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Into the White

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All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. ~ Anatole France

1.

Walt should have never opened that door.

It could have been anyone, really. Someone from his old life itching to settle a score. Someone like Gus—no, Gus wouldn't do it himself. He'd send Victor or Mike to show up at Walt's doorstep and put a bullet in his skull.

It could have been a lost hiker emerging from the cluster of trees surrounding Walt's new home, crunching snow under their boots. It could have been Ed making a surprise visit. It could have even been Jesse returning home because he forgot his keys.

But instead his mystery visitor is Hank Schrader, and in that moment Walt feels his world drop out from under him.

Because Hank knows.

Anger mounts on Hank's face until it seizes control of him. He takes a wild swing at Walt, but Walt sees it coming and manages to duck out of the way. Hank's on him quicker than he ought to be considering his injury—has it been that long?—and fists his hands in Walt's shirt. "You son of a bitch!" Hank growls, shoving them deeper into the cabin. "You lied to me—you lied to everybody! Marie, Skyler, even your own goddamn son!"

Hank keeps going, pouring out all the anger he's kept pent up for months. "I went to your fucking funeral! Marie cried her eyes out!" Walt doesn't fight back, just takes Hank's righteous fury and lets it sink in his gut like iron. He deserves this and more—so much more. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Cold air fills the cabin through the open door and combats the fire of Hank's rage. Walt feels the chill travel over his skin. His voice is rough and hoarse in his throat when he speaks. "Would you listen if I tried to explain?"

Hank scowls at him but lets him go, shoving Walt a little as he does. Walt takes that as a yes and smooths his hands over his shirt in an attempt to look put-together. How is he supposed to tell a story like this—a story about falling apart and repairing stronger at the broken places—and earn a modicum of understanding?

Walt shuts the door to keep the heat in and heads to the stove. "You want anything? Coffee? Tea?"

"I want the truth," Hank says.

Walt smirks to himself when his back's turned. You sure about that, Hank? The truth will blow your damn world off its hinges like an atomic bomb. You'll never have a good night's sleep again.

He busies himself by making a cup of hot chocolate, but he knows Hank sees this for what it is: a stalling tactic. "Are you wearing a wire?"

"A wire? Jesus, why would I—" Hank scrubs a hand over his face. "You were the last person I was expecting to find up here in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere."

The corner of Walt's mouth curves into a smile. "Who were you expecting?"

"Shit, I don't know." Walt hears a chair drag across the wooden floor. Hank grunts as he sits. "Some rich relative of yours or somethin'."

"How did you find me?"

"A whole bunch of shit just fell together. Like that iPad Junior got for his birthday. He said Sky got it for him, but, I don't know, something just seemed fishy. I found the box it came in. The 'from' address was a postal center right here in town. So I looked 'em up, called and asked about who sent it."

So Walt's gift to Junior ended up unraveling his lie. He huffs a tiny laugh. Poetic justice, he supposes. "And they just told you?"

"Eh, I had to lay on some of the ol' Schrader charm." Hank chuckles weakly. "But I got the address, thought I'd take a little road trip."

Walt wraps his hands around the warm mug. "Hell of a road trip just to track down a rich relative."

"If I didn't have my doubts about that, I wouldn't have come all the way out here. C'mon, you know the kind of gifts relatives send down: gift cards, money, real impersonal stuff. Cheap, too. But an iPad? That's high-end. Jesus, if Marie's folks sent me shit like that for my birthday maybe I'd go see 'em more." He forces out a laugh.

Walt sips his cocoa and swallows back the fear building in his throat.

Hank continues, "Then after Skyler's birthday Marie tells me she's sportin' a real fancy necklace. What was that, sapphire?" Walt nods. "Well, Marie sure as hell didn't give it to her. She couldn't get anything outta Sky about the necklace. She claimed she bought it as a birthday present for herself." He shrugs. "I mean, hey, she's got the money, right? Why the hell not. But I guess it just got me thinkin', and somethin' just wasn't sitting right."

Walt measures each word with care. "The most logical explanation would be they were presents from Gretchen and Elliott."

"That's what I figured at first, but why wouldn't they just come out and say that?"

Walt takes his mug and sits across from Hank at the makeshift table against the far wall. Hank goes silent as he surveys Walt's new place, perhaps searching for signs of wrong-doing on Walt's part. The cabin isn't decorated with anything feminine, no ladies' shoes tucked under the bed or dresses slung over a chair. If Hank's looking for evidence of an affair, well, he's looking for the wrong things. Walt can only imagine the thoughts running through Hank's mind right now, what he might be thinking and how far it is from the truth.

Hank chuckles. "You a hunter now?"

Walt follows Hank's line of sight to the deer head mounted on the wall facing the door. "No, no, it, uh, it came with the place." Walt's old Heisenberg hat—how those days seem like a distant memory now—is perched atop the deer's head. "The hat was my contribution to the décor," he says with a lilt of a smile. It was actually Jesse's idea, but Hank's barely adjusting to the idea of Walt being alive and living in the snow-capped forest of New Hampshire. Best not introduce the fact that Walt's rooming with Jesse just yet.

Walt clears his throat. "What—what were you going to do if it really was a rich relative who lived here?"

"Just pretend I was lost, ask for directions," Hank says. "I'd have my answer. I just wanted to see for myself, 'cause something didn't feel right."

"You know what they say about curiousity."

Hank laughs, but there's no joy. "Ain't that the truth."

Hank's small-talk is just a way to prolong the inevitable. But no more bullshit. Walt takes another sip of hot chocolate. "If you want to know why I'm here, I want immunity for everything I tell you."

Hank shakes his head in despair. "Aw, Jesus, Walt. I'm not here as a DEA agent. I'm here as a friend who just wants answers."

"And what if after you get those answers you're no longer a friend? The information that I have will change your entire life."

Hank stares at him with cold eyes. "What did you do, Walter? What could be so godawful that you'd pretend to be dead to get away from it?"

Walt feels the panicked thump of his heart in his chest. He tries to calm himself with the comfort of logic: Hank didn't come here expecting to find Walt. Now that he has, his world's been blown off its hinges; Hank hungers for answers in a starving-man-near-a-buffet way. Anything Walt says here is off the record.

This is it. This is the moment his life unravels—again. "It all started when I got my diagnosis..."

#

Green, yellow, and red strobe lights bend over the planes of Jesse's face as he stares at Walt. They're holding a clandestine meeting in the abandoned laser tag Saul's still trying to sell. The whole atmosphere is unsettling and creepy, made worse by the fact that they're discussing cold-blooded murder in a place where once upon a time kids and teenagers ran around shooting each other with plastic guns. How times have changed.

"Yo, Mr. White?"

Walt blinks to attention. "Hm?"

"Were you even listening to me?"

"Sorry, I—do you ever wonder why you always hear people say 'cold-blooded murder,' but never 'warm-blooded murder'?" He chuckles, but it's weak. "What's with that?"

Walt's pretty well-acquainted with the look Jesse's giving him right now; it's the "you're a fucking idiot" look that Walt created solely for Jesse. Odd to be on the other side for once.

"Great. I can see my time means absolutely jack shit to you." Jesse makes a disgusted noise and turns away.

Walt tugs Jesse back by his elbow before he can leave. "Wait, wait. Just—I'm sorry. I got distracted. You were saying?"

Jesse eyes him for a moment, as if debating whether repeating himself will be worth the effort. "Well, here's the Cliff Notes: We're not offin' Gale."

"'We'? I don't get veto power over your less-than-stellar ideas?"

Jesse's eyes widen, a multitude of colors reflected his whites. "'Veto power'? We're talking about fuckin' killin' a dude, not passing a bill!" Jesse hisses through his teeth, because Saul's standing in the corner. It's not like there's proof that Saul isn't eavesdropping, especially after Mike threatened him to give up Jesse's whereabouts.

"I don't want to do it any more than you do," Walt says, "but what choice do we have? When it comes down to you and me versus him? I'm sorry—I'm truly sorry, but it's gonna be him."

Jesse shakes his head, pushes a hand through his hair. "There's gotta be some other way. What if—what if we didn't have to kill anybody?"

"You think Gus will just conveniently decide not to murder me the first chance he gets?"

"He will if he can't find you."

Walt lifts an eyebrow, urging Jesse to continue.

"We could just hit the road and disappear. You take your family and go one direction, I'll go in the other. You still got money, right?"

"But it's not enough. Not enough to make all of this worth it."

"Yeah, well, tough shit. Is all the money really worth it if you have to kill innocent people?"

Deep down, Walt admires Jesse's childlike simplicity, the way he sees things like Walt used to before the world crashed down around them. Walt knows killing Gale to secure his own place as Gus' cook is deplorable, but the idea of murder-for-personal-gain doesn't weigh on his soul as much as it used to. The ghosts don't haunt him much anymore. His inner demons no longer visit him at night.

And maybe that's how he knows it's time to get out. Before there's nothing left of his soul.

Walt scratches his chin. "So you want to run."

"It's not 'running' so much as 'cutting your losses.'"

"Skyler would never—" Walt gives an aborted head shake. "They would never be okay with uprooting their entire lives because of my mistakes."

"You never know."

"What about you? You have Andrea and Brock..."

Jesse shrugs. "I don't wanna put them in danger. I could—I could leave if I had to. I mean, c'mon, I was gonna sell her meth 'til I found out she had a kid." He laughs a humorless, broken sound. "They'd be better off without me."

That one cleaves right through Walt's heart, and he stares at the look of resigned self-loathing on Jesse's face. This is not right. Jesse honestly believes that nobody could ever love him.

Walt swallows, risks a hand on Jesse's shoulder. Jesse doesn't shrug away from the touch. "Jesse, no one could ever be harmed by having you in their life," Walt says, and he means it. Jesse is the light that shines through Walt's darkness and makes him feel a little more human. Walt is the poison, slowly killing everyone around him just like the cancer inside his own body.

Jesse's eyes go wide and wet, like no one's ever told him he's worth a damn before. And maybe they haven't. It's always been Walt and Jesse, sanding down each other's rough edges into something that fits together like an imperfect puzzle.

Jesse clears his throat and looks away, chagrined by his display of emotion. "Just, um, just ask Saul if he knows anybody that can make the whole new identity thing happen. Then I guess we can go from there."

Walt glances over at Saul, who's still acting as if he's not listening, then back to Jesse. He tries to bite down on the swell of hope in his chest before it can grow. The suggestion that there's a bloodless way out of this has to be too good to be true.

But it pokes at his brain like a song on repeat. Hope. The idea that the tide can be pushed back. A new life. A chance to do it all over.

And that's how it starts. Walt learns Saul does indeed "know a guy" who can make anyone disappear and start anew. The only remaining obstacle in his path is convincing Skyler and Walt Junior and Holly to come along with him. Which totally isn't going to be as hard as it sounds.

"Are you out of your mind?" Skyler hisses after he's told her the plan later that afternoon. "You want us to just pick up everything and go with you to God knows where for how long? Forever?"

Walt puts on his best innocent face, but it's a little rusty. "Well, yes."

"Give me one good reason why."

"Because you're my family."

Skyler scoffs. "A family you have continuously lied to and deceived for months. A family you have put through hell to build your little empire. And now you want to hurt us more, all so you can feel like this wasn't a big fat waste of time?"

Walt doesn't say anything, pinned under the truth of her words.

"I have to launder your money, something you made a necessity by bringing in more money than we could ever use in a lifetime. And I have family here. For God's sake, what would Hank and Marie think if we just disappeared?"

Walt hasn't considered that angle yet. Hank's clout with the DEA does not make this less troublesome. "Maybe with some careful editing we could, I don't know, tell them something that would make them understand. Skyler, I am at my wit's end here—"

She lifts an eyebrow. "I thought we were in so much danger that telling anyone anything would put them at risk too."

"I'm the one in danger, but if—"

"So you want us to uproot our lives and come with you for, what, company?"

That would have sounded awful coming out of Walt's mouth; he's glad she said it first.

Skyler glares at him. "You could have told me you had cancer when you first got your diagnosis. We could've come up with a way to make money together. But, no, you chose to go this route and hide everything from me, from your son, from everyone who cares about you. We're not going with you, Walt. Our lives would be so much easier if you just disappeared."

Something in Walt's chest snuffs out like the flame of a candle bowing to a strong gust. Skyler is right. The mess he's made of everything proves it; he's just too damn stubborn and blind to see it until it's spelled out for him. The consequences of his choices have rippled outward like a nuclear blast and taken everyone else down with him.

Walt tries one last lame attempt to play to her sympathies. "What—what about Junior? He'll want to know what happened to his father. And why he didn't get a say in the matter."

Skyler shrugs. "I can handle him; he already hates me. But I think he'll get over it after a while. We all will. When you keep coming back into our lives, it's like reopening a wound, and it's so much harder to move on."

Walt feels awareness trickle through his veins. If he runs, he's going to be completely, utterly alone. "If I disappear, what's stopping these people from going through my family to get to me? Nothing!"

"Unless someone else gets to you first."

That stops him. "What—what are you saying?"

"If they think you're dead, they'll leave you—and us—alone," Skyler says pointedly.

Together, Walt and Skyler hatch a plan: faking Walt's death. No one would look too closely—the death of a fifty-year-old cancer patient tends not to raise eyebrows. He's not proud of this, but at least Skyler and Walter Junior are in on the lie. He tells Junior he's mixed up in a sticky situation and needs to disappear to keep his family safe. But he leaves Hank and Marie and everyone else in the dark, because when you fake your death you don't let too many people in on the hoax.

It takes a shockingly short time to set up. He arms Skyler with the contact information for one of Saul's guys who can arrange the whole thing. Walt doesn't doubt that Skyler will call; it's no coincidence she created a plan in which she gets to keep her children safe and metaphorically kill Walt.

Walt doesn't stick around for his own funeral. Some people want to see the emotional impact their lives had on the people around them, and if this wasn't Walt's own doing he'd want to know too. Excised from everything he's ever known, he calls Jesse, and they meet with their bags packed on a road just outside of town.