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“I can’t do it.”

Jesse shivered from head to toe as he looked at himself in the mirror. This was new, and if he was in a self-reflecting sort of mood he would have laid all of the blame at the feet of Mr. White most likely. He wasn’t in a self-reflecting mood, so all he was left with was an inescapable self-loathing that had traveled from his abilities to his status as a good person to finally wind up at his entire body.

“I can’t do it, Mike. You don’t want to see me, I mean…” He hesitated with his hand on his shirt. “I can’t.”

“Aww, kid.” Mike reached out and wrapped his arms around Jesse’s middle. “What do you have to be ashamed at? Look at you. Look at how deep your eyes are. They’re so very blue, and so very… so beautiful.” The compliment seemed odd rolling off Mike’s tongue, but he must have believed it. Mike wasn’t like Mr. White; he told it how it was.

Jesse could trust Mike.

“I just can’t… I’m too… I’m afraid you’ll look at me and think this was a mistake.”

Mike leaned in and kissed his neck.

“Just let me see, kid.” He let go to give Jesse a little bit of space to get his clothes off.

Jesse couldn’t look at him as he stripped off his shirt and put it to the side, or as he slipped off his pants and boxers. He was sure, somehow, that a torrent of abuse would come from Mike – even though that wasn’t Mike’s thing; Mike had criticized when criticism was due but he had never been like… but that made him even more terrified of not being good enough for Mike because Mike never said it just to say it, he said it like it was.

“Hi, kid,” Mike’s voice floated out from behind him as the older man reached out and touched his shoulder, trailed down his spine. Jesse knew he could see him, that he could also see the older track marks and a couple of cigarette burns that Jesse had done accidentally-on-purpose not so very long ago. “Turn and face me.” It was an order, but it was given gently. An instruction, not a command.

Jesse listened; he turned and looked at Mike with wide eyes, feeling very, very small in front of him.

“Jesse.” Mike reached out and hugged him, running his hands over his shoulder again, then down his arm to arrive at the tattoo on his wrist. “You’re turning red. You’re shaking. What are you afraid of? This isn’t the Jesse I know. The Jesse I know isn’t afraid of anything.”

Jesse shook his head and shivered hard.

“After Drew Sharp… That Jesse died,” he whispered.

“Oh, Jesse…” Mike squeezed him gently. “That wasn’t your fault. I know how horrible that was, but you’re out now. You never wanted that. That’s Todd’s fault. Not yours. Never yours.”

“I told him no one could find out about this… I told him… It was my fault.”

Mike shook his head.

“You keep blaming yourself and I’m going to gag you,” the older man whispered softly.

“Mike… Why do you… I can’t do this.”

“I warned you.” Mike’s words were delivered with an intense sincerity. He walked out of view and Jesse couldn’t see him for a while, finding himself gripped by an irrational fear that Mike was just going to walk out of this house and never come back.

Instead, he returned with a bandana that Jesse had left in a closet at some time or another, that he didn’t even remember having so how did Mike find it so easily?

“Open your mouth,” Mike instructed softly. “Going to gag you. I don’t want you talking bad about yourself. Especially not out loud. It sinks in.”
Jesse didn’t know what to say, so he only obeyed Mike’s orders and opened his mouth. A moment later, the bandana was between his lips, muffling any words he would want to say. But not his thoughts, not yet.

“Kid,” Mike whispered, leaning in and pressing his lips to Jesse’s forehead. “You’re mine, and I love you.”

Jesse made a murmur under his gag, an acknowledgement that he’d heard the words, even if he didn’t quite believe him. What was there in Jesse that could make anyone love him, especially someone as tough as Mike? Someone as independent… He tried to make sounds of protest.

“No, Jesse.” Mike reached up and put a finger in front of Jesse’s lips. “Now’s the time where I talk and you listen, okay? My wonderful kid. My Jesse. My love. You’re not the bad guy and you’re not all of those bad things Walter said that you were. You make me very happy, Jesse. And you have to believe me.”

Jesse made a muffled sound under his gag again, trying to disagree. Mike still wouldn’t listen. He leaned in and pressed a kiss against Jesse’s cheek.

“I love you, Jesse and that isn’t ever going to change. And you know what I’m going to do, kid? I’m going to leave you like this all night. I’ll check and make sure that you’re okay, that you can breathe all right, but I’m going to leave you,” he reached out and pulled Jesse so that he was lying on his side, “just like this. And I’m going to whisper these words to you until one day you finally believe them.”

Jesse couldn’t tell him that he didn’t know when that day would be. But he was willing to try and hope that it came.

He snuggled into Mike’s shoulder. That felt nice. It felt safe. Then he closed his eyes. It was going to be a long night, but for the first time, Jesse was perfectly okay with that.