voice stilted and awkward and all so desperately young. "I wish we had one more day, so she could've baked that stupid lasagna. There's this hole where she used to be, even now, and I wish I could've told her that - I wish we at least said goodbye. And with you, it's just - it's just that - "
Even through the wall and the door, she can hear him trying to gather his breath, the strain in his voice trying to contain his words.
"It's all been taken care of. Your wife and kids. Saul set it all up so they'll be lacking in absolutely nothing. I swear you've got nothing to worry about. They'll be okay - I promise, Mr. White. I'll take care of them, and they don't ever have to find out this. I won't mess this up. I really won't. So, I - just -" His words are rushed, heavily punctuated and mangled together, until they all come to a sudden halt.
"Shit," he breaks. There are tears in his shaking voice. "Shit."
A quiet, wordless sob pries out of him in little, shattered fragments.
This kid, a stranger to her, is breaking in pieces over her dying husband.
And the air feels saturated with this grief that doesn't feel so foreign to her, that almost overwhelms her own.
There's white hot pain flaring in her chest, behind her closed eyes.
She doesn't think of intruding, of asking the questions, of asking him to leave. What she has heard entitles him to this moment, and she can't take it away.
And eventually, when he leaves, quiet and dejected, she doesn't catch up with him nor demand answers that she's been seeking.
Instead, she reaches her husband's side once again, occupies the chair that the kid has left and holds Walt's thin, skeletal wrist connects to one too many tubes that are sustaining his life.
What were you to that kid? What do I not know? What have you done? What is it that you did to us, for us? Get up and answer me. I'll forgive you for anything and everything if you just come back.
Get up and answer me. Please. Please.
This time, she doesn't hold back her tears.
She stays at her husband's side for a while longer. There's so much, and yet nothing, to ask him, to tell him, but she would let it all go, all of it, if he would just wake up.
Before the morning sets in, she returns home to her children.
two. a sorta fairytale
They almost make it to New Zealand.
They don't fly straight out from New Mexico. Jane's dad works at the airport and he can probably flag them somehow, so they decide to head west first, drive across the state and catch the first plane out from California. Jane wants to go to Disneyland first, though. He teases her for it, but he secretly likes the idea. Jesse's first and last trip to Disneyland took place when he was eight, with nothing but a particularly nasty case of food poisoning to remember it by. Jake went with their parents when he turned seven, and he came back excited and animated, arms full with shiny, expensive souvenirs that became the only topic of discussion at the Pinkmans dinner table for weeks.
The happiest fucking place on earth, right?
This time, Jesse will be with Jane.
This time, he knows, things will be different.
"What's it like?" Jesse asks her somewhere along Interstate 8, a few miles into Arizona.
The ashtray's already full, so Jane taps the cigarette on the edge of the window. Some of the ash is blown back inside the car and lands on the wheel. She absently brushes it off with her fingers. "What, New Zealand?"
The way she scrunches her nose, this little habit of hers when she's thinking deeply about something, does funny things to his stomach. "Blue," she says, after a moment. "Blue and green everywhere. You'll like it. The ocean's so blue it's almost green. The sun's so bright and pure, like it would burn away all the impurity and leave you perfectly clean."
Jesse thinks about it. And grins. "Cool."
He can see her lips slowly curl up into a smile. She leans over and kisses him.
Everything's already so vibrant and soothing blue in that moment - they might as well be at New Zealand already.
When the inevitable happens they're still in Arizona, though they're almost within the shouting distance of California. He comes back to the motel with the takeout from McDonald's and finds that the door is ajar. The ever-familiar tangy smell tinges the air, and he knows, he knows he should not step in.
He sinks on the floor of the corridor, his head buried between his arms. After three minutes stretching to eternity, he enters the room.
It ends three, four, five, six days later, with nights and days blurring together like different colors of paint swirling and whirling in a bucket, in bright yellow and red and white and black, all of which burn in the back of his retinas, leaving scorched holes in his head.
At the end of the day six, he wakes up to the sound of Jane getting violently sick all over the bed. She's sweaty and hot, curled up tight on her side of the bed, and he doesn't know what to do. He wants to call 911, but she says, No, baby. No.
She reaches for the needle again.
Next day she's still sick. She wouldn't let him take her to the hospital. She refuses to stop using.
Jesse remembers Georgia O'Keefe and that stupid door painting. She said, Jane said, why do everything just once? But to him, it has only meant doing the same thing over and over again until there's nothing left but the drawings that look exactly the same.
Like them, he thinks. They've been trapped in the same moment, over and over and over, and he can't even remember what the door used to look like anymore.
Let her go, he tells himself. If you love her, you let her go.
With a shaky hand, he makes the call.
A few hours later her father comes by and picks her up and takes her to rehab.
He watches them leave. The image of them moves away from him in ebbs and flows, taking his idea of happiness, tangible only with her, away from him until it seems like a vague memory of a childhood toy he can no longer picture in his head.
He returns to the room. He doesn't have anywhere to be. He doesn't have anywhere to call. It's surprisingly easy, deciding what he wants to do.
He probably would've liked it in New Zealand.
The money is an afterthought, unimportant. Maybe he should leave it. Maybe he should let a cleaning lady to get lucky, which is only fair. But then there's one person who's tried to do right by him, someone who could probably use the money.
He calls the number he still remembers. The voice he remembers answers. He can't get the words out. Jesse recites the address to the mouthpiece, his voice cracking, and hangs up, without another word.
His hand, reaching for the needle, does not tremble.
He wonders if Mr. White will come by. Wonders what he will find if he does. Wonders if Mr. White would realize this is his way of saying he's sorry.
And then he doesn't have to wonder anymore.
He tastes it now, the salty, tangy air, sees the ocean so blue it's almost green.
He sees it now, the bright end of the sun.
three. a trapeze swinger
Jesse drummed his fingers on the grey metal table.
"Look, Mr. Pinkman-"
"You can threaten me all you want, yo. I ain't giving you nothing."
Agent Chavez, or Gomez, or whoever, banged down his DEA-brand coffee mug so hard that the table, which Jesse had been getting awfully familiar with in the last few hours, rattled under his elbows. A pack of cigarettes on the table jiggled and wiggled every time Chavez-Gomez made one intimidating gesture after another, and Jesse was totally convinced it was some sort of tactic, trying to get him to 'fess up just with a promise of nicotine in near future.
Well, it was working. Just looking at the cigarette pack made him go all jittery.
He needed something, anything - any more minute of this, he'd probably try to make a grab for the pack and give these assholes another excuse to bust him down again. Jesse tried averting his eyes, but the only other thing to look at in this grey interrogation room was this Chavez guy. Or his bear of a partner, whose scowl and shaved head didn't exactly make him look endearing or cuddly.
"Mr. Pinkman," Chavez tried again, sounding eerily like Jesse's high school principal. "Do you even understand the extent of trouble you're in? You're already looking at five to ten years for felony possessions with the intention to distribute alone, and if we include the additional charges, things are not going to go well for you."
This was his first time being accosted by DEA, but it really was same shit, different day. He took a breath and huffed up, even though he wasn't exactly feeling it. "Hey, man, I know my rights and stuff, all right? I didn't distribute shit, and that's exactly what my lawyer is going to say." Wait, speaking of - "Hey, when's my lawyer getting here, man? I asked for him, like, hours ago."
Chavez's partner, who'd been rock-solid still and silent in his chair ever since they'd started this three-man dance, suddenly got up and leaned forward in a decidedly threatening manner.
Jesse tried not to twitch.
"Pinkman." The guy not only looked but spoke like a big, growling bear. "Do you know what the Patriot Act is?"
"Of course I know what that is." Something about terrorists and 9/11 and all that stuff. Jesse wasn't entirely clear on the finer details, though. "Hey, what the hell does that got to do with anything? What does that got to do with me, yo?"
Agent DEA Bear gave him a look. Jesse recognized it as the patented and universal you're a moron expression that cops liked to use on guys like him. "This Act gives us the right to use every force necessary to fight against every threat made against this country, you got that, Pinkman? Once we invoke the Act, you've got no right, no lawyer, no nothing, do you get me? And you and your business 'activities' are a clear and present danger to this country."
Jesse snorted. "Yeah, a nice try, man. Do I look like an idiot?"
Now both Agents were uniformly giving him the you're-a-moron look. They must have, like, classes, getting trained on how to use that look effectively or some shit like that. Chavez said, "Do you actually want an honest answer to that, Mr. Pinkman?"
They were yanking his chain. They gotta be. "Look, even I know you can't pull shit like this. I'm an American citizen, not some random terrorist planning on blowing up a nice little kindergarten with little kids and whatnot."
"You've been caught red-handed, Pinkman," Agent Bear growled at him. "You are what we say you are."
They were yanking his chain.
"Mr. Pinkman, what we're offering here is a once in a lifetime opportunity, your one time get-out-of-jail-free card," Chavez continued, all smooth as fucking margarine, probably getting a kick out of playing the good cop here. "All you have to do is provide some invaluable intel that would help us catch the real bad guys. Not you, no, but the real guys behind the scene."
"Look," Jesse said, feeling desperation about to box him in. This entire thing was BS, it had to be, but the repeated mantra still didn't stop his palms from getting all sweaty, and it was difficult to stop his knees from bouncing nervously against the desk. "I don't know exactly what you want, but I don't roll, okay? Us, we guys, all together, we don't roll on each other, yo. That's not how we roll."
"Of course you don't." Agent Bear nodded gravely, and Chavez actually snorted laughter.
Well, okay, Jesse wasn't too sure on this front, either. He had a vague sense, a speculation maybe, that Emilio still thought Jesse had rolled on him that last time. Jesse had sworn up and down he wasn't involved, Emilio had kicked him around for a bit, but they let bygones be bygones and eventually they'd gone back to cooking together. And that had been that.
Except they were both busted again in the middle of their cook, and now Emilio was nowhere to be seen. It was just Jesse and these DEA guys getting all bent over shape trying to make him roll. So yeah, maybe he was feeling a little suspicious. Maybe. Just a little.
Jesse rubbed his palms on his jeans under the table. By now his hands were so clammy that they were practically slippery with sweat. "Got that straight, yo," he repeated, mostly to himself. "We don't roll."
"Hey, listen," Agent Bear growled again, "the rumor has it that Tuco did a number on your friend Skinny Pete. Where's that street loyalty that you guys keep bandying about? Don't you want any revenge for your friend?"
"Wait." Jesse tried to digest what had just been said. He was pretty sure his eyes were bugging out right now. "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. You want me to roll on Tuco? Tuco? That's who you want me to roll on? Are you fucking serious?"
Chavez and Bear quickly exchanged a look before turning to him as one. "He is the biggest game in town," Chavez supplied, like it was Jesse who was lacking the common sense here.
Tuco was this crazed crazy crazy insanity personified, who actually managed to look Krazy-8 all warm and fuzzy in comparison; Jesse had seen the evidence of that crazed craziness in the form of Skinny, completely and utterly pummeled to shit. So yeah, Jesse had never had a pleasure of meeting Tuco personally, and things were definitely going to stay that way. "No way, no way in hell, man. Do you know who he is? Do you even know what that psycho does to people?"
"Look, Pinkman, if we already have concrete evidence as to what he does to people, why would we even need your help?"
Jesse wasn't really listening at this point. His heart beat faster just thinking about the guy. "Tuco. Tuco. Right, it's Tuco you want. Well, first of all, yo, I've never even met the dude, so, hey, can't give him to you even if I wanted to. And second of all, why don't you just take me outside and shoot me right between the eyes? That would be faster and painless compared to what he'd do to me, and there will be a lot less mess to clean up afterward!"
"Believe me, I would love to," Agent Bear muttered under his breath.
His partner gave him a look, and they exchanged looks, and then there were even more looks, and documents and files were suddenly shuffled around the table. Jesse got a glimpse of red-typed, bolded phrases like CONFIDENTIAL, and CLEAR and PRESENT DANGERS.
Oh, fanfuckingtastic. "I don't know nothing, man. Why is that so hard to get that through your thick heads, yo? There's nothing I can do for you."
It was Chavez again, disturbingly, alarmingly calm. "Whatever you say, Mr. Pinkman."
More paper got shifted around on the table.
Desperation wasn't just boxing him in anymore; it's already settled well inside him, coiling in his gut. "Seriously, you're the cops, right? Couldn't you just go, and, you know, detect and shit? Isn't that what you do for a living, or what? The hell do you need me for?"
Jesse did flinch, this time, when Agent Bear pushed himself up from the chair, which fell backward and scattered on the floor. "I'm not gonna waste any more time on this sissy piece of shit," Bear announced, his jaw clinched. "I have better things to do with my time."
"Hank." Chavez got up after his partner, and there was some huffing and puffing as they gathered at the corner of the room. Jesse strained to make out the words in their conversation, though they weren't particularly trying to hide what they were saying.
"- need to get going. My brother-in-law's funeral, remember?"
"Right, right, I'm so sorry, Hank. Lung cancer, wasn't it? What a horrible way to go -"
Usually any mention of cancer brought Jesse down somewhat, but in this particular case it got Agent Hank to leave the room, so Jesse was perfectly fine with it. Jesse was tempted to tell Chavez he should go, too. They could totally do this at another time if this was inconvenient, really, no biggie.
No such luck. Agent Hank Bear disappeared, but someone else entered the room with a memo to Chavez. This had him grinning, which could only be a bad sign.
"Looks like your lawyer isn't coming," Chavez informed him, quite gleeful. "And your parents are not posting bail."
Jesse leaned back against the metal chair, arms crossed and eyes freely rolling. "Seriously. That's the best you could pull?"
Chavez pushed the sheet of paper across the table until it was right along Jesse's eyesight. "Read it for yourself, then. Even better, why don't you think deep and hard about why they're not even here yet to spring you out as you requested?"
Jesse stared at the small rectangle paper for a long moment. He had to steady his hand when he reached for it. He read the messages once, twice, and three times.
And one more time, just to be sure.
"Looks like you're stuck with us for some time, Mr. Pinkman."
Repeated reading didn't really change any of the words. Of course, Jesse thought.
Of course they'd bail out on him. And take Aunt Jenny's house with them. What had he expected, anyway?
Right. Fuck it.
Where did that leave him? He'd got no money, so who was gonna bail him out? Badger? Shit, no. And Skinny Pete - Skinny almost got killed while dealing for Tuco, for looking at him wrong that one time.
Tuco, he thought. Tuco. This was a stupid, bad, no good idea. Except.
Suddenly, he'd overtaken by an urge to laugh. His stomach felt like it was already in stitches.
Except, well, what exactly did he have to lose, anyway? Nothing, not a damn thing in this world anymore, and no one who was going to miss him. So nothing, other than this fucking misery of life. And his parents -
The thought of his parents hardened something inside him. No. Not them. Not ever.
That did it, simply enough.
Chavez had been going on about his rights - hah, right - for some time now, though Jesse wasn't exactly listening. "We'll call in a pro-bono-"
Jesse cut him off, "I don't need a lawyer."
Chavez did a slight double take but covered it quickly. "Well, you'll get one, regardless." Maybe all the training hadn't been for nothing, because Chavez seemed to be paying more attention, like he knew something had just changed.
And it had.
"So, what it would be, Mr. Pinkman? We can put you back in jail for overnight, give you a chance to mull over this deal."
"I'll take the deal."
Chavez looked unconvinced. "Really."
His left hand trembled, so he placed his right one over it, pressing it down until all he felt was the cool surface of the metal underneath.
"You heard me. Tell me what you want me to do. But first -" Jesse gestured at the cigarette pack, "- give me a goddamn cigarette."
His hands didn't shake anymore.
four. the same mistake twice
When Jesse Pinkman returns home from work at six-thirty, exactly as expected, Mike is contemplating on the right colors of balloons. His granddaughter has outgrown pink. Yellow might do, and possibly bright green as well. Since he's been away for some time, he should bring home several, he thinks.
Pinkman, to his credit, doesn't try to run when he sees Mike lounging in his living room. The kid pauses at the doorway for a moment, but closes the door rest of the way before stepping in. He crosses the room, drops a take-out dinner bag on the small kitchen table, and sits on the chair across the couch that Mike's currently occupying.
There's no hurry in any of his movement, no abject fear, not even a hint of anxiety. If anything, Pinkman looks vaguely unhappy, but even that particular note of emotion isn't necessarily hinging on despair, which would have been more appropriate.
This somewhat unexpected display of calm, however, isn't exactly puzzling. Mike is more used to terrified screams, begging and running, to be sure, but this type of reactions isn't new, either - he's dealt with a fair share of men who, in the end, just gave up the fight and let go, not so unlike this.
The kid watches Mike for a short, quiet moment, and then gestures at a pack of cigarettes on a small tea table between them. "Do you mind?"
The apartment's smoke detector has been turned off. The blinds are shut. Pinkman isn't trying to signal anyone, even if there were anyone outside other than Mike's own men listening in on their conversation, which there isn't.
"Sure," says Mike. "Why not."
The kid takes out a single cigarette and puts the crumbled pack back on the table, next to a couple of sketchbooks and an empty mug.
Mike sweeps one more look at the sparse, atypically clean place that Pinkman has been living for the last four weeks. A few books and magazines are piled next to the couch and a small TV. The bedroom inside has a single bed and a closet with ragged but clean t-shirts and jeans. The kitchen is mostly bare except for a few plates, cups, utensils and pieces of kitchenware, all of which appear to be used on a regular basis. The apartment has been thoroughly checked twice, but it doesn't have much else worth noting. No weapons, no drugs, some cash. Nothing significant.
"Nice place," Mike offers. He means it.
Nothing much changes in Pinkman's expression. "The last place you saw me in was a meth den," the kid says, reaching for one of his sketchbooks. "So, I guess any place's gotta be an improvement."
Pinkman flips through the drawings with one hand, holding his unlit cigarette with the other and overall doing a fine job otherwise ignoring Mike's presence. Mike has already been through Pinkman's drawings as he's been through everything else in this apartment. His daughter often laughingly tells him he's got no particular eye for what qualifies as an art, but he can at least tell apart a good drawing from a bad one, and those in the sketchbooks aren't, surprisingly enough, exactly dismal.
Some of the men Mike takes care of waste the very air they breathe; the rest could have led better lives but didn't. Either way, it's a waste.
Pinkman finally lights his cigarette. There's little emotion flickering behind the eyes as he watches it burn, or as he turns his eyes back to his drawings.
The last time they were in the same room, those same eyes were flashing in righteous anger about a boy being used for killings. Few things surprise Mike in this business. That has been a surprising moment.
A waste. Maybe a pity. But nothing more.
"It was a stupid move," Mike observes, "stopping and settling down."
Pinkman shrugs, his nonchalance seemingly genuine, unpracticed. "Got tired of running."
Pinkman's still going through his sketchbook in a rather leisurely fashion, but his tone takes on a sharper, more characteristically irritated note, "And what? We're actually going to do a heart-to-heart? Seriously? Because if it's all the same to you, man, I'd rather skip straight to the leg-breaking part of the evening."
"You in any particular hurry?"
"If I am, then what? You gonna reschedule this entire thing for me?"
The flippant response almost amuses Mike. "No."
"Then why don't you just ask straight up?" Pinkman tears his eyes away from his drawings for a moment to stare at Mike. "Hell, why don't I just save you the trouble? No, I don't plan to exact some half-assed revenge and go after you and Gus all gun-toting and batshit crazy. No, I don't need to know whether you were the one who pulled the trigger. There. Easy."
That last tidbit more than anything else piques Mike's interest. He leans forward, an eyebrow raised. "And why not?"
The kid shuts the sketchbook with a sharp snap and leans forward, mirroring Mike's gesture. "Maybe you were the one who killed Mr. White, maybe not. Maybe you just ordered your henchmen to do it. Maybe you just stood around with a thumb up your ass while your boss pulled the trigger. It's not like you're any less guilty either way, now, is it?"
It occurs to Mike it is indeed possible that the time away has given Pinkman some hints of intelligence. This is unfortunate. The ideal time to develop intelligence would've been before all this has transpired between them, rather than after. "That's true," Mike concedes.
The kid visibly deflates at Mike's easy admission. His hand holding the cigarette trembles slightly, but it's not in anger. Pinkman is easy to read - the kid may try, but everything that comes across his face just shows.
"You would've only died sooner right along with him, had you stayed." Mike doesn't feel sorry for the kid, but facts are facts, which he feels compelled to point out. "As I understand it, he told you to run."
The self-deprecating grin on Pinkman's face doesn't entirely become him. "Yeah, well, wasn't the first time he was wrong, was it?"
True. Mike shrugs.
Pinkman watches him for a long moment and leans back on his chair. His hand is steady again. "Ask me the fucking question already."
Mike considers. It seems he's gleaned everything Pinkman's ready to reveal, and knowing the motivations is helpful but not necessary to do his job. The evening is indeed going to be long at this rate, and Pinkman does have a point.
"Where are they?" Mike asks the question he's come to ask, though the right answer is not expected from the first round.
Even if Pinkman is willing to sell them out in exchange for his life, WITSEC, as a rule, does not generally let others know where their protectees are. No amount of leg-breaking would get an answer out of Pinkman in that case, and even if the kid does know, and even if the kid is dumb enough to think the information would save his life, Mike doubts Pinkman would part with that knowledge willingly. Walt White didn't volunteer the location of his troublesome partner even with a gun to his head. Pinkman's behaviors so far suggest he's more likely to try to repay that odd loyalty that these two seem to have shared.
Try to repay, at least. If the kid does know, Mike will get it out of him. Eventually.
Except Pinkman answers easily. "At Denver," he says, no hesitation in his voice. "Denver, Colorado."
Mike raises his eyebrow. Pinkman is an easy read, but if this is the kid's last ditch effort to get himself off the hook, the angle isn't yet evidently clear. "Denver, huh?" Mike asks indulgently. He doesn't even need to mask how dubious he finds the kid's answer to be.
A thin smile skids cross the kid's face. "Well, at least they were, about four hours ago. Maybe they've moved by now, but hey, I can't do all your work for you."
No matter how inconsequential Pinkman is, there's no telling exactly what the kid has learned under the tutelage of one Walter White, so Mike has been cautious, taking time with the surveillance and bringing enough back-ups with contingency plans. Pinkman voluntarily offering their location, however, hasn't been one of the expected ways this may go down. "Mrs. White doesn't strike me as someone who enjoys mountains," Mike remarks off-handedly, not hiding that he's fishing.
Pinkman doesn't seem to care either way. "Don't think it was her choice, really. Apparently they had to go all the way across the continent to find a group of judges even the great Gustavo Fring couldn't influence. They didn't tell me all the details and rules on federal prosecution and joint committee hearings to combat organized crimes, or some shit like that. Why would they, and why'd I care? Not like I can understand any of them anyway."
Mike stares at Pinkman. The kid meets his gaze squarely and does not look away.
"They thought you'd assume prosecution wouldn't start without me, that you'd be so busy watching my every move instead. Guess they were actually right." Pinkman sounds pleasantly surprised by all this. "So yes, thanks, man, for wasting your time by watching me for the last ten days or so. Apparently it really bought the DAs the time they needed to smuggle in some paperwork. Or, something. Again, not big on details."
None of this is confirmed, and there's more than a small possibility that Pinkman's making shit up, except Pinkman's no actor and Mike's mouth has gone inexplicably dry. "And they left you hanging," Mike says, his disbelief carefully masked. Regardless of everything, Pinkman's still an invaluable - and the only - witness. They wouldn't waste him as bait. It doesn't work that way.
Pinkman shrugs. He almost seems bored by the conversation, as if he's already been rehearsing this exact conversation for a while and now everything's anticlimactic. "Mrs. White is just as great as their star witness. I mean, you did kill her husband, remember? My testimony's been recorded, wrapped up tight and delivered already. And hey, if I turn up as a corpse somewhere or suddenly disappear, it's only going to make their case look even more shiny and make your boss look pretty bad, wouldn't it?"
An idea forms in his head, though Mike still can't quite grasp it or believe it. The idea of someone like Jesse Pinkman being capable of a move like this is difficult to fathom. No one sacrifices the queen if you are the queen. "I didn't realize you were that interested in martyrdom."
"Oh-kay," Pinkman draws out the word. "That supposes to mean something to me?"
Mike rephrases, "If you were banking on that to save your neck, you miscalculated."
That odd self-deprecating smile widens. "Does it look like I'm beginning for my life, here?"
Mike does not get bested. And yet here he is. And he soundly admits defeat. "You volunteered," Mike says, just to confirm what he now knows to be a fact, "and they went with it."
Pinkman absently picks at the tattered edges of the sketchbook he's still holding. "You did a great job killing everyone who came forward. This time they wanted to try something else."
The kid looks absolutely calm for someone who isn't going to survive the next few minutes. If Mike has known that Pinkman's this invested in martyrdom, he would've arranged for that to be used in their advantage.
Too late now, though. Unfortunately.
Pinkman leans forward. "Let me ask you this. Just this." And for the first time tonight, his voice seems to shake. "You guys, you and your boss, you guys are smart, right? Smarter than shithead and drugged-up losers like me, right? Then why did you never once stop and think maybe you shouldn't do this, all of this? Just once?"
The flash of anger in his eyes burns out just about the same time as the cigarette does. Its stub falls onto the floor, the sketchbook that's been on his lap follows right after, and Pinkman digs in both of his palms into his eyes. "You're done," he says, almost to himself, without looking at Mike.
So it would seem, Mike agrees.
"So either waste me right here or leave me the fuck alone. I truly don't give a shit either way. Do me a favor, though, if you want." Jesse Pinkman looks up again and gives him a bright, wide, and terrible smile. "Tell your boss he shouldn't have made the same mistake twice."
This is likely the moment the kid has been rehearsing for all along, but Pinkman doesn't waste any more time to relish it. He sits back again, eyes hooded, and picks up his sketchbook. His hands brushing over the pages are steady.
Perhaps, Mike thinks to himself, he will relay the message to Gus. Perhaps not. Perhaps there would be no need.
Moments later, when Mike leaves the apartment, he's thinking of his own contingency plans, of which he has many.
He drives off after instructing his men. By the time he reaches the next intersection, he's chosen the plan that would work; he starts to carry out the plan by the time he leaves the town.
He spares a little thought for Jesse Pinkman and Walt White, though he doesn't dwell on them. By default, he doesn't dwell on his mistakes.
On the way home, he buys more balloons for his granddaughter.
five. everybody's gotta learn sometime
He'd just finished counting the number of tiles on the ceiling for the seventh time when he heard the sound of the footsteps echoing from the hallway. He'd been a frequent occupant of this particular accommodation ever since turning fourteen, so he knew what this meant. He sat up immediately.
"Pinkman." A cop approached the cell, swinging a set of keys like he was some sort of a medieval jailer, and proceeded to open the door all very extremely slowly. "Out."
This was a surprise. Usually it took at least a half a day for anyone to spring him out, and he hadn't expected his parents to come for him this fast, at least not this time.
He got up from the hardest bench known to men, resisting the temptation to vandalize it thoroughly so it wouldn't be fit for use in the future (and he would have given in, if he had a coin or a key or anything metal that could be used to make a big long satisfying scratch over the surface, but of course anything that might've been of use had already been confiscated) and sauntered across to slip through the open door.
"I don't want to see you here again, got it?" The cop grunted as he locked the cell behind them. "Fifteen's too young to get into this much trouble, kid."
"Yeah, because when I'm sixteen it would be so much better."
"What did you say?"
He held up his hands. "All right, I got it. Geez. Chill already."
The cop let out a long suffering sigh, and he rolled his eyes in response.
The mystery surrounding his early release was solved when he followed the cop out of the holding cell to the waiting area. His brother hastily stood up and met them halfway.
"Thank you, Officer," Jesse said as he approached them, disgustingly earnest and polite. He was trying so hard that it reached the new level of pathetic, even for Jesse. "This will never happen again, I can promise you."
"Make sure it doesn't, Mr. Pinkman," the cop said, all upright and uptight. "The only reason your brother's getting off this quickly is because of his age, but that isn't going to happen again if there's a next one. Tell your parents to keep a better eye on him, all right?"
Jesse was practically groveling. "Of course, yeah, of course not. We'll make sure this never happens again."
Which was a total lie, Jake knew, but he decided not to point that out. Whatever got him out of his jam was good enough for him, even if it happened to be his loser of a brother.
"Exactly how desperate were they, sending you out here?" Jake asked once they were out, although maybe this should've been expected. Of course his parents would call for Jesse as their very last resort. The last time, his parents had sent a lawyer because they had been so distraught at the flight of their younger son.
"I told 'em I would pick you up. Thought you might like that better," Jesse said, probably thinking he was a convincing liar. Jesse was awful at it, like he was at most other things.
"Yeah, whatever." He stretched his legs and yawned, trailing after Jesse to his car.
"You know you've got the brains in this family, man." Jesse's tone wasn't exactly disapproving, not like their parents', but there was still that disappointment there, along with real puzzlement, which was annoying just the same. "Don't see why you have to waste your life like this, Jake."
"Seriously, if you're going to sound like Dad, why don't you just fuck off already?"
"Wait, wait, a-wait a minute. Did you just compare me to Dad? Cruel, just cruel, bro. Haven't I been always good to you? Why do you gotta hurt me like this, huh?"
It was pretty hilarious, the way Jesse went on and on comically in exaggeration, but Jake rolled his eyes to hide his amusement and kicked some pebbles on the sidewalk instead. And then he stomped on some conked-out cans on the pavement. It made him feel vaguely better, loosened the tight knots all over him, so he continued on and proceeded to work on bigger and better things. When he decided to kick around a garbage can, Jesse pulled him aside.
"Dude, seriously, just stop. Let's go. C'mon, get in the car."
Jake could still feel tension thrumming in his blood. He was jonsing for something stronger, something better, of the more chemical variety. Stomping helped, but not too much. "Where're we going?"
"Do you really care?"
No, he didn't, as long as it was away. He got into Jesse's beat-up truck, almost obediently, for a change.
Once they left the parking lot, Jake turned up the music until it was blasting off the speakers. This apparently was a pretty much useless maneuver, because a few blocks after, Jesse turned off the radio, a sure sign as any that the intervention was about to start.
Jake geared up for a good verbal smackdown, which he'd always been supremely good at dishing out. He used to have his teachers and parents wrapped around his fingers because he was good at talking and doing, and hiding that he was doing it. Maybe he could've gotten away with it as long as he'd wanted, had the series of boredom not kicked in. Had he not realized he couldn't even be bothered with the pretense anymore. Had he not realized that this knot of dissatisfaction wouldn't go away unless he did things, publicly and outwardly and as spectacularly as possible.
The Talk didn't come right away, though. Jesse was silent for the longest time, which was totally unlike him - Jesse was the type to talk, to rant, to rattle, and still always be uncertain where he was standing.
"You remember when Aunt Jenny got sick?" Jesse asked eventually.
Jake felt instantly suspicious. "What're you talking about?" As far as the opening for the Talk went (and Jake had been exposed to many and varying ones, staring from the outlined methods copied from self-help books to professional studies, thanks very much), this particular approach seemed too spanking new for Jesse to have come up with all by himself.
"You do remember Aunt Jenny, right?" Jesse said, his eyes on the road. Jake could see this was taking a lot of effort on Jesse for some reason, because his brother kept swallowing like his throat was already parched dry. "You were probably too young to remember all the details, but years and years ago she had cancer."
Oh, Jake thought. Yeah, he did remember Aunt Jenny. She used to bake pies, and her house smelled like begonia. He also remembered the funeral from a couple of years ago. "What about her?"
Jesse's expression got a little tight. "I used to be at where you are now."
Jake groaned out loud. Of course it was the same old story. "Oh, man, please stop -"
Jesse snapped, "Could you shut up and let me talk? Like, for a minute? Maybe it isn't such a huge thing I can ask for from my brother, whose ass I just saved."
Huh, so this was a new wrinkle. Jake shut up, more out of surprise than anything else. Jesse actually looked and sounded mad, which he rarely was with Jake.
When Jake leaned back in his seat and said nothing in protest, Jesse picked up where he left off, slowly and quietly and still totally unlike the usual Jesse, "When I was little older than you, Mom and Dad kicked me out because I stirred up a whole lot of shit. And Aunt Jenny took me in. I don't know, man, maybe Mom worked it out with her or what, but she took me in, and I went in, 'cause I had nowhere else to go. Didn't stop me from stirring up more shit, though, but Jenny never yelled at me. She just cried a lot. Made me feel like crap, so I went on to cause even more trouble.
"By then she was already diagnosed with cancer, though it was stabilized, or so the doctors said. But not for long, I guess, 'cause one day, she passed out in the bathroom.
"And of course I wasn't there, 'cause I was out, totally getting wasted.
"When I went to the ER and saw her lying on the bed - no, well, I couldn't actually see her, 'cause the doctors were total douches and gave us no information whatsoever, so for hours we had no idea if she was going to make it. So, you know, after waiting and waiting and more waiting, I swore to myself, if she ever gets better, I will quit. Really quit. Get cleaned up, get into college and all that, do whatever she wants me to do. Three weeks later, she was in remission."
Jake remembered missing the Sunday pies when they had no longer materialized on their after-dinner dessert table. "But, wait, didn't she -"
"Yeah," Jesse said, his hands stiff over the wheel. "She lasted almost six years after that, though. Cancer didn't get to her, but all the treatments, they wore her down. Just...she couldn't hold on anymore."
Jesse quieted down again. He hadn't looked at Jake once since the story started, and staring at his brother's profile, Jake felt this sudden, seething fury taking over him. What the fuck did Jesse know? Lay a sob story on him and think that alone would change anything? Anything at all? Jesse was already out of that house, living his life, doing whatever the hell he wanted, and for him to lay this on Jake?
"So what?" Jake turned toward the window, glaring at the suburbs of Albuquerque passing him by. "You thought God listened to you? Newsflash, Jesse. He didn't."
Jake expected, wanted to make Jesse angry, but it didn't work. "Maybe, maybe not, but either way why would I want to tempt fate?" Jesse asked in a mild, almost resigned tone that made him seem suddenly unfamiliar. "What if cancer came back, what then? It'd fucking feel like my fault, wouldn't it? Couldn't live with that. Whatever it took, I was going to do whatever I promised to do, so I did."
Jake could see Jesse in the reflection on his side of the window. His hands were still tight on the wheel, like they were his lifeboat or something, and he didn't look mad anymore - but maybe a little sad.
Jake felt downright shitty.
But, so what? Jake desperately, stubbornly held onto that livid, freeing feeling of anger. None of them meant anything, not Jesse's some random heartfelt confession to steer him away, not his parents' complete and utter incomprehension swathed in disappointment, and he wasn't going to go back to that house, where everything was expected of him and nothing was what he'd wanted.
"And here you are, a veritable model of success," Jake said, sneering with all the contempt he could throw at Jesse. "Working for some comic book store and taking night classes. Aunt Jenny would be so proud."
Jesse didn't sway, not one bit. "I know she is. She told me that before she passed. And I would've been at a hell of a lot worse place anyway, if I hadn't tried because of her. The point is, Jake, when something good happens to you, you don't fucking take it for granted."
"So what?" Anger was more slippery now, and Jake couldn't quite get that burning again, as if Jesse's damn sob story had been a proverbial bucket of ice water over him, so his voice, instead, got louder. "You think I should do exactly as you did, is that it? That's your brilliant word of wisdom?"
"No, you know you can do better than me." Jesse sounded so fucking infuriatingly sure. "And I want you to do better than me."
Jake flipped around to face Jesse, still felt that last bit of anger viciously itching inside him to rash out. "Why? Why the fuck would you care?"
"Because." Jesse slowly pulled over the car onto the curb and turned to him. And he looked at Jake like he'd just posed the dumbest question ever in existence. "You're my brother. And I love you, man."
Suddenly, for no reason at all, his eyes watered, and Jake punched at the dashboard. "Why would you - fuck, you're such a - shit, let me out! Let me out right the fuck now!"
He banged on the door and tugged at the handle, trying to get the lock open.
"Jesus, Jake, would you quit it already? You're getting off here anyway!"
That actually stopped Jake. "What?"
"We're getting off here," Jesse said, gesturing at the church outside with his thumb. "Well, you are, anyhow."
"Wait, what the hell - what's this place?" Then Jake read the portable sign right next to where they were parked. "Oh, for - are you fucking serious?"
"As a corpse, yeah."
"In your dreams."
Jake turned away, arms crossed, and he didn't care if he was being a total baby. He had no intention of getting out and joining any fucking NA meeting.
But then Jesse started to tug at Jake's jacket sleeve, his collar and then at his hair, like he'd used to, before, until Jake had to untangle his arms to swat at Jesse's poking fingers.
"God, Jesse, what the fuck? What?"
Jesse grinned at him. "I'm just sayin', bro, I just saved your ass, so as a favor to me, maybe you could do this, maybe? Just this once? So that the next time I have to shell out a grand to post a bail for my little brother, I wouldn't be as depressed as I was right now?"
It wasn't exactly the first time Jake had heard this argument, except, the thing was, well, the thing was that Jesse was looking at him like this actually meant something to him personally, like - Jake mattered to him.
"Just this once?" Jesse asked again, in the way that was kind of expectant and hopeful and always made Jake wonder exactly who the older brother was in their relationship.
At this point Jesse was almost begging, which was pathetic and loser-like to the umpteenth degree and all, but - oh god, if Jake didn't go in, Jesse was probably going to smolder him with all of his good intentions. Or poke him, or tickle him or do everything to wear him down until he gave in. And, that was just a no.
"Of course it'd be just this once," Jake said, almost involuntarily, "you think I would actually try this twice?"
That had Jesse grin brightly at him. "Whatever you want. Seriously, whatever you want." He nodded at the direction of the entrance of the church. "Go in. I'll be here."
"Whatever. Leave me here, I don't care."
This was just stupid, Jesse was stupid, everything was stupid. Jake opened the car door and got off, silently and loudly hating the world. He hadn't taken more than a few begrudging steps toward the door when Jesse rolled down the window and called out to him.
"Hey, Jake," Jesse started, "uh, you want to say with me at my place today? After?"
Jake turned and saw his brother in that pathetic, little, sad wreck of a car. Jesse was so hesitant and unsure Jake had to fight the desire to squash the offer like a bug.
He didn't, because he did want to, stay with Jesse.
"Yeah." Jake looked away. "Okay."
"I'm not going anywhere, bro."
"Okay, alright, stop with emotional crap, okay? Jesus."
Jake hurried his steps because, his eyes, goddamn traitors, were trying to tear up even though there still wasn't any good reason for that, and any moment now, he might want to look back and check if his brother was still there.
But there was no reason to check. He knew Jesse was going to be there.
Jake went into the church.
and one. counting bodies like sheep
"Pinkman's going to be a problem."
He has heard the exact same set of words in the past but has never given them much weight. This time, Mike's words had enough gravitas to warrant his attention.
He shifts his focus from the ledger on the desk to Mike. Mike doesn't elaborate right away; for Mike, this passes as a rare sign of hesitation. "He found out about Tenoch," Mike explains, after a pause.
Tenoch. He narrows his eyes. "If I recall correctly, we've taken measures to avoid precisely this specific problem."
"He figured it out anyway." Mike shrugs in his chair. "You were right - he's not a total idiot."
At any other point in time, he may have found this rather amusing, Mike's unwilling admission of almost-respect for Jesse Pinkman. This isn't any other time. He sits back and contemplates options. There are a few solutions, none of which he's terribly inclined to employ. "Where is he now?"
"On his way in."
"Is he using?"
"Not since last year." Mike adds, after a moment, "Our people at DEA and FBI haven't heard any rumblings. The kid hasn't gone to them."
Of course he hasn't. Mike is of the belief that the kid falls under the heading of either liability or casualty. He agrees with Mike, but for entirely different reasons.
"He's not going to back off either way," Mike concludes, resolutely practical. "He'll want to talk to you. Want to change things."
"When it comes to that, I'll deal with him."
"I know how you feel about the kid. I can take care of it, with your permission."
Walt White chooses not to control his expression for a moment. Mike may be better at hiding his emotions than any person in this particular field of industry, where emotion is already a rare commodity, but even Mike cannot always hide a flinch.
Walt collects his anger and considers.
Jesse has always been a blind spot. Blind spots cannot exist, not in this line of business. Logic dictates it; reason certainly demands it. To fortify yourself against all possible threats, offense is the best option.
He's still reluctant.
Not a few minutes later, there's a slight commotion outside. Even before the guards call in with the name of the drop-in, Walt recognizes the sound of the rushed steps that belong to Jesse. Jesse, face flushed and hair ruffled, enters the office unhindered by Walt's men outside, his weapon unchecked, a consideration that very few enjoy.
Jesse's hair is a bit too long, Walt observes. He needs a haircut soon. The clothes are ill-fitting; it's possible he's lost some weight recently.
Still, his eyes are lucid and alert. He's not using.
"Excuse us, Mike," Walt orders.
Mike gets up, slowly and politely and as non-threateningly as possible, though no one in the room is fooled; Jesse does his very best not to look at Mike, his jaw stiffening with the effort to hide his anger. As always, Jesse's face telegraphs everything. This incurs odd, tender feelings in Walt, rather than annoyance.
He tries not to examine his feelings too closely.
"Do you know?" Jesse asks immediately, once Mike closes the door behind him. It's unlikely Jesse has any idea what he sounds like - angry and frightened and maybe even hopeful, and not a day older than a ten-year-old. "Do you know what he did?"
Walt pushes back his chair and trains his eyes on him, calm and reproachful. "Did you imagine that Mike would ever make any operational decision without my consent, Jesse?"
Walt watches, almost fascinated, as the hope in Jesse's expression fades.
Oh Jesse, Jesse, Jesse, Walt thinks. Jesse, too, has blind spots where Walter's concerned, this willful and forceful blindness, wanting to believe in lies when all things suggest otherwise, always looking for reasons to convince himself the opposite. And when what he wants to believe and what he knows to be true become strictly incongruent, Jesse breaks down in tiny, fragile pieces. It's always been a show of mercy, Walter thinks, to help Jesse believe whatever he wants to believe, just to keep him on the wagon.
This time, it's too late for that particular brand of help. This will be one issue Jesse isn't willing to stay blind on. And this Jesse is sober.
And he's pacing. When he turns around to face Walt, his arms are wrapped around his chest like that would protect him from the truth somehow. "Why? They didn't - this didn't have to happen!"
"Nicaraguans were encroaching in our territory." Walt employs the tone he often and effectively utilizes to explain a high level concept to a particularly slow student in a make-up class. "They had already been sufficiently warned, but did not listen. A show of force -"
"A show of -" Jesse stops, rakes a hand through his hair and grits out, "Are you listening to me? Are you even listening to yourself? Mr. White, this didn't have to happen."
"I disagree, Jesse."
"Christ. Mr. White, Mike killed everyone in his family!"
"I ordered it, yes."
Jesse's eyes are wide and incredulous, like this is, after all this time, still a surprise to him.
"What would have happened if this hasn't been taken care of, Jesse?" The desire to correct Jesse, to destroy and wipe off that look on his face, is almost overwhelming. "It wouldn't have stopped with Tenoch. There are already goods coming in from Nevada and across the borders, and they're beginning to copy our formula - badly, but copying nonetheless. This is a threat that needs to be put a stop to, and now, it's been successfully managed. So, tell me, Jesse, why this shouldn't have happened."
"Because -" Jesse starts out, but his word is halted, like his breath is caught with it. He puts his hands over Walt's desk, his head hanging between his shoulders, and frustration radiates from his entire body. "Because it's not right, Mr. White. Does that even register with you anymore? This isn't something you just do. This is not right."
What Jesse offers is so morally archaic, so simple, and all so irrelevant. "No, of course not. But that's not a good enough reason not to do what's necessary."
Gradually Jesse's head turns up and his eyes meet Walt's. His lips tighten until they're nothing but a thin line on his face.
"Are you sick again?" Jesse asks, but it's not really a question. "Because I kept wondering, when I found out, I kept thinking about why you would do this and thought to myself maybe, maybe cancer's back. Maybe that's why. That has to be it. But it isn't, is it?"
Walt sits back and lets Jesse draw his own conclusions.
"Even when you were being a particular pain in the ass, even when everything went to shit, even when I - " Jesse swallows the next words, but Walt hears them behind the silence - even when I had to kill Gale. "I never once wished cancer got to you. Never once thought maybe you shouldn't have gone into remission years ago. Never. But now," Jesse's voice breaks, "I don't know. I don't know anymore, Mr. White."
Jesse looks at him, and there's a sudden spark of resentment inside Walt, rotten and acerbic.
Because it's not the expected anger or disappointment that is staring back at him now. Jesse looks at him like Walt has just crumbled his heart, and Walt both loves and hates this, that Jesse still thinks he gets to have expectations of Walt, that Jesse still maintains his naivety when all of Walt's has dissipated more than a lifetime ago. No, not dissipated. It's been a calculated decision, and he's worked diligently at denting it away, while Jesse - Jesse steadfastly, stubbornly, infuriatingly remains Jesse still, even when various drugs of his choice have been eating him inside and out.
What's more ridiculous, maybe, is that Walt may have encouraged this by sheltering him, letting Jesse hold onto the archaic, moralistic perspective that Walt, by all rights, should have crushed a long time ago.
Jesse, this Jesse, is a thorn in his side, constantly reminding him of the things he no longer is.
It's not too late, he supposes, to teach Jesse otherwise.
He leans back against his chair and watches. "Mike informs me that Sector Five distribution hasn't met the quota this month. It is yours, isn't it, Jesse?"
Jesse freezes on spot. "Please don't."
"In fact, it hasn't been met for several months. Six months, almost."
"Mr. White, they're just, they're just trying to survive."
"If they don't stop dealing on the side, they will have to go, Jesse."
"They won't. They can't. It's their meal ticket at stake, their livelihood. Just let this go, for once. Please."
Distilled down to the finest elements, everything about Jesse is simple, and certainly predictable. Jesse doesn't even try to deny that he hasn't been properly collecting their dues. And, absurdly, Jesse even now tries to appeal to Walt, seeking his understanding.
"That's not how this works, Jesse. Have you truly learned nothing? Where is your leverage? Leverage, Jesse. Try. Change my mind."
Jesse trips over Walt's sharp words, and Walt can see him trying to grasp at straws. "Does your wife know?" Jesse asks after a drawn-out moment of hesitation, like it's his trump card that he's closely guarded over the years. "What would she say if she finds out that you're decimating people and their families like this over nothing? Over - over some money?"
That's a little better, Walt thinks. "She doesn't know, and it will remain that way." Walt is unconcerned by the implied and impotent threat. Jesse would never bring this up to Skyler, for the same reason he'd never go to the cops. Jesse wouldn't, if not for Walt's sake, then at least for Skyler, and for Holly and Walter Jr. That's one fixed variable in this equation he has already ascertained. "What else do you have, Jesse?"
Jesse shuts his eyes briefly, his shoulders hunched tight. "You can't do this, Mr. White." His voice is impossibly young again.
"But I can, and I will, Jesse, and you know that. So, the heart of the question isn't whether or not I can or will carry this out. The question becomes, what's going to stop me? Or, who's going to stop me? You?"
Walt glances at the direction of the gun he knows Jesse has tucked away inside his jacket. Jesse follows his eyes and realizes what Walt's looking at; when he looks up, his eyes are wide again, except now they hold fear.
And Walt is curious, as he almost always is over correlations between cause and reaction. All the elements coming together to react to the catalyst may create an explosion or an implosion. "You may be right," Walt concedes, as if this has been Jesse's idea all along. "That, probably, is the only way to stop me."
"No. Mr. White-" Jesse reaches for his gun, his fingers clumsy and in denial. "No, that's not -"
"- So, are you going to shoot me, Jesse?"
Jesse looks wide-eyed and sincere and terrified. There's cruel, crude thrill in this, watching Jesse stumble so helplessly; this is reined in by the equally strong, contrasting pull of not wanting to see Jesse, who's always been too soft for this life, suffer this through. But whatever is reining Walt in, he quells it ruthlessly. Jesse needs to learn.
It will bleed, it will hurt, once the thorn's pulled out. But it needs to be pulled out.
So Walt pushes, just a little more, for that perfect amount of give.
"Let's walk this through. You've got to think this through, Jesse. What's the plan? Will you pull the trigger? If so, what will be the next move? Do you want to be the next kingpin? Mike's outside, as are my men. Would they accept you as the next in line, or would they just execute you on sight? What's the next move, Jesse?"
"Please don't do this," Jesse pleads. The gun is still his hand, but it's hanging loose, and in any minute it could simply slip from his grip. "You don't have to anymore. You can retire. You don't need the money, you've never needed the money, and it's not even about cooking and creating something perfect anymore. We're so far from that now. Don't you see that?"
"You should know better." Walt shakes his head in disappointment. "One does not just simply walk away from this. The safety of my family -"
"-What safety? No one's going to touch you or your family even if you walk away right this second, not when you're the great and fearful Heisenberg. You know that. Please, Mr. White. This isn't you. This, all this, has never been you."
Walt's wandering mind briefly revisits his contemplation on the nature of willful blindness. The strangest of fate concocted and conspired that, in this incomprehensible way, the one person who knows him better than anyone else in the world, better than his wife and children, and the one who seems to have the most mistaken impression of who Walt White is, are actually one and the same, this kid in front of him, this kid who cannot even hold a gun properly.
"On the contrary," Walt says, as gently as he is capable of, "this is exactly who I am, Jesse."
Jesse stares at him, disbelief still in his eyes. There's little attention being paid to the gun in his hand. Walt can, if he wants to, experiment and push things even further. All he has to do is say five relatively simple words.
I let Jane die, Jesse.
But maybe he doesn't want that, not yet. Facing pain and recrimination would be an unpleasant experience Walt would rather avoid at the moment, and there are always other feelings associated with bringing back this memory.
- I killed her, and I loved her -
He remembers Jesse unfolding and shriveling in his arms, a sobbing wreckage wound so tight that it wouldn't unwind except by Walt's prying hands.
It's heady and devastating at the same time, knowing he's given that much blind trust all so freely without any condition. And that may be why he's so indulgent with Jesse, all this time.
When Walt looks up, Jesse's gun is aimed at him.
"Promise me you'll stop this, that you're changing your mind," Jesse demands, his voice steadier, more solid than it has ever been tonight, than it's been for months. "Promise me you will walk away from this, that you'd never ever do this again."
Well, now, this is certainly more than he's hoped for.
Walt considers for a moment and stands up.
And walks around the desk.
"Mr. White -"
Walt walks up to Jesse. He stops only when Jesse falters, backed up against the wall.
Walt takes another step to close the gap with the gun hanging between them; Jesse flinches.
"Or, what, Jesse? What will be the repercussions if I refuse to make such promises? Will you be making use of that gun tonight?"
Jesse still manages to hold himself together, but it's a bare-threaded effort. They stand at an arm's length, close enough for Walt to see through Jesse's panic from the tremor going through his hand.
Walt is dully disappointed, though perhaps this is the expected outcome. "If you plan to bluff, do it properly," Walt berates him and feels little pity. "Think it though."
The tumult in Jesse's eyes slowly settles into a quiet recalcitrance. "You're really sure I don't have the guts to pull this off, aren't you?"
It's not a sneer, not quite, but Walt knows a knowing grin is making its way into his face. "I'm not omniscient, Jesse. My judgment can only be based on previous experiences. No more, no less."
It takes longer than Walt would like for Jesse to work out the insinuation behind his words. Walt can tell the exact moment Jesse gets it because there's a flash of anger, and his fingers tighten over his revolver. "And you really want to test me on this."
There's a moment where they only stare at each other.
There have been times when Walt wanted to see this; he may have been craving and dreading it, in a rather contradictory way, for this steely look in Jesse's eyes to emerge. Walt has very seldom seen it surface, but when it does, he feels a rush of paternal pride, and of disquiet.
The safety's turned off with a loud, resounding click.
It is probable, Walt muses, that this is exactly what he's been pushing for.
"All right," Jesse says softly. "You win, Mr. White."
And Jesse pulls the trigger.
When the door swings open, when the shot rings out, Walt's eyes are on Jesse's. In that slow, petrified moment, Walt doesn't miss the shock flicker through the blue eyes before Jesse lurches backward.
Jesse slumps against the wall.
Walt reaches out and grasps at Jesse's arm, but he's slow, too slow - he doesn't, cannot stop the descent in time. Jesse collapses onto the floor, taking Walt down with him.
There's blood on Jesse's shirt.
Mike is standing over them, as are Walt's men. Mike presses a foot down on Jesse's wrist and snatches the revolver away from Jesse's loosened grip.
Walt doesn't have to look up to know Mike also has another gun, his own, in his hand, having just used it.
No. Walt thinks, No. Something's wrong. Something is -
Walt's hand trails down Jesse's arm. Jesse is breathing, his unseeing eyes still open and his fist clutching at his chest.
Walt unravels Jesse's fist. He knows what he will find.
In Jesse's palm are six bullets.
From outside his periphery, Walt sees Mike hastily checking the chambers of Jesse's revolver. All of them are empty.
Mike's rough voice breaks the stunned silence in the room: "I'll call for help."
There are footsteps, in and out.
Walt hears nothing.
He thinks, Catalyst. The right mix. Calculation. And this. This.
Jesse has such a thin, gangly wrist. It doesn't hold much weight in Walt's hand. Neither does his entire body, in fact. Walt, suddenly awake, frantically reaches out and presses his hands on Jesse's chest. The heart's still beating, it's still there - it's still -
"Mr. White," Jesse murmurs. When Walt looks up, he sees there are tears brimmming in Jesse's eyes. "Everything's so contaminated now. Isn't it?"
"Jesse, I - " he stops. He doesn't, cannot continue. His hands shake.
Jesse coughs and smiles a little. "...sorry."
"No," Walt says. No. No.
The world takes on a familiar glow of red and Walt sees nothing else but this.
His hands are stained with Jesse's blood.