Actions

Work Header

Anatomy of a Marriage

Work Text:

I.

When you lose a marriage, you lose a language. Skyler hasn't known this before, never mind all her creative writing classes, but it's true. You start to realise how much of your communication is dependent on a partner who gets all the short hands, all the in jokes, because he shares the memories. More than two decades of memories.

This is what she thinks when looking at the finally signed divorce papers. There are other reasons why she doesn't take what later turns out to have been her last chance of escape. She tells herself at various points that it's because of the children, because Walt, remission or not, is a sick man with not much time ahead of him, or because he came through for the family at the hospital when Hank was shot, not just in terms of money but in terms of being there along with the rest of them for all those days and nights. She tells herself it's because having accepted the money and lied to Marie about it, she understands what originally drove Walt better. She tells herself that surely, surely, he's simply in over his head and looking for a way out.

But while Skyler has always been a gifted liar if she had to be where others are concerned, she's never been good at lying to herself. And so she knows that ultimately, when it came down to it, none of this was going through her head when staring at those papers. She had commanded, cajoled and screamed for weeks, had lived with her son's bewildered anger turning into hate while her sister and brother-in-law were stunned at her seeming heartlessness towards her poor recovering husband, and so there should have been no hesitation when Walt finally gave in and signed. There should only have been triumph and blinding relief.

Instead, she stares at his familiar hand writing and thinks of how from now she will say "like the man from Wendy's on a blue day" without anyone ever grimacing in understanding reply because you had to be there, had to have read the book, heard the song, be there when they moved into the house and the packing truck was late, be there when they first heard their baby had cerebral palsy, and she'd been so afraid it was because of something she did during the pregnancy, something wrong, and Walt had talked her through every single medication she ever took to prove to her there was no connection, oh the details, the trust was in the details, for both of them, always, and why does this matter now?

But it does. Her lawyer never gets those signed papers.

Everyone visualizes the road not taken differently, the teacher in her creative writing class used to say; for Skyler, it's not a road at all, because months later, when she drives to the four states corner, she already knows she won't take any of them. It's a document, a signature unused. Familiar slanted lines she herself makes into ties around her wrists, rubbing them raw.

II.

Walter White had been the first man not intimidated or afraid of her. It never for a moment had occurred to her she could be afraid of him. Skyler is able to cloak herself into helpless femininity if she has to, but it doesn't sit well on her; when she's young, it offends her pride, and as she grows older, she's keenly aware it could look ridiculous. Marie doesn't care about that, but then, Marie is a natural at it. Not because Marie is actually helpless, but because they each picked their roles when they were children, and Skyler had already made herself into the protector. With their mother's constant divorces and other families flitting in and out of their lives, they only had each other to rely on. They formed each other as much as anything else formed them. Skyler is the one who organizes, demands and controls because Marie needs someone who does this; no wonder Marie ended up with Hank. Marie says what she thinks and feels, uncensored, and is purple charm and chaos, always in need of rescue, because Skyler needs to be needed, and sometimes she has the uncomfortable suspicion that there is a connection between finding a way to cover up for all the lipstick Marie stole at age 13, paying the department store back without their mother noticing, cooking the books for Ted and laundering money for Walt the logical, sense-making way. (A laser game, indeed.)

She has used some of Marie's stolen lipstick, too.

In any event, neither of them had difficulties attracting men when they were young; those difficulties used to start for Skyler the moment those first encounters moved from stares at her cleavage to actual conversation, and that was when unless she played a role, men took their leave again with varying expressions of intimidation. Not Walter White, though. She remembers those early conversations, the heady sensation of falling in love with mutual recognition as much as with anything else. He was brilliant, she could see that, and he could see it about her, too. It wouldn't have occurred to either of them to call the other anal for demanding precision and having no patience for sloppiness. There was no need to be coy.

Marie back then made a joke about Skyler needing to impress someone worth impressing, and Walt needing the same, and maybe she was right, because Marie has her moments, and even if she doesn't understand what she sees about Skyler, she always sees; it's an after effect of growing up so wrapped into each other because there was no one else. But whatever it was that brought Skyler to her marriage, it has lasted so long, seemed to be so enduring, that if you had told her she would one day emerge herself in ice cold water as much to drown out the sound of Walt's voice as to it was to get the children away from him, she wouldn't have even be insulted, she'd have burst out in helpless laughter at the utter, utter impossibility of it.

III.

They had wanted three children at first. Three children, and Walt's job as a high school chemistry teacher would only be temporary, some financial security while the children were still small. She'd get back to work as an accountant once kindergarten is an option, maybe have her own office while he'd found a new firm, his own without partners this time. But their first child has cerebral palsy, so another baby until the boy is older would be unfair and unmanagable, and somehow they still owe money for the house, nobody wants to hire a mother with a small child, and there's no capital to found a firm, nor leisure to do research.

By the time Walt brings his mother to a costly nursing home, the idea of a second child has become a distant dream, never mind a third. Nobody but them, not even Hank or Marie, knows they used to make name lists once, lists of names they liked, with pros and cons, because what is wrong about thinking ahead for your child and not wishing to hand out munition for nasty nicknames to everyone at school? As a child, Skyler had wished her mother had gone to that trouble.

All those names go the way of unfulfilled dreams, until Holly happens, almost by accident, Skyler's awareness of her pregnancy only just preceding Walt being diagnosed with cancer. Given all that happens before, during and after her birth, it's a not so minor miracle Holly so far has shown no sign of being anything but a healthy baby with no greater worries than being greedy for more milk. The old memory of having wanted more children once upon a time doesn't come back to Skyler at Holly's birth, though. It doesn't come back in connection with Holly at all.

It creeps up upon her when her husband makes her have dinner with his former student, the boy whom she once has blamed for selling marihuana to Walt, something that, in retrospect, would have been so infinitely preferable to the actual truth that she doesn't know whether the idea makes her laugh or cry. "You remember Jesse," Walt says, but what she actually remembers is less the young man's startled, terrified face, because most young men look at her like that, and more the voice on the answering machine talking in what almost seems another language, and the utterly bewildering website.

It doesn't matter now. Jesse Pinkman's presence at her table is Walt's idea of payback for giving the children to Marie and Hank, because apparently painting her as the whore of Babylon to her sister isn't enough. She barely listens to the young man rambling on in the sticky silence between her and Walt until she finds the occasion for a counter move. Having delivered her blow, she makes her exit, and only then does she think about Jesse Pinkman as someone other than Walt's latest weapon. Given that bizarre website and her angry lecture during their one and only earlier encounter, one would have expected him to be rude and gloat. But instead, he had been polite. Now that she thinks about it, there is something familiar about all those desperate attempts at conversation. It's what she has tried to teach her son: when invited to dinner, make sure to compliment your hostess. Take some detail about the meal you like so the compliment doesn't sound generic.

That is when she remembers. Three children, once upon a time.

She'd ask Walt if he remembers, too, but she already has her answer.

IV.

"You have to stop beating yourself up," Marie says, and adds something about Ted being a good looking man. He is. Was. That image of him in the hospital, crippled and deeply afraid, currently obliterates most other Ted memories, but her guilt isn't the only reason for that. The pathetic truth is that Ted, as a person, isn't that memorable, good looks or no good looks, and she'd known even before she had sex with him. Ted himself had never been the point. She had needed a release, and a way to get out of the trap that her marital life had turned into, and she'd also enjoyed being someone else for a brief while. She remembers the sensation of the warm floor beneath her bare feet in the hotel better than she does the feeling of Ted's hands on her body.

Ted was an idiot for the way he behaved with the IRS, and none too bright in other regards, but he also is a human being, with a right to live, and with his own children. And the truth is that if she'd refused to help him cheat the IRS to begin with, he'd have ended up in prison, but not with his neck broken. And she hadn't agreed because she'd felt sorry for him, and she definitely hadn't been in love with him; she'd done it because she'd wanted the job, and the affair, and a way to escape. Because it made her feel better. When Walt tries to apply his "you did what you had to do for your family" speech to her, too, something in her snaps. It's rationalizing bullshit, and she tells him as much.

These days, it seems he can't decide which story he wants to be in, and whom he wants her to see him as. He's either the most dangerous man alive, the scourge of other criminals, and she's supposed to be awed and impressed, or a dutiful father and husband whose simply engages in unorthodox methods to provide for his family, and who can't understand why she won't appreciate his efforts in this regard.

She remembers the last time she has initiated sex with him, far better than any of the times with Ted. It was after that fragment of a phone message. Being so familiar with another body as you are with your own doesn't mean the desire is less, and on that occasion it had been fueled by worry and adrenaline, and the awareness he could die at any moment. She can't point to a exact moment when the last of her love for him died, but it had definitely still been there then.

The next time he was in her bed, though, only a few weeks and a life time later, it was gone. Or maybe that was where it died, and strangely fitting, too: in their marriage bed. Same familiar body lying down beside her, same familiar scent, same familiar mouth kissing her shoulder, and yet it had been worse than some stranger in an alley threatening her at knife point would have been.

She'd once asked him about the chemistry of pheromones, during some post coital cuddle in the same bed. The exact formula for desire, she'd asked, is there one, and if so, then for every reaction, there must be a reaction, and is there also a combination that kills desire? You could ask Walt these things and get a thorough reply. Only she can't remember what it had been now. It doesn't matter. She has found her own replies to either question. A misunderstood message on an answering machine, the kick of adrenaline and shared guilt, two decades worth of memories and the sensation of standing on a precipe produced desire, one last time. Those few words from him, "I forgive you", Walter moving back into the bed room in the full knowledge she had no more means to keep him out of it, his body spooning hers in the old familiar way yet for the first time completely ignoring that she didn't respond: that killed the last of it.

 

V.

She's over the fear now, too. Well, not entirely. It would be insane or stupid to ever become unaware that she's living with a killer. But she's over the part where she gets up in the morning wondering whether this would be the day she'd find herself locked up somewhere as insane, as he has once threatened, or dead.

What she's most afraid of these days, honestly, is discovery, or rather, not the moment of discovery itself, which would actually be a relief, but the aftermath. Because there is no way it would not end in even more destruction. She's aware this is her own rationalization, but still, she can't avoid making it. Her son may be angry at both his parents now, though more at her than at Walt, but if he finds out his father produces poison and his mother launders the money that poison makes, it will break him. It will certainly destroy any future Hank has with the DEA or any type of police force, especially given the money that paid for Hank's therapy, and might well destroy Hank as a person. Which in turn will end Marie. She'll lose her sister for good. Holly might not have the chance to grow up with Hank and Marie and instead end up in an orphanage, since neither she nor Walt have any other relations or friends that can be trusted with their children.

Skyler visits Saul Goodman to ask about last wills, provisions and whether one could separate the drug money from what property they had before all this started, and he tells her what she already knows: it's impossible. At least he doesn't attempt to patronize her by pretending there is no reason to imagine a future where she and Walt are both dead or in prison. He offers to set up any number of secret accounts for her son and Holly. Skyler remembers Marie's chatter about Hank successfully tracking down all the money paid to the nine men the DEA managed to arrest from Fring's operation, and the news on television about prison massacres soon after, and declines.

Oddly enough, she finds herself communicating with Walt again, in silences now instead of words. He has stopped trying to make her talk to him, but they keep watching each other. The way she lights her cigarettes, the way he sits at the pool, hunched or straight. He knows she's still waiting; she knows he still hasn't found what he's looking for in all the money he keeps dropping at her feet, but he also is losing to the drive to look, day by day more of it.

Eventually, Marie unwittingly backs her against a wall with her good intentions, and Skyler decides to gamble everything on reading Walt's silences the right way. She offers him a bargain, the children back against the end of his drug manufacturing, all too aware she actually has no choice about the children anymore, and hoping he doesn't know. For all that they've both become expert liars, she's still better at handing out edited truths, or maybe she's simply right about the degree of his growing ennui with success. Either way, he agrees.

Till death do us part, as the marriage vow goes, and they are the living dead now, she and Walt, with varying degrees of admittance to that state. He's still wearing the watch he showed her the day he boasted that the person who gave it to him had wanted him dead a short while ago, too, and that she would change her mind and heart again just as the gift giver had done. But Walt doesn't look at the watch at his wrist anymore. Not once.

She rubs her own wrists and thinks of letters, signatures and the ties they trap themselves with, time and again.