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What Is And What Should Never Be

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It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.

~ Norman Maclean


 

"What the hell is this?" Walt asks, eyeing the plate Jesse's set in front of him with an uncalled-for amount of suspicion.

Jesse rolls his eyes. "Scrambled eggs."

Walt pokes at the pile of food with a dubious expression. "Where are the eggs?"

"They're in there, just mixed in with the other stuff: cheese, bell peppers, onions, tortillas, tomatoes, jalapeños—"

"Jalapeños?"

"I took the seeds out, you giant pussy." Jesse woke up early to make a special breakfast for Walt's birthday, and what does he get in return? Lip. Endless fucking lip. Unbelievable.

Jesse sighs and moves to take the plate away. "Yo, if you don't want it, fine. I think I have time to make pancakes."

"Wait, Jesse, it's—it's fine," Walt stammers, taking the plate back. "Really. I was just—surprised, is all. I'm sure it's delicious."

"Damn right it is." Jesse's usual protocol for the morning of Walt's birthday is to make him a plate of pancakes, eggs, and bacon—basically a Denny's Grand Slam. But fifty is a pretty special milestone, so Jesse thought he'd change things up. Most people see new food as a culinary challenge to be met; Walt looks at it like it's something found in a gas station bathroom.

Jesse fixes himself a heaping plate and sits across from Walt at the dining table. Walt shoves a forkful of eggs into his mouth, chews it over. "It's good, Jesse," he murmurs a moment later.

Even after five years, Jesse still feels the thrill of pleasure in his gut when Walt compliments him. He can't help it; he's a people-pleaser at heart.

The usual sleepy silence falls over them as they eat. Jesse focuses on staying awake, because falling asleep at the table is generally regarded as rude. "Do you have class today?" Walt asks.

Honestly, it's like Walt doesn't even listen to Jesse sometimes. "I always have class on Mondays."

"This is your last semester, isn't it?"

Jesse nods around a mouthful of eggs. How does Walt not know this shit? He's the one who insisted on paying for Jesse's education.

Walt takes a sip of coffee, asks the question Jesse's been dreading all morning: "You're coming with me this afternoon, aren't you?"

Jesse wants to say no. Spending time with Walt's ex-family is the actual worst, but he feels like he owes it to the guy on his birthday. For the past five years, they've only ever regarded Jesse with disdain and judgement, save for Walt's son Junior who thinks he's pretty cool. But Walt seems to want Jesse there like some sort of trophy to show off, and, if Jesse's honest, he likes being wanted. And enduring an abysmal few hours with Walt's ex-family earns Jesse sex when they get back home, so it's not all bad.

Jesse smothers a yawn and says, "Yeah, sure."

They finish breakfast in the same silence that suffocates most of their time together. Jesse misses when they used to talk at length about things, but he thinks after five years of marriage the conversational well has run dry.

While Walt gets ready for work, Jesse cleans up the kitchen. There's still some eggs left over, so Jesse saves them for lunch. Even downstairs, he can hear Walt's pretty nasty cough racking his lungs. Jesse asked about it the other day, but Walt said it was nothing to worry about, just the result of school starting and germs spreading. Jesse makes a mental note about forcing Walt to get that shit checked out if it's not gone by next week.

Walt disappears from the house with nary a kiss, just says, "I'll see you tonight," before he's out the door. Par for the course, really. Jesse waits until Walt's in his pea-soup-green Aztek before heading up the stairs. He sets his alarm to wake him in time for his class at noon and takes a quick nap. He needs to be well-rested to deal with the bullshit Walt's ex-family will throw at him tonight.

One class fades into another, and the clock moves way too quickly for Jesse's liking. He'll never understand why when he's in a hurry the clock hands seem to trudge through molasses, but when he's dreading coming home to Walt's sour mood time fucking flies. It has to be sorcery. He half-heartedly wishes he had work today, but knowing Walt he'd just make Jesse call in. Dick.

"I don't gotta dress up this time, do I?" Jesse asks while he's pulling on clothes for the evening.

Walt shakes his head. "A shirt that fits might make a better impression."

"If they don't like me after five years, they ain't gonna," Jesse says with a sigh.

"And proper English would help too."

"Eat me," Jesse grumbles, succumbing to Walt's anal-retentive standards and changing his shirt. "Y'know, Mr. White, if you're so ashamed of me, maybe you shouldn't have married me."

"I'm not ashamed of you, Jesse," Walt says, but it means nothing. Just a conversational placeholder. Jesse rolls his eyes, because he's heard it all before.

Nobody's too thrilled to see Jesse when he shows up on Walt's arm at 308 Negra Arroyo Lane. Skyler gives him a tight smile that doesn't reach her eyes. Marie's slightly more cordial, but she still pretends like she doesn't know who he is. Hank is a douche, slapping Jesse on the shoulder and saying, "You stayin' outta trouble?" like he doesn't know Jesse's been clean for five years.

Walt Junior is the only member of Walt's ex-family who doesn't view Jesse's presence as an imposition. He actually smiles when he sees Jesse and gives him a fistbump. They're not best friends or anything, but Junior probably likes having someone closer to his age he can talk to during family gatherings.

The "party" consists of dinner around the dining table; Walt has a weird "no gifts" policy in place that Jesse doesn't really understand, but, whatever, he's not complaining. He forks an enchilada in half and tries to ignore that he could have made these way better.

"The big 5-0, huh?" Hank cajoles Walt, chuckling as he reaches for his beer. "You gonna buy a motorcycle, cross one more off that mid-life crisis checklist?"

Jesse glares at his enchiladas like he blames them for this. He hates everything about Hank Schrader. The first time Hank ever met Jesse was collaring him as a nineteen-year-old junkie—not the best first impression of your ex-brother-in-law's boyfriend.

"Hank!" Marie scolds, lightly smacking his arm. "Leave him alone." It's heads or tails whether she's talking about Walt or Jesse.

"So you're a freshman now?" Jesse murmurs to Junior while the others are engaged in conversation.

Junior nods and keeps eating.

"You gettin' your permit soon?"

Junior shrugs. "I want to. But—but when I get my provisional I want a cool car, y'know? Like a Mustang."

"Oh yeah? You think your mom'll go for that?"

Junior laughs. "Probably not."

"I can put in a good word for you with your dad," Jesse says. "No promises or nothin' though."

"Thanks."

Jesse stabs his fork into the enchiladas, edges off another piece. "How do you, like, cook the flavor out of somethin'?" he mutters, glancing at Junior for an answer.

Junior hides a smile. "Mom's on this health kick. She—she used this weird, different beef and drained all the grease."

"That's where the flavor is," Jesse whines. "Is this low-fat cheese?"

"Yeah. Tastes like rubber, right?"

"Totally."

"What are you boys mumbling about?" Skyler asks, looking pointedly across the table at Junior. She flicks her gaze to Jesse. "You're not filling his head with garbage, are you?"

Jesse bites down on the urge to ask why no one at this table—save for Junior—sees him as anything but a junkie loser. He knows from experience that it won't help.

As if sensing Jesse's distress, Junior says, "J—just cars. And grease."

Walt smothers a cough or two into his fist. "You should get that checked out," Skyler says with concern. "That doesn't sound good."

Walt gives a dismissive handwave. "I'm fine. I always used to get a bit of a cold when school started up in the fall. It's nothing."

Skyler lifts an eyebrow like she wants to argue that but doesn't, because, hey, Walt is Jesse's husband now—Jesse can deal with it.

Jesse's thankful when the evening comes to a close. "It was nice to see you again, Jesse," Skyler says, seeing him and Walt to the door. Her lips say "always a pleasure," but her eyes say "die in a fire."

Walt takes a shower once they get home. Jesse stays in the bedroom and reads from the dog-eared book on the night stand. It's one of Walt's books, so it's boring, but it passes the time until Walt joins him. Jesse sets the book back on the table and sits up, forcing a smile as Walt climbs into bed. "Want me to make you feel good?" Jesse asks, sliding a hand along the length of Walt's thigh, underneath his boxers.

Walt makes an indecipherable grunting noise and turns to face the wall. "Maybe some other time, Jesse," he mumbles into the pillow, switching off the lamp on the night table.

Jesse frowns in the dark and wonders what he did wrong tonight.


 

Three weeks pass by in a hazy sort of blur, one day fading into the next. Jesse goes to school, puts in his part-time hours at the tattoo parlor, deals with Walt's refusal to see a doctor about his persistant cough, and feels rejected and unwanted every night he tries to initiate any bedroom activity. He doesn't understand why Walt keeps pushing him away. Sex has never been their problem, though the frequency has faded over the years—which Jesse's read is totally normal for married couples. But the sex slows down when couples have children, and, yeah, that's not really their problem.

Jesse figures something else has to be at play here, which he tastefully points out over dinner one night. "Yo, what's your deal? How come you keep turnin' me down every time I wanna do stuff?"

"I'm just"—Walt searches for the word—"not in the mood."

Jesse's not buying that. "Y'know, if you can't get your nut up or somethin', they got pills for that."

Walt groans and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Jesse..."

"What? It's totally natural, right?"

"Jesse, that's not—that's not what's going on here. Trust me."

"So you've just been takin' care of yourself, huh?" Jesse asks with offense. "Prick."

Walt sighs and doesn't even dignify that with a response, turning his attention to dinner, because the macaroni salad isn't asking him awkward questions about his boners or lack thereof.

Jesse gets a phone call the next day while Walt's away doing fuck-knows-what. The number's not familiar, but Jesse answers it anyway, because it could be something important. "Yo."

The voice on the other end belongs to Junior. Jesse gave him his cell number sometime last year after they spent most of Walt's birthday watching stupid videos on Jesse's phone—"just in case you need somebody to talk to," Jesse said.

"Jesse?" Junior sounds agonized, like he's been crying.

"Yeah, what's up? You okay?"

"I just—I just need to talk," Junior says, so Jesse lets him. "It's—it's about Dad."

Something reaches in and squeezes Jesse's heart. "Is he okay?"

There's a pause on the other end, then: "He didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what?" Jesse has to sit down, because his heart's racing and he doesn't know what else to do. People always tell you to sit down before they deliver bad news, right?

Junior pauses, like he's unsure whether or not to tell Jesse. He tells him. "Dad's got cancer."

And just like that, Jesse feels his entire world shift under his feet. He doesn't cry, he doesn't break down, just stares straight ahead in a numb trance as everything fades out around him. "What?"

"He didn't tell you," Junior says again, but this time it's not a question.

Jesse finds his voice. "Is he there with you?"

"No."

"When did he tell you?"

"Like...a week ago."

A week? Jesse's mouth drops open. How could Walt tell his son first? Jesse can't think of any conversation that would be more difficult. "He just told you?"

"And my mom. And Aunt Marie and Uncle Hank."

The words hit him like a sledgehammer to the chest. It all makes sense now: the rattling cough, the lethargy... "It's—it's lung cancer, isn't it?" Jesse asks in a feeble voice.

"Y—yeah, how'd you know?"

The same thing his aunt had. Jesse wipes his newly-wet eyes. "Just a hunch."

Junior sighs. "I just—I just wish he wasn't giving up. He—he said he's not gonna do chemo. Try to talk some sense into him, please?"

Jesse swallows the lump in his throat. "He won't listen to me. You're his kid. Out of anybody, you're the most important person in his life." After this, Jesse's not even sure if he comes in a respectable second place.

"I already told him. He said made his decision already."

Jesse rubs a hand over his face. He wants to tell Junior that chemotherapy isn't a fix-all, that sometimes it doesn't work and turns your last few months into a cesspit of misery, because Jesse's seen it all first-hand. But he doesn't want to hurt the kid even more. So Jesse just nods and says, "I can try to talk to him tonight."

He lets Junior talk a little while longer, fills the voids of silence with false reassurances until Junior says he has to go. Jesse hangs up and lets the sobs burst free. A small part of his brain realizes he's not crying over the diagnosis—he's crying over Walt's deception, that it's been a week since Walt told his ex-family, and who knows how long it's been since Walt himself found out. He's crying because he doesn't even think he loves Walt anymore, not like he did at first. And he hates himself for it.

Jesse manages to calm the sobs hitching in his chest. He decides to distract himself by making dinner, because he's such a fucking picture-perfect husband, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. He cooks and cleans and goes to school for Walt because he loves him, because Jesse is pathetic and throws himself at anyone who shows him a sliver of attention. And Walt doesn't even give a shit; he'll tell literally everyone else that he's got cancer before he tells his husband.

Jesse smiles and grits his teeth against the realization that he's pissed away five years of his life, because what else can he do? He's not allowed to be upset and make this all about him. Walt's cancer diagnosis trumps Jesse's stupid, meaningless feelings. Swallow it down, stuff it into some internal suitcase and move on. Like always.

His eyes are still leaking tears by the time Walt comes home. Jesse doesn't even know how to stop the flow, just wipes his eyes with a dishrag and does his best to look happy. "Where were you?"

"Out," Walt says plainly, dragging a chair from the table and sitting down, like he just expects to have a meal placed in front of him. Jesse's got half a mind to throw the food in his face, but he can't bear to see his hard work go to waste.

"Out where?" Jesse says as non-confrontationally as possible, setting the plate down in front of him.

"It doesn't matter," Walt says, then: "Oh, this looks good."

Jesse scowls at him, but Walt's looking at the food, so his scorn goes entirely unappreciated. He holds on to the fleeting hope that Walt might tell him tonight, so Jesse gives him a chance and eats across from him at the table.

At some point during dinner, Walt sees Jesse's red-rimmed eyes and says, "Is something wrong? You look like you've been crying."

Jesse holds his tongue. He's not going to blurt it out now, not when there's still a chance Walt might find the words he needs to say. "I burned myself."

"Are you okay? You should put some ice on it."

Jesse shakes his head. "It was just, like, the tip of my finger. It's fine now. Hurt like a bitch though."

Walt doesn't bring up his diagnosis over dinner, doesn't mention it in the spare hours before bed. Jesse figures out he has to be the one to breach the topic; clearly Walt would be content never mentioning it to Jesse.

Jesse's shaking, already on the verge of tears just thinking about it when Walt joins him in the bedroom. "Were you ever gonna tell me?" Jesse croaks out, sounding hopeless.

"Tell you what?"

"About the cancer." His voice shakes around the words.

Walt gives him an apoplectic, stunned look. "What? How did you—"

"That's not the point," Jesse cuts him off. "How long have you known?"

Walt sighs. "About a month."

Jesse shuts his eyes in pain. Walt carried this secret around for an entire month and never told Jesse. "So how come you told everyone else first? And didn't even bother to tell me my husband has cancer?"

Walt's quiet for a moment, as if formulating an answer. "I didn't know how to tell you."

Jesse scoffs in disbelief. "Yeah, well, you knew how to tell the rest of your people."

"Because they're not as involved in my life as you are. You're my husband," Walt says, like that means anything to him. "I couldn't find the right time, the right combination of words... But I wanted to tell you, Jesse. Do you honestly think I would hide this forever?"

Jesse looks at him with wide, wet eyes. "Yeah, I do. It's not my first time dealing with this, Mr. White." Walt knows all about Jesse's Aunt Ginny; there's no excuse for this. "And, yo, I get you not wantin' to do chemo or whatever, but you could'a at least mentioned it." He breathes out a deep sigh, so fucking tired already. "What stage are you?"

"Stage 3," Walt says after a moment.

Jesse feels the sobs starting to resurface. He swallows them back, drags a hand through his hair. "This is the worst thing you've ever done." And that's saying a lot; their marriage hasn't been a bed of roses.

"I know, and I'm sorry." Walt reaches for him, and Jesse has no will to fight. He lets Walt take him into his arms, buries his face in Walt's shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Jesse."

Jesse whimpers and hates himself even more.


 

The next few days continue on in the same murky, sluggish haze as the last three weeks. Walt acts as if the diagnosis was merely a disturbing nightmare, like his refusal to tell Jesse didn't make him feel unloved and totally worthless at all. Of course not. It's not like Jesse's important or anything. He's just Walt's husband. Just the person Walt vowed to love as long as they both shall live.

What a crock of shit.


 

Jesse chews his fingernails, his leg jackhammering from the adrenaline surging through his body. If Walt knew he was here, what he was doing... He tamps down the panic building in his chest. Walt will never know about this. Free consultation. No paper trail. He's merely entertaining the idea, dipping his toes into a lake of fire.

Jesse glances around the waiting room. Women flip through magazines or type on their cell phones, their legs crossed and tired, seen-it-all looks on their faces. Men do the same, but with a glimmer of anger beneath the surface. He wonders what drove them here: pain or boredom or maybe a mix of both.

A young woman walks through the front door, her little boy trailing behind her. She signs in with the receptionist while the boy takes a seat in one of the plush chairs beside Jesse. He's tapping buttons on his red Nintendo DS. Jesse smiles and takes a quick peek at the screen. "You like Pokémon, huh?"

The boy nods, still pressing buttons.

"Who's your favorite?"

"Deoxys. He's a space virus that got hit with a laser beam."

That sounds pretty badass. Jesse lifts his eyebrows. "I dunno that one. My favorite was Charizard. Ditto was pretty cool too, 'cause he could be anything."

The boy's mother sits next to her son in an almost protective way, filling out forms on a clipboard. Jesse goes quiet and stares at his hands clasped in his lap. He concentrates on stopping his leg from bouncing up and down. His already-frayed fingernails will have to take the brunt of his anxiety. It's probably best not to look completely crazy here, otherwise the heavy-set dude guarding Saul Goodman's office door might taze him.

Jesse never imagined he'd pay a visit to a divorce attorney with such shitty commercials—no self-respecting lawyer would advertise like that, Jesse had reasoned—but after Walt's latest stunt, well, Saul Goodman's quick-and-easy divorces sound like a pretty sweet deal.

The receptionist calls his name. "Jesse White? He's ready for you."

Show time. Jesse wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans and stands up, slinging his bag over his shoulder. Battle Ax steps aside from the door and lets Jesse inside.

Saul Goodman's office is a study in rich golden and red hues, like a king's chamber in a castle. Self-aggrandizing much? Saul's sitting at his desk. He looks a little trimmer in real life than in his commercials. Guess the camera does add ten pounds. He glances up when Jesse shuts the door behind him. "Jesse White, I presume?"

Jesse nods, moving closer like he's unsure if he's allowed to.

"Go on, take a seat. Don't be shy." Jesse does as he's told and drops into one of the plush chairs across from Saul's desk. "So, what can I do for you?"

"I—I want a divorce."

Saul smirks. "Didn't know we were married."

Jesse huffs out a laugh and feels his face go hot.

"C'mon, kid, that—that was a joke. Joking." Saul spreads his hands, sits back in his chair. "I'm gonna go out on a limb and say you've never done this before?" Jesse shakes his head. "Well, you've got a grand total of two options here: no-fault divorce or fault divorce. No-fault divorce means you're living apart, incompatible, or—my personal favorite—irreconcilable differences. Nobody's at fault—thus the name—and everybody goes home relatively happy. Fault divorces get a little uglier, since, well, you're blaming somebody. Cruelty, cheating, desertion... Any of these ring a bell?"

Jesse wants to prod at that "cruelty" one. Hiding your cancer diagnosis from your husband ought to count as cruelty. But Jesse's never ended up in the hospital with bruises or broken bones, doesn't have some documented health impairment due to Walt's psychological mind games. And of course Walt would deny everything, play up his ailing health and shove Jesse's ex-junkie status into the spotlight. There's no good down that road.

"I—I dunno..."

"Alright, then I'll ask you a couple questions. Just answer honestly." Saul leans in. "How long have you guys been married?"

"About five years."

"You get hitched when you were a fetus?" Saul chuckles. Jesse tugs at the sleeves of his hoodie. "That's another joke, Jesse—can I call you Jesse?"

Jesse nods.

"Okay, so five years. That's not bad. A little under the average, but, hey, longer than some of mine, I'll tell ya that much. But I digress. Any kids?"

Jesse shakes his head. Another dream Walter White stomped out like a brushfire.

"Well, that certainly makes this whole process easier. Kids get involved and then you got visitation, custody, child support..." Saul waves a hand. "How long have you two lived in the state?"

"My whole life. I dunno about him, but he's lived here for, like, at least the last eight years."

Saul lifts his eyebrows. "Him? Your husband?"

Jesse nods again, glances away like he's ashamed of it.

"Hey, I've never litigated a same-sex divorce before! First time for everything, right?"

This dude has an irritating sense of humor, but Jesse can't stop the faint smile that tugs at the corner of his lips. It really doesn't help that Saul's attractive in a weird way. Jesse squirms in his seat and rubs a hand over his mouth. It's been way too long since he's felt that spark of attraction. The selfish part of him wants to nurture it, but the rest of him hates himself for it.

Saul's oblivious to Jesse's sexual frustration. "How often do you guys communicate meaningfully?"

"Define 'meaningfully.'"

"Alright, we'll put in a pin in that one, come back later. Does he insult you, ridicule your religion or lack thereof, your political views, your family, your friends, your Warcraft guild?"

Jesse huffs a dry laugh. "All the time, yo."

"Does he do this in front of anyone?"

"Not really, but he doesn't—he doesn't stop his people from doin' it." Saul urges him to continue. "We went to his ex's place about a month ago for his birthday, and his ex-wife, like, does not hide the fact that she fuckin' hates me. His dickbag ex-brother-in-law hates me too. Like it's my fault Mr. White left his wife—"

"Mr. White?" Saul tilts his head in a way that gives him about three extra chins. "Doesn't that get confusing, both of you being Mr. White?"

"He was my teacher," Jesse mumbles in an impossibly small voice.

Saul's quiet for a moment, like Jesse's dropped an atom bomb of horrifying information on them. Then: "Okay, moving on. Any alcohol or drug abuse?"

"Him? No."

"He ever put bruises on that pretty face of yours?"

Jesse wets his lips. Saul thinks he's pretty; it's been forever since he's heard that. "No... But—he might, y'know? Like, I wouldn't be surprised if he did someday."

"Missed his calling as a UFC fighter, huh?" Saul's smirk wilts when he sees Jesse's emotionless expression. He clears his throat. "So, uh, how would you describe you two's sexual relationship?"

"It's okay, I guess. He's not real gentle or anything, takes him forever to get his nut up most of the time. If I get off it's, like, coincidental to him blowin' his load. But we haven't done anything recently." Jesse trails off, busies himself with the stapler on Saul's desk.

"So what was the straw that broke the camel's back? Every couple's got one."

"He lied to me about havin' cancer." Yeah, that's probably one Saul's never heard before.

Saul's eyes go wide. "Wow, really?"

"I mean, he does have it, but he hid it for, like, a month. Never told me or nothin'. But I found out, 'cause his son told me." Jesse shrugs into silence.

"Is he pursuing treatment?"

"He said he didn't wanna do chemo or anything," Jesse says, his eyes suddenly blurry. He wipes his face with a floppy hoodie sleeve. Saul nudges a box of tissues toward him. Mr. Sympathy. "I don't get why he hid it from me."

"Just to play devil's advocate here, maybe he didn't know how to tell you?"

Jesse shakes his head again. "No. Maybe, like, for a week, but not a whole month. He had no intention of tellin' me."

Saul doesn't argue with that. "So you two still live together?"

Jesse nods.

"Have you considered a separation?"

"I don't think he would go for that."

"Right, okay, I understand. Has his behavior affected your health at all, physical or mental?"

"He drives me crazy, but I don't think that counts."

"That's a pretty safe bet. What do you think his opinion is of you as a spouse? Just, y'know, an educated guess."

"'A pathetic junkie too stupid to understand and follow simple rudimentary instructions,'" Jesse grits out through his teeth, because he remembers every word of Walt's cruelty.

Saul blinks in surprise. "You're a drug user?"

"Not anymore. I've been clean, like, five years. The worst I ever do anymore is pot."

"Five years, huh?"

"Yeah, that was one of his, uh, stipulations."

"Well, congratulations on your sobriety. You should be proud; it's not easy."

"Yeah, well, tell that to Mr. White. He thinks I'm, like, one step away from goin' on some weekend-long meth bender. That's why he barely lets me hang with any of my friends."

"They use?"

"Yeah, but they're cool about it. They don't do it when I'm around." Jesse rubs his arm, feeling fragile and cornered.

"Does your husband know you're pursuing a divorce?"

"N—no." He's really not looking forward to that conversation. There will be shouting and accusations and possibly violence.

"That's fine, at least at this stage. But you're gonna have to tell him eventually. I'll help you through the whole process, but in my experience it's best to tell him before you hand him the divorce papers."

Jesse feels his heart thump against his ribcage. This is a stupid idea. Walt would be furious if he knew Jesse was even considering a divorce, let alone that he actually consulted an attorney. Too dangerous.

But Jesse's already gone this far. Why not see where this goes?

"Maybe—maybe the license isn't even legal. We got married in Sandoval County when they had same-sex marriages for, like, a day. But it's not legal in New Mexico anymore, so what if we're not, like, officially married?"

"I can look into that," Saul says. "Now, let's talk fees. Today's consultation is free—as advertised—but any further services are gonna cost you."

"How much?"

"Well, there's not exactly a flat rate I can quote you. I mean, there are variables: the temperaments of both spouses, actions taken by the opposing attorney, hiring appraisers and valuators, type and complexity of assets involved, commingling of assets"—Saul stops when Jesse's brow creases—"yeah, it's tricky."

"I don't have a lot of money," Jesse admits, rubbing the back of his neck. "Mr. White controls the cheddar. He barely even lets me have a job. I'm lucky I got a rainy day fund." Walt had scoffed at the idea of Jesse working at a tattoo parlor, but Jesse makes decent money there. Enough to squirrel away from Walt, at least. But not enough to keep him afloat on his own, and Walt knows it.

"Well, I can always ask the judge to order your husband to pay the retainer, but it's heads or tails whether he'll actually do it. The judge, I mean. And, hey, if you borrow money from your friends or your parents or your Boy Scout leader, we'll count it as a loan, which gets credited to you after all the final assets and liabilities are calculated. Or you can apply to the court to waive the fees. Point is, you've got options.

"So, what's gonna happen, if you decide to pursue this," Saul continues, "is you'll file a complaint with the court—basically outlining what you're asking for—and then you're gonna deliver that and a court summons to your husband. He'll respond with what's called a counterclaim. The rest really depends on how he reacts. If he's compliant, things'll go pretty smoothly. If not, well, that's why I can't give you a ballpark figure."

Jesse nods, taking this all in. His palms start to sweat again.

"I'm always lookin' for billable hours, but I'll give you a little tip: if you can make a list of everything you own and all your debts, that'll save you some money you'd spend paying me or my staff to collect and organize your records." Saul pulls open a drawer on his desk and hands Jesse a stack of papers. "I've got an inventory sheet for you if you want."

Jesse flips through the papers and feels his head spin. "Is this just for me or am I s'posed to list his too?"

"Ideally, you should list everything you know about, but odds are if he's got the purse strings that tight you won't know about his investments. Just do the best you can." Saul claps his hands together. "So, game plan: go home, talk to him about it, then call me and we'll go from there."

Jesse tucks the paper into his book bag. Walt wouldn't think anything suspicious is hiding amongst his textbooks and class notes. "A'ight, cool." He plucks a business card from the fancy card holder on Saul's desk, stuffs it into his wallet alongside an unused condom. "Thanks for your time."

Saul shakes his hand. "No problem. Good luck, kid."

Jesse thinks he hears Saul say, "You're gonna need it," as he leaves the office.


 

Jesse tries to quietly let himself inside the house, but he knows that's pretty much impossible. Walt's got papers spread all over the kitchen table. Some of them bear angry red lettering Jesse recognizes from his days as a chemistry student. Walt looks up when Jesse shuts the door. "You're home late," he says.

"Yeah, I, uh, went to the student center for a bit. Gotta study for this test comin' up. You know I suck at those."

"I would've helped you."

Jesse drops his bag onto the couch, shrugs out of his hoodie. "I didn't wanna get distracted. Plus I knew you were gonna be busy today." He moves closer, lays his hands on the back of a nearby chair. "You eat yet?"

Walt glances at the clock. "No, I—I must have lost track of time."

"That's cool. I got it. Don't worry about it."

Jesse doesn't mind being in charge of dinner—Walt usually takes over breakfast due to his early-riser schedule. Jesse wasn't the best cook at first, but five years of practice honed his skills. He started out using his Aunt Ginny's recipe book as a guide, and occasionally he tests out various recipes he finds online. Tonight's course is Jesse's signature lasagna, which Walt jokingly claims is why he married Jesse.

Yeah, Jesse's pulling out all the stops here. He wants Walt primed and ready when Jesse drops the divorce bomb on him tonight. He can't calm the way his hands shake when he sees the ring around his finger. He hates himself each time Walt coughs, because, oh yeah, he's divorcing a guy with cancer. Just thinking about it probably means he's coming back as a toilet brush in his next life.

After dinner, Jesse retreats to the shower to buy himself more time. He knows he's being an idiot about this. There's no way to tell someone you're divorcing them that won't be painful and awkward. And, honestly, if Walt's been paying any attention, it shouldn't come as such a big surprise.

Jesse keeps his book bag hidden beneath the bed that night, but even as he's lying there waiting for Walt he can almost feel the presence of the asset papers there, like a less grotesque version of The Tell-Tale Heart. Yes, it's better Walt hear the news from him rather than discover the papers or Saul's business card tucked neatly into his wallet.

But that doesn't make it any easier.

Walt takes notice of Jesse's nerve-racked demeanor as he's climbing into bed alongside him. "Something wrong?"

"Y—yeah, actually, we need to talk..." Jesse sits up, toys with a loose thread on the blanket. He risks a glance at Walt before his gaze darts away.

"About what?"

Jesse swallows thickly, grips the blanket tight in his fists. "Um, well, I think it might be for the best if we—if we were..."

"If we were what?"

"If we split up," Jesse chokes out. "Like, y'know, a dissolution of our marriage."

Walt gives him a blank stare, but there's fury at the edges. "A divorce?"

"Yeah." Fuck it; Jesse gnaws at his thumbnail as very unhelpful adrenaline gushes through his veins.

"You want a divorce? Is that what you're asking?" Walt growls, sitting up. "Where is this coming from?"

Jesse shuts his eyes in pain. "You lied to me about havin' cancer, yo. That's a pretty big one."

Walt sighs like they've had this conversation a million times. "Jesse, I didn't lie to you. I just didn't tell you the truth."

"Wow."

"I didn't know how to tell you."

"That's bullshit. If it was me, would you give a shit how I said it? I thought we were s'posed to be honest with each other."

"So I keep a secret one time and you call it quits?"

Jesse shakes his head. "It's so much more than that, Mr. White. This just—doesn't work anymore. I mean, if your son wants to get married when he's nineteen to the first person—and I literally mean the first—to pay him any attention, what would you say? 'Cause I don't think you'd be like, 'yeah, totally, shack up with the nerdiest old dude you know if he pays for everything.'"

Walt keeps scowling at him. Jesse braces himself for the coming storm. "Everything I have done for you, and you just want to leave? You'd be in some god-forsaken crack house if it wasn't for me."

Jesse recoils, the words hitting him like the sting of a slap.

"I pay for your schooling and all your other expenses. Your job"—Walt says it with disdain—"grants you enough to buy a video game per week, if that. So where does that leave you if you go out on your own?"

"The only reason I don't have a 'real' job is 'cause you won't let me get one!" Jesse argues back. "I could make it on my own."

Walt scoffs. "You'd spend all your money on drugs and be dead in a week."

Jesse's mouth drops open, but, honestly, he's not surprised Walt went there. It still hurts though. "Screw you. You say shit like that and wonder why I want a divorce?"

"How would you pay for it, Jesse?"

Jesse grits his teeth. "Who cares? It's not your problem."

"It is if I end up paying for it."

Of fucking course it all comes back to money. "You won't, alright? Shit, my parents'll front me the cash. They never trusted your old ass in the first place. 'Swhy the house is still in their name."

Walt smirks like he's won some sort of battle. "Your parents, huh? Typical: relying on someone else for money."

"If I borrow money, it gets counted as a credit to means your ass has to cough up that money after all the shit gets calculated. Bitch."

Walt gives him a curious look. "You've consulted an attorney?" he gapes, as if he thought Jesse was just blowing smoke about the divorce.

"I told you, I want this."

Walt doesn't say anything, just stares at him in a way that makes Jesse want to crawl away into a hole and lick his wounds. Normal people cry, beg, plead, bargain with God when they find out they're being divorced; they don't throw accusations at the other person and say "you'll never make it on your own." But normal people don't marry their students straight out of high school in a deal bordering on prostitution. So there's that.

"Maybe you'll think more clearly in the morning," Walt says as he lies down, turning his back to Jesse.

Jesse huffs out an angry sigh and does the same.