Badger has almost literally no idea what is going on, at more or less any point, ever. Which isn’t to say he’s stupid, he just isn’t let in on the story. Him and Skinny Pete and Jesse have been best friends almost their entire lives, and he knows it’s normal for friends to grow apart as they get older and their lives gain a more individual importance, but he can’t help but feel like Jesse is phoning it in.
Jesse’s always been the leader of their group, which is probably for the best. Badger admits to his own easy distraction, and Skinny Pete is too easily swayed for the good of a group dynamic, so it makes sense that the determined—if not impulsive—little blond boy would find a natural fit in the dominant role.
The great thing about Jesse, though, is that he never mistook leader to mean dictator. He has always been exceptionally careful to not only include him and Skinny Pete in his plans, but to make sure they’re taken care of. Other men may find that emasculating, but Badger likes knowing that one of his closest friends is thinking of him always, and wishing him well.
Which is why it’s completely stupid that he’s shut them out. Supposedly it’s for their own good, but that’s coming from the lion’s mouth itself so who really fucking knows.
He slurps up the bottom of his soda, surprising himself out of his own mind by the sound of the air bubbles being sucked up through the straw.
“Fuck, they’re always shortin’ me nugs here, yo,” Skinny Pete says, tossing the packet of chicken back onto his tray. One of the nuggets slides across the slick, dark plastic toward Badger, who eats it in one bite.
“Now you got even less,” Badger says, smiling with his mouth full. “Delicious.”
They’re sitting at a booth in the back of Los Pollos Hermanos, ostensibly waiting for Jesse to meet them. Skinny Pete has voiced his doubts that he’ll show—he’s been unreliable at fucking best ever since he abruptly ended the house party he was throwing for his nervous breakdown.
“How’s your cat?” he asks Badger, who shrugs.
“It’s a cat,” he says. Sometimes he forgets he owns it. Him? Her? Do cats have penises? What does a cat vagina look like? Gross, probably. “It’s alive, last time I checked. So, whatever.”
Skinny Pete glances at his watch.
“Let’s go outside,” he says, snatching his drink off the table. Badger puts the remaining chicken nuggets in the pocket of his hoodie and follows.
They blink into the sun.
“What’re we doing here, anyway?” Badger asks. Skinny Pete assumes he is speaking literally, although he would be interested to hear Badger’s take on the greater purpose of mankind. Not that they’re anywhere near high enough for that discussion, but he places the thought in the suggestion box at the back of his mind. All of their best discussions have come from that box, when the time is right.
“We’re gonna push, man,” he says, poking Badger in the ribs with his elbow. He starts bouncing from foot to foot, jiggering the mojo through his body. Not that he needs to do much, really. Dealing this blue stuff is the easiest money he’s ever made, now that they have a reputation preceding them.
“Yo! What the fuck is your problem?” Jesse yells into the phone. “Are you mental?”
Walter glares from over the top of Jesse’s car. What if someone hears? The last thing they need right now is to convey, to anyone in the entire world, that they are capable of an emotion beyond subservience.
“Will you keep it down, please,” Walter hisses.
“I gotta go deal with some shit,” Jesse barks, slamming his car door.
Walter stands for a moment, staring into the dust cloud Jesse’s car has left behind. In the time it takes him to pick the kickback gravel out of his shoes, he’s made up his mind.
He crosses the so-called parking lot and gets into his car, rankled and rigid with the ten thousand volt electrical wires that seem to have taken the place of his bones over the past few months. He’s not sure when the crossover from man to machine began, but it always seems to surprise him. He wakes up in the middle of the night, the sweat sticking his bedsheets to his skin like static cling. Once he didn’t shower for three days because he was afraid the water would get into his mouth and electrocute him from the inside.
The keys rattle in the ignition. Walter turns around to check his blind spots and then, in a moment of pure Walter White-ian subtlety, floors it until the tires squeal.
He’s going to follow Jesse.
“Hey man, take it easy,” Badger whines, struggling against the ties keeping his wrists behind his back. They feel slightly loose, and if he could just wiggle his wrists in the right sequence he might be able to get free. “I have a cat at home.”
Mike stops what he’s doing, stares at him.
“So you gotta, like, spare me,” Badger finishes lamely.
From his prime spot in the adjacent chair, Skinny Pete is pretty sure he can see the hint of a smile in Mike’s jowls as the older man slaps a piece of electrical tape on Badger’s mouth.
They spend a lot of time sitting there, all of them waiting for something to happen.
After about an hour, the forced silence becomes almost comfortable.
Badger contemplates taking a nap.
Jesse rushes into the room like a bat out of hell. His face is puffy and red and Skinny Pete can see the sweat on his forehead.
“What the… ?!” he asks. He is panting, his hands on his knees as he tries to catch his breath. Jesse looks at everyone in turn, his confusion lingering on Mike.
“These are my friends, yo!” he says, re-gaining his voice. “Mi—“
“Don’t,” is all Mike says. Jesse listens to him, but Skinny Pete senses a relationship between the two, can see Jesse stopping himself from rolling his eyes—his default reaction to any old white dudes who try to claim authority over him.
“Is anybody going to, like, fucking explain what’s going on, then?” Jesse asks. He’s looking directly at Mike, seeing as Skinny Pete and Badger still have tape over their mouths.
“These are your friends?” Mike says.
“Yeaaah,” Jesse responds, sarcastic. “Are you deaf?”
“We need to talk.”
“Well I h—“
“Outside,” Mike growls, cutting Jesse off as a he grabs him by the arm.
Jesse meets Skinny Pete’s eyes before he’s dragged through the door. The blue in his eyes is bright with a mixture of anger and concern, although whether for his friends or for himself has yet to be determined.
“This isn’t part of the plot,” Mike says as soon as they are outside. He’s looking at Jesse as though this is his fault, although that’s nothing new. In Mike’s eyes, Jesse is the sole chaotic force that has kept the world from running in a perfect symphony of order and respect since the Big Bang itself.
“I—what?” Jesse asks, eyebrows reaching into his expanse of forehead.
“Your friends,” Mike begins, pointing an accusing thumb toward the back storage room of Los Pollos Hermanos where Badger and Skinny Pete are currently being kept, “They’re not supposed to be here.”
“This is America,” Jesse counters. “They can go wherever they want. It’s a free country, bitch.”
“This isn’t their part of the story,” Mike says. He sounds serious, like he’s finished playing any games, even the ones that are only technically games to him and live inside his head.
“Oh,” Jesse responds. He didn’t realize that was what this was about.
Mike stares at him in lieu of a verbal response.
“So,” he says, “You know what we have to do.”
They stand facing each other, their shoulders tensed, perched like eagles on the precipice of something bloody.
Jesse can see Mike’s hand going toward the gun inside of his jacket. It’s a bigger tell than usual from him, considering his normal M.O. requires ninja-like serenity under pressure. It’s an insane comparison to make, considering, well, Mike, but Jesse finds it to be apt.
He wonders if—no. Focus! He needs to focus. Those are his friends inside, and they don’t know what they’ve wandered into.
His feet grind into the pavement as he subtly angles himself to run inside.
Mike notices Jesse’s breath catching as he tries to build up kinetic energy from a standing position. He wonders if he was ever so obvious, so acutely stupid and earnest. Probably not. You don’t get to where he is by being acute, obtuse, or any sort of angle short of a straight line. Precise, smooth, and straight to the point.
Jesse glances toward the door, wondering if he can fake Mike out and somehow knock him over from behind, when his thoughts are interrupted by the sound of an ugly ass shit stain of a car squealing into the parking lot.
“Mister White!” Jesse exclaims, before he can stop himself. He clamps a hand over his mouth. He’s the last person Mike needs to be seeing right now.
Jesse turns and runs toward the front of the building, where he is certain Mister White must have gone in. He can hear Mike’s feet pounding behind him, they sound like they’re practically in his ears, but he doesn’t have the mental capacity to register their proximity as frightening.
He’s too distracted by the people swarming in the parking lot, both customers and employees staring back at the front of the fast food restaurant with concern. Most of them are talking to each other in rapid Spanish or whispered English. The ones who aren’t speaking have their hands on their faces and look like they might be getting sick.
Jesse, his eyes trained for this, finds Mister White immediately from within the crowd. He’s sweating into his green shirt and the sun reflects off of the top of his head.
“What the fuck!” he asks as he fights through the crowd toward Mister White, unable to keep the accusatory tone out of his voice. Jesse knows this isn’t his fault, but he can’t help it. Accusatory and self-righteous seems to be their standard issue greeting these days.
“I am just as confused as you are, Jesse,” Mister White responds, staring at the restaurant.
“Hello, Mike,” he adds as an afterthought.
Jesse spins around. Mike is right behind him, of course.
“Walter,” Mike grunts.
None of them hear the police cars swarm into the parking lot, driving so close to the restaurant that they practically swerve through the front doors, until they have already watched it happen.
Jesse can feel Mister White’s bowels tense. He’s always impressed by that—just when he thought they couldn’t stiffen up any more, there they go, proving him wrong.
“Excuse me,” he says, tapping the stout Los Pollos Hermanos employee standing in front of him on the shoulder. “What’s going on?” Unnecessarily, he adds, “I just came here for some chicken.”
Jesse rolls his eyes at Mister White. Like, obviously. What else would anyone come here for? Anyone besides them, he means.
As the woman speaks, tears begin to form in her eyes.
“They have him!” she whispers, her voice wavering. “They have Mister Fring!”
“Who?” he asks, placing one of his large hands on her shoulder. “Who has him?”
“These two… these two…” she appears to be having trouble deciding on a word. “Hoodlums!”
“Is one of them really skinny, and the other has a weird voice?” Jesse pipes up. He can feel Mister White giving him A Look, but whatever.
The now full-on crying employee nods. Moving her head seems to only aggravate the tears out of her eyes and the breath out of her lungs. She turns away from them, unable to continue.
The police are standing in front of the building, most likely trying to ascertain how dangerous the situation is. Jesse thinks they might be pulling straws over who will have the misfortune to go in first.
“What the fuck are we doing?” Badger exclaims, looking at Skinny Pete from over the tied up body of Gustavo Fring. He’s not dead, but Badger is pretty sure he’s unconscious. After they’d managed to untie themselves, they had tried to simply walk out of the restaurant, but were confronted almost immediately by a serious-looking man in a tie and sport coat and glasses.
In a moment of panic, Badger had hit him over the head with a bag of frozen french fries, while Skinny Pete used the ties from his own wrists to bind the man’s hands behind his back.
“I don’t know, man!” Skinny Pete returns, matching Badger’s confusion and fear.
“Do you know this guy?”
“This doesn’t feel right.”
“It’s not, like, us!”
“Yeah, man. This isn’t us.”
“We should get out of here, pronto.”
“Church,” Skinny Pete agrees.
Feeding his cat is the last thing Badger thinks of before glass shatters into his face and bullets ring in his ears.
“And that,” Mike says later, in a tone he hopes conveys something like comfort. “That is why you don’t let your minor characters in on the larger plot.”
Jesse cries in the back seat of Walter’s car. Now all of his friends and the woman he loved are dead, which means he has to make new friends, which he knows was definitely not written into the script. Is he going to be lonely forever? Maybe he’ll die at the end, too.
“If you give your minor characters too much control they either do everything for you and render you useless, or they get themselves killed,” Mike continues, explaining as though this were a simple math problem.
“Mike!” Walter hisses.
“What?” Mike shrugs. “It’s true.”
“Well that doesn’t mean we have to acknowledge it,” Walter says, turning back to the steering wheel.
They drive to Jesse’s house, where Walter will sit with him until he’s hungry and then make him a sandwich before deciding Jesse is probably okay, and he can return home.
Mike sits in the car, thinking.
Tomorrow they will get back on track. Tomorrow they will re-find the plot.
Tomorrow he will spin their wheels and make sure everything goes according to his plan, because if it doesn’t, then what is his point? His purpose in this story is to create order, to clean up messes. Without him there to turn the screws, they would be lost in a rabbit hole of sub-plot and subterfuge, and that is interesting to exactly no one. So he must keep herding them.
Tomorrow he will let Jesse see that sometimes revenge is a taste impossible to remove from the mouth.
Tomorrow he will let them get one step closer to killing Gustavo Fring.