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Each relationship nurtures a strength or weakness within you. ~ Mike Murdock


Saul knows interfering with Walt and Jesse's dysfunctional relationship is asking for trouble. He's not going to play marriage counselor whenever these two have a lover's spat, or even when Walt's wife screws her boss. After the whole debacle at Beneke Fabricators, Saul's amazed that Walt hasn't appeared on an episode of Cops. But Walter White, with all his shortcomings, is the golden goose Saul's waited a lifetime for. Mediating Walt's piss-poor people skills is a necessary evil, so Saul finds himself arbitrating the thick wave of tension between Walt and Jesse to secure a sweet deal.

The Odd Couple are currently sitting across from him; Walt's the picture of stillness, calm and self-assured. Jesse's jittery and impatient, like he has some other pressing matter to tend to.

Saul lays out the details for Walt: "This young man is prepared to offer you a sweetheart of a deal for doing precisely nothing."

Jesse lolls his head back and lets out a loose breath. Mr. Exasperated.

Walt lifts an eyebrow. "Really?"

"Ten percent of all future profits from his solo venture; that's money you get paid for walkin' down to the mailbox. Consider it a gesture of respect for your contribution to the business thus far, which I'm sure you'll agree—that's fair."

Jesse looks over at Walt. "That's charity, 'swhat that is." Mr. Exasperated is now Mr. Instigator. "I do all the work; he sits around all day on his fat ass judging people."

"Hey! Escalating," Saul warns him. "Stop."

Walt gives Jesse a self-assured little smirk, as if Jesse's words could never wound him.

"So, there's that. Then there's one small detail," Saul continues. "Clearly, a mistake was made on the part of our mutual associate when he paid you half of Jesse's earnings. He must not have realized that you two had come to a parting of the ways—"

Saul stops talking when Walt drags a bulging paper bag out from under his jacket and plops it on Saul's desk. "Take it," Walt says to Jesse. "It belongs to you."

Jesse doesn't wait for Saul's permission; he snatches the bag for himself. "You're damn right it belongs to me."

Huh, well, problem solved? Saul leans back in his chair, proud of himself. "I knew I could count on you boys to play nice. It almost brings a tear to my eye."

Walt's face is unnerving and cold as he stares at Jesse, and he just has to exacerbate the bad blood between them. "Enjoy it. Spend it in good health. That is the last money you will ever earn in this business."

"What the hell is that s'posed to mean?" Jesse scoffs.

"Well, I hate to break it to you, Jesse, but our mutual associate was only using you to get to me," Walt tells him, taking way too much pleasure twisting the knife.

Jesse's voice loses some of its edge. "What're you talking about?"

"Well, he needs someone with expertise. Someone who knows what he's doing. In other words, he needs me."

Saul frowns. Sure, Jesse's a hot-headed brat and a liability. But the kid doesn't deserve this smug, holier-than-thou condescension. There's no shame in shaking hands and parting amicably. But Walt would rather squash Jesse under his heel.

"You tellin' me you're cookin' again?" Jesse asks.

"Let's see, how should I put this?" Walt ponders with a false air of sincerity. "I'm in. You're out." There's a subtext there Jesse reads loud and clear, because the words stall him as Walt rises to leave.

Well, if Walt's cooking again, Saul might as well take a cut. "Whoa, whoa, Walt, hold on there." Saul stops him before he reaches the door. "What was the offer there, if I may ask?"

"It's, uh, three million. For three months of my time."

Wow. That's more money than Saul sees in a year. Keeping Walt's ass covered ain't easy, but it's worth a slice of that pie. "Well, you're gonna need that money laundered, right? I mean, of course. What was our deal before? Seventeen percent? Hey, let's settle on fifteen percent. That's a nice, round, even number—"

"Five percent," Walt cuts in.

"Fourteen's fair."

"Five."

Jesus, guy. "Thirteen," Saul counters.

"Five."

"Twelve! For old's times sake? Twelve."

Walt's expression hardens. "Five."

"You're a reasonable guy; it's a short-term deal. Ten even. But I can't go any lower and still respect myself." Walt turns to leave. "Five!"

Jesse storms over to them, fury emanating off of him like heat off a sidewalk. "What the hell just happened? You're my lawyer, not his!"

Saul shrugs. "It's the way of the world, kid. Go with the winner."

Jesse grits his teeth, turns to focus his rage on Walt. "You think this'll stop me from cookin'?"

Walt's unfazed by Jesse's anger. His head tilts curiously. "Cook whatever you like. As long as it's that ridiculous chili P or some other dreck." There's a challenge in his voice when he says, "But don't even think about using my formula." It says for all the world that Walt doesn't think he could, even if Jesse wanted to.

And that's how things slot into place, and Saul finally puts a finger on why Walt and Jesse's little relationship gives him the skeeves: if Jesse were a woman and Walt treated her this way, what would be the first thought that pops into Saul's head?

The snide little comments, that arrogance and smug satisfaction, his unbridled offense at Jesse cooking solo, the whole teacher/student power dynamic... It all reeks of emotional abuse, like Walt's got the kid under his thumb and he knows it. What if Jesse's jittery fidgeting isn't impatience—what if he's scared?

And it's not as if Jesse hasn't tried to detach from Walt; after he left rehab Jesse hasn't made any attempts to hook up with him again. Christ, Saul was the one who pushed Jesse into reconnecting with Walt, all for his own financial gain.

Saul does not like himself much right now.

"Just try and stop me, bitch," Jesse growls at Walt, moving for the door.

"Jesse, wait!" Saul blurts out. He rushes over to where Jesse's seething inside the door frame. "Hear me out for a minute before you go, please." The hurt echoes in Saul's voice and softens the angry mask of Jesse's face.

Walt's still standing there, watching them with cold eyes. "Hey, scram," Saul says, shooing him away. "We'll talk later."

Walt gives Saul a fierce look before he exits the room. Saul reaches out and shuts the door, ensuring their discussion stays private.

"What?" Jesse asks. He folds his arms over his chest, shoulders tense with anger seeking an outlet.

Saul's crossing a special line of wrong by intervening into Walt and Jesse's domestic disputes. But Walt's smug manipulation today set off alarms in Saul's brain, alarms he can't unring. He has to extend a lifeline to this poor kid, even if he's wrong. God, he hopes he's wrong.

"Look, Jesse, I..."

Saul contemplates telling Jesse about all the abusive relationships he's litigated over the years. Brutal, awful shit that haunts a special corner of his mind. By the time the girl—or guy—had come into his office, the damage was already done. But the stories they told always started the same way—and maybe ended the same, too.

But Jesse's probably heard enough sob stories to last him a lifetime. Clearly all the anti-drug high-school scare tactics didn't work with him. It's easy to be honest and emotional about something that happened to someone else, so Saul tries a more difficult, personal avenue. He plucks a business card from his pocket. "I want you to promise me something."

Saul fetches a pen from his desk and scribbles his cell phone number on the back of the card. "If you ever wanna drop off his radar for a while, just come here," Saul says. "I won't ask questions or make you do anything. You can sit there"—he gestures to the couch with his free hand—"and jerk off for all I care. Wait, no, don't do that—you'll ruin the upholstery."

Jesse cracks a small smile. Saul doesn't believe in eyes being windows to the soul, but with Jesse he does; the kid's got the bluest, saddest eyes he's ever seen. Saul want to reach out and hold him, but, Christ, would that be the wrong move.

"If it's after hours, call my cell. I wrote it on the back." He hands the card to Jesse. Jesse stares at the number as if it might hold the meaning to life. "You can stay at my place for a bit."

Jesse's brow furrows. Saul wonders if this is the first time anyone has reached out to him or given a damn when it wouldn't serve their own personal interests.

"Day or night. I don't care how late it is. I don't care if you're drunk, high, whatever. I want you to promise me you'll call when you want to get away from him."

"What're you talking about? We're not partners anymore. We're done."

"For now, sure. But ol' Walt's gonna get sick of working alone someday, and he's gonna go straight to you," Saul says. Walt's arrogance today wasn't born from empowerment or inner strength; he wanted to goad Jesse into reacting. Walt doesn't want Jesse making one cent unless he's involved somehow.

Jesse doesn't argue the point, which makes Saul's heart break anew. He wets his lips, glances up at Saul. "You're not even my lawyer anymore. Why do you care?"

Saul doesn't know how to answer that. The kid sure as hell isn't cut out for the drug trade. Something about him reminds Saul of a wounded animal caught in a bear trap. He nearly says "because you're worth more than that," but it feels like weakness, giving too much away. So he says instead, "Because I'm your friend."

Jesse looks dubious, but he nods and pockets the card.

"Hey, promise me, alright?"

"I promise."

#

One time when Jesse was little he wandered away from his parents at the park and discovered a beehive thrumming with activity. Being a stupid kid, he grabbed it, because bees are awesome. He wanted to touch one and see what the inside of a beehive looked like.

Instead, he learned what a shit-load of bee stings felt like.

But those bee stings were a soft pillow compared to this new pain that threatens to white out his vision and send him toppling over. He's lying in a hospital bed all because of Walt's fucking dickhead brother-in-law. His head is ringing, like there's an obnoxious cell phone stuck inside his skull he can't shut off. He's never realized until now that his face is just a fragile mask of bones and blood.

Jesse feels like he gets the shit kicked out of him on a weekly basis, but this time he doesn't have the luxury of pain medication to blot out the sickening way everything hurts. He's been doing pretty well staying clean—no way he's going back to the first day he tried to kick.

Saul's been sitting at Jesse's bedside for an hour now, reading something on his phone like he doesn't have anywhere more important to be. Jesse manages to say, "Why are you still here?" and, Jesus, it even hurts to talk. Someone up there fucking hates Jesse Pinkman.

"You want me to leave?"

Jesse shuts his good eye, shakes his head the best he can. "No. Just...why?"

"I thought I'd keep you company." He shrugs. "Everyone else on this floor is doped up on pain meds—which a little birdie tells me you've refused." Saul gives him a meaningful look. "Kudos to you for staying clean."

"Yeah, I feel fan-fucking-tastic," Jesse mumbles. "Don't you have anything better to do than hang around a hospital and bother the patients?"

"I'm actually surprisingly available today," Saul says with a little smile.

"Lucky me."

"And—don't spread this around—but maybe I feel a slight twinge of guilt you're lying here with a face that looks like pummeled ground beef."

Jesse tries a scowl, but it hurts, so he settles on cold indifference. "Guilt?"

Saul's mouth does a frowny, lip-bitey thing. "Well, yes. I had my secretary make the call to Schrader that saved your skinny ass."

"But Mr. White was the one who asked you to do it." What kind of ass-backwards day is this where Jesse's actually defending Saul?

Saul shrugs again. "I'm human enough to feel guilty for my role in this."

Huh. Jesse's got plenty of questions running through his head right now, but voicing them will only hurt, so he stays quiet for a bit. Then: "Did Mr. White tell you to watch me? In case I rat on him or his scumbag brother-in-law?"

Saul's mouth goes soft. "I'm here 'cause I wanna be. And, y'know, the guilt thing." He stretches his legs a little. "C'mon, I was raised Catholic. It's a hard habit to break."

Jesse furrows his brow and winces through the pain. "I thought you were Jewish."

Saul chuckles. "Not even close. Irish. But apparently everyone wants a Jewish lawyer."

Jesse makes a face.

"Hey, I don't make the stereotypes; I just play to 'em." Then he adds: "Real name's McGill, by the way."

"Uh, nice to meet you, I guess."

Saul gives him a funny look. "You sure you're not on any of the good drugs?"

Jesse manages a half-smile. "Fuck off."

"So, what're you gonna do when you get out?"

Jesse tries shrugging, but, fuck, okay, that's not happening either. He hides a wince. "Dunno. The RV's gone, so I can't cook."

"Maybe you should think about a career change. There's a whole world of legitimate business. Doesn't usually involve so many injuries."

"I ain't cut out for that."

"You're not cut out for this either; look at you, you got bones like paper mache."

"'S'not what I meant," Jesse grumbles. His jaw aches from talking so much.

Saul looks sad for a moment. "I think you could do whatever you wanted if you tried."

Jesse turns his head to focus his full attention on Saul. He can't find a trace of irony or falsehood on Saul's face. He might actually mean it. Holy shit.

"What do you want?" Jesse demands, realizing Saul's gambit. Because there has to be one, right? "You wanna be my lawyer when I sue this asshole? Is that it?"

Saul shakes his head. "I don't want anything from you, Jesse," he says. "I'm not like him."

They both know Saul doesn't mean Hank.

#

"I need a new lab assistant."

Walt has some goddamn nerve showing his pristine, unpummeled face here again. Jesse tries to glare at him, but it's hard to look menacing with one good eye. "I already did my time," he grates out. "Why don't you just go get yourself a monkey?"

"I don't want a monkey. I want you." Mr. Smooth.

"Gee, thanks. Not interested." Jesse wishes he could set Walt on fire with his mind. "I got my own thing goin' on. And nice try, saving your ass-head brother-in-law."

Walt rolls his eyes. "That's not why I'm here, Jesse. There's more. It's more than an assistant. Partner. We'll be partners again." He knows how much the endearment means to Jesse, and he's using it to his full advantange. "Split everything fifty-fifty just like before. One-point-five million dollars...each."

"No."

Walt blinks, his jaw clenching like he didn't expect to be refused. "I don't think you—"

"I heard you fine. I said no."

Walt clearly has no concept of the word no or what it means. "Let me get this straight: you are turning down one and a half million dollars?"

"I am not turning down the money," Jesse growls, leaning closer. "I am turning down you! You get it? I want nothing to do with you!" He tries not to take comfort in watching Walt's expression crumble, but he can't help it; he's only human. "Ever since I met you, everything I have ever cared about is gone! Ruined, turned to shit, dead—ever since I hooked up with the great Heisenberg!" The rage bubbling beneath the surface erupts, anger cresting over him. "I have never been more alone! I have nothing! No one! Alright? It's all gone! Get it?"

Something Jesse can't identify flickers over Walt's face, but it stokes the fire of his anger. His fingers clench the blankets until his knuckles turn white. "No, no, no, why—why would you get it? What do you even care, as long as you get what you want, right?"

Walt looks wounded by Jesse's tirade, and the fact that Jesse pities him makes the anger blaze.

"You don't give a shit about me! You said I was no good! I'm nothing! Why would you want me, huh? You said my meth is inferior, right? Right?" Something ripples across Jesse's chest as Walt moves to leave, fury boiling in his veins. Because it's always about what Walt wants, what he can use. "Hey! You said my cook was garbage! Hey, screw you, man! Screw you!"

For a half-second Jesse worries he was too harsh. Then he hates himself for giving a shit about Walt's feelings. Jesse's beaten face serves as evidence that Walt gives precisely zero fucks about Jesse's well-being.

Walt turns to face him, pain radiating from his entire being. "Your meth is good, Jesse. As good as mine."

Jesse scoffs a harsh, bitter laugh. On a normal day, he would have believed Walt. But it had taken Saul Goodman to sit at Jesse's bedside, asking nothing in return for his presence, to strengthen Jesse's resolve. Saul had said Jesse could do whatever he wanted. He didn't try to talk Jesse into cooking again or any illegal activity requiring his services. He didn't ask for a percentage to launder the money Jesse received from his half of the last cook.

Saul, for some strange, unknown reason, believes in Jesse; Walt doesn't. He pretends to, but he has never once said anything kind to Jesse without an ulterior motive behind his words.

Just like he's doing now.

And Jesse's had enough.

"Get out," Jesse orders.

Walt does as he's told, shutting the door behind him. Jesse squeezes his eye shut and lets the tears come.

#

Skinny Pete drives Jesse home from the hospital later that day. Watching Walt's asshole brother-in-law carried into the ER definitely lifts Jesse's spirits. But the momentary mirth wanes. Jesse doesn't have much left now. With the RV destroyed, he can't cook on his own, and Jesse refuses to go back to Walt.

So, what now?

While Skinny Pete's inside the gas station buying snacks, Jesse digs Saul's card out of his wallet and dials the number. "Hey," Jesse says after Saul answers, "this is me takin' you up on that promise."

Saul's grinning when Jesse arrives at his office. "It's good to see you, kid."

Jesse nods vacantly, easing onto the couch. He still feels fragile, like his internal organs haven't had a chance to settle yet. "So I told him off. Said I wasn't gonna cook for his greedy ass anymore."

"I guess he didn't take it well."

Jesse shrugs. "Yeah, well, screw him."

Saul smiles. "Good for you." He moves across the floor. "Go on and get comfortable. You caught me at a good time. Lunch break." He flips open the styrofoam container on his desk.

"You eat in here?"

"No place like home, right?" Saul drops into his chair. Jesse blinks. "That was a joke." Jesse's expression doesn't change. Saul opens his laptop. "Do what you want—within reason."

Jesse lounges on the couch for a few minutes before growing bored. He gets up, moves over to the bookshelf along the wall. Nothing in particular grabs his eye. Saul's office isn't exactly brimming with interesting reading material. If you don't think law is the most fascinating fucking thing on the planet, you're outta luck.

"You got anything that isn't boring?"

"What does this look like, a library?" Saul says around a mouthful of fried rice. "Bring your own reading material next time."

Jesse sighs at Saul's uncalled-for sass. "You got any paper?"

Saul digs a legal pad out of his desk drawer and hands it over. Jesse snags a pen from the collection on Saul's desk and heads back to the couch. He's a little rusty at first. The last time he remembers drawing something was with Jane. But it's sort of like riding a bike; his lines become looser and more fluid as he fills up the first page. Drawing used to be therapeutic for him, relaxing in a way he desperately needed back when Aunt Ginny was sick.

Jesse's got a full-page illustration going of a skeleton riding a burro through a street parade when Saul asks, "Did you draw that?"

"No, they just appeared on the page. Magic."

Saul makes a face. He can dish it out but he can't take it. "It's not bad. You got some untapped talent in that head of yours."

Jesse smiles despite the pain. "You think so?"

"Yeah, definitely." Saul moves over to the couch to get a closer look at Jesse's art. "How long've you been drawing?"

"Since, like, forever, I guess. I was always drawing as a kid; I used to draw me and my friends as superheroes." He chuckles at the memory. "I made up these really lame comics about how we'd beat up bad guys with, like, random, useless powers. There was a dude that was half-kangaroo, half-man, and he carried around another guy in his pouch."

"Only the female kangaroos have pouches, though."

"I know that now," Jesse groans, because he had this same conversation with Jane. His heart aches in his chest. "You're expecting way too much if you want total accuracy here. Besides, he could'a been a mutant. Like one of the X-Men."

Saul sits on the arm of the couch. Jesse scoots away to give him more room. "So Kangaroo Joe's power was, what, the pouch?"

"His name was Kanga-Man," Jesse mumbles.

Saul can't help it; he starts laughing. "That's even worse! At least Kangaroo Joe is clever, in a pun-like way."

Jesse's face heats up. "He doesn't just have the pouch; he's got super-strong legs and a tail. And he can carry stuff in the pouch."

"So he's basically a guy with a giant fanny pack?"

"I thought it was cool when I was twelve, man!"

"I can see Nick Fury recruiting Kangaroo Joe for the Avengers. 'Can you stuff a pair of pants in your pouch for Bruce Banner after he Hulks out? You can? Welcome to the Avengers Initiative!'"

Jesse finds himself smiling. "Do you actually know anything about comics?"

"I might," Saul says with a hint of mischief. Before Jesse can tug that thread, Saul says, "I know you didn't ask for my opinion, but since you're sittin' here for free, I figure I'm entitled to handing out some unsolicited advice: you got a gold mine here." He taps Jesse's drawing for emphasis. "You and Mexican Skeleton Jesus could be huge."

Jesse snorts a laugh. "What?"

"That's not Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem? Y'know, Palm Sunday?"

Jesse looks at Saul, then back to his drawing. "No? It's based on this game I used to play in high school."

"I feel like this needs elaboration."

Jesse turns so his body's facing Saul. "We had this computer class, right, where you learned to type and all that good shit. And each computer had different games on it, like Roller Coaster Tycoon, Sim Park, and Myst. There was this one game with skeletons that took place in Mexico or somethin', and, I dunno, I thought it was really cool. Atmospheric and shit. So, yeah." He taps the end of his pen against the paper. "That was my, uh, inspiration."

Saul scratches his chin. "I still think Mexican Skeleton Jesus is better."

"That would be an awesome band name, yo. I should tell Badger to change ours."

Saul lifts an eyebrow. "You have a band?"

"Yeah. Twaughthammer. We're sorta on hiatus though."

"Because of the meth thing?"

Jesse nods and looks away.

"All I'm saying is Jack Kirby didn't have to launder his money, or find himself in the hospital from job-related beatings."

"I guess you'd want a cut if I got rich doin' comics, huh?"

Saul seems bewildered by the accusation. "What? No."

Jesse can't believe what he's hearing; one, Saul actually believes he has potential, and two, Saul isn't trying to make money off of him. "Oh, you're for real? Just doin' this outta the goodness of your heart 'cause you're a great guy?"

Saul shrugs. "Hey, I gotta live up to my name."

"Smart-ass," Jesse says with a smile. He turns his attention to the drawing pad in his lap and starts cross-hatching the skeleton's sombrero. Saul watches him draw for a moment or two before walking back to his desk.