Jesse doesn’t realize he’s been shaking until he feels a hand on his shoulder.
“Your teeth are chattering. Do you want your hoodie back?” God, he’d give back to him, too. Dying of cancer and hacking up a lung and he’d undo the one nice thing Jesse’s done in the past three days just because Jesse is cold.
“Hey, nah, I’m fine, yo,” Jesse assures him, but his voice shivers and his shoulders are still trembling under Mr. White’s hand.
He can feel Mr. White frowning at him, and it makes him sit up. “It’s okay, Mr. White,” Jesse says as seriously as he can; as firmly as he can, “You need it more than I do.”
For a second Jesse thinks Mr. White has started coughing again until he realizes it’s just a dry laugh. “I thought that since I was going to die soon anyway, logic dictates I should sacrifice myself.”
For a second, Jesse has no idea what he’s talking about. Then he remembers being cornered, frightened, hopeless and babbling in Tuco’s living room several weeks ago, and his chest hurts.
“Jeez, Mr. White, I didn’t actually mean...yo, I was just -” It’s a little hard to concentrate on forming words and thinking them at the same time.
Jesse doesn’t think he’s shivering that hard but Mr. White can’t seem to understand him. He grabs onto Jesse’s shoulders and says, “Hey, I’m kidding. It’s fine.”
Jesse nods, and Mr. White squints at him. “Jesse, are you okay?”
Jesse doesn’t understand the question. He feels like he should. Maybe he just didn’t hear. “What?” Mr. White repeats himself but Jesse still doesn’t get it. “I don’t...uh,”
Mr. White gets up suddenly, crashing around the Winnebago and grumbling to himself. “Do you have a first aid kit in here?”
“Focus, Jesse, a first aid kit. There should be one around here somewhere.”
Jesse’s still trying to remember when he hears Mr. White say to himself, “Gotcha.”
“Hey, yo, you gonna be sick or -”
Mr. White’s running back to him before he can finish, holding something in his hands. Before Jesse can ask, Mr. White is ripping open the zipper on his hoodie.
“Yo, what the hell?” Jesse thrashes, but Mr. White holds him down.
“Stop moving. Jesse! Jesse, listen to me. Stop moving. It’s important.” Jesse holds still. He flinches when Mr. White pulls up his shirt, but it’s only for a moment before he places something warm, small, and not-quite-solid to Jesse’s chest before zipping him back up.
Mr. White puts another on the back of Jesse’s neck and tells him, “Lie back. Be slow.”
Jesse watches as Mr. White unzips his hoodie and frowns. He reaches up and bats at Mr. White’s hands but Mr. White grabs his wrists and puts them back on the cot. “Jesse, you’re in moderate stages of....” he stops and sighs, tries again. “You have hypothermia. You need all the heat you can get. And you need to stop moving.”
And that doesn’t make any sense. “You’re sick,” Jesse says, “Not me.” He means to say more than that, but longer sentences are too complicated. He’s too tired. Mr. White tries to take the hoodie off again and Jesse puts his hand on his chest to stop the zipper.
Mr. White sighs again. “Jesse, listen to me, you have to stay still, okay?”
“You’re gonna get sick if I’m sick.”
Mr. White stares at him. “No, hypothermia’s not like that,” he says slowly.
Jesse shakes his head, grits his teeth. “You’ve got cancer, man, okay? If I’m sick you’re gonna like, die.”
There’s silence for a minute, and then Mr. White says, “All right, but I’m not a meth addict who lives off of Funyuns and powdered donuts." Jesse doesn’t move his hand until Mr. White lets go of the hoodie. “Okay, okay. Scoot over.”
Jesse starts to wriggle before Mr. White puts his hand on his chest and grumbles, “Wait, no, I’ll...hold on.” Mr. White gets up, and Jesse whimpers.
The cot jolts a bit before slowly easing down onto the floor. Mr. White lowers his own and pushes it up against Jesse’s, crawling over to lay on the very edge of it, pulling Jesse very gradually toward him.
Jesse balks at the sudden rush of heat. “How come you get to be warm?” Jesse asks lamely.
“I was moving,” Mr. White says, his voice unsteady. “I’m really not that warm, you’re just cold.”
Jesse accepts that as a suitable answer before curling into Mr. White as much as he can without Mr. White snapping at him to be still again. He falls asleep with his face in Mr. White’s neck.
It’s several hours later, still dark, when Jesse snaps awake to find Mr. White wrapped around him like a blanket. Something tepid and sticky is pressed awkwardly to his nape and chest, but when he moves to see what it is, Mr. White jolts awake.
“Stop moving,” he snaps first and foremost, so Jesse relaxes.
“Yo, what’s all on my neck and shit?”
“Ah,” Mr. White shifts and pulls the one off of Jesse’s neck. “A heat compress,” he answers. He slides his hand up Jesse’s shirt to get the other one, and Jesse squawks.
Mr. White doesn’t say anything, just rips the compress off his chest. “Wait,” Jesse says, and Mr. White freezes. A sudden, sharp tension settles in the air and Jesse can’t breathe, feels Mr. White holding his breath.
Jesse squeezes his eyes shut. His mind isn’t coming up with any words, so all he manages is a shuddery breath. Mr. White hasn’t said anything at all and Jesse abruptly panics. “It’s uh, still warm.”
He feels Mr. White nod, but Jesse knows he doesn’t believe him. He doesn’t say anything, though. Smooths the compress back onto Jesse’s chest and slides his hand back out from under his shirt.
Mr. White still hasn’t let out a breath. Jesse’s afraid to say anything, and it’s dead still for a moment. After a pause, Mr. White drops his arm around Jesse’s waist, resting his hand against his chest.
“Get some sleep, Jesse.”
Jesse exhales deeply. “Good night, Mr. White.”
There’s silence for a few minutes as Jesse tries to fall back asleep, but he feels dizzy. He wonders if that’s normal. “Is it like, even okay for me to sleep if I have hypothermia? I thought that’s how people died or whatever.”
“You’re thinking of concussions,” Mr. White answers. He sounds only half-awake. His face is in Jesse’s hair. “I think you’re going to be okay,” he adds after a moment. “You sound better. More like you.”
Jesse smiles, because he knows Mr. White can’t see it. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Mr. White yawns, reflexively pulling Jesse closer to his chest. “It means you’re not slurring or stopping mid-sentence anymore. It’s a good thing. Go to sleep.”
Jesse tries to, for another minute. “I’m sorry,” he says finally.
“For what?” Mr. White asks, like he has no idea what he could possibly be sorry for. And he wouldn’t. He fucking wouldn’t.
“This is my fault,” Jesse answers, feeling a weight on his chest. “This is all my fault. We’re gonna die here because I was too stupid to put the keys on like, the dashboard or wherever.”
Mr. White sighs, pulls Jesse in tighter. “We’re not gonna die, we’re gonna be fine.”
He doesn’t sound like he believes himself at all, and Jesse feels a lump in his throat. “God, I’m sorry. This is all my fault.” He can’t seem to think of anything else to say. “If I wasn't so stupid -”
“Stop it, Jesse, it’s okay.”
Jesse feels even more guilty. Mr. White seems to really have a problem with Jesse thinking less of himself. He wonders why that is if all he ever does is screw up, anyway. He wants to point this out, but he doesn’t want Mr. White to snap at him for it.
It falls silent again, briefly.
“I don’t want to die, Mr. White.”
He feels himself shaking again and for a second thinks he’s sliding back into hypothermia before he realizes he’s crying. He wonders if it’s okay to be crying this way, wonders if he’s still in danger of dying. He’s not cold anymore, but he’s been told that doesn’t say anything.
“Jesse, shh, it’s all right.”
Jesse thinks back to when he was fifteen, when he OD’d at a party and his friends left him in a shopping cart outside the hospital. He was barely conscious, waiting for the medics to see him. He remembers thinking over and over Not here. Not now. I don’t want to die alone.
At least this is better than that. At least he has Mr. White. The thought comes out, a barely understandable, “I’m glad you’re here.” Mr. White sighs and holds him close, his face tucked close to Jesse’s.
He keeps murmuring and shushing him, but the placations are interrupted with harsh coughing, and Jesse shakes his head. “It’s okay, Jesse. It’s okay,” Mr. White keeps saying, his voice rough by now. He kisses Jesse’s temple and Jesse shudders, pulling in closer. He’s smearing tears all over Mr. White’s neck, feels guilty, apologizes. Mr. White doesn’t say anything new.
“Please don’t go first,” Jesse hears himself babbling, “Please don’t leave me alone, I don’t wanna die alone.”
“Jesse, we’re going to be okay. Do you hear me? Jesse.” Jesse holds his breath, trying to calm himself down. His sobs all press tight against the roof of his mouth, building up against his clenched teeth. He looks up at Mr. White. He can barely see him in the dark, but the outline is there.
“We’re not going to die here, Jesse. We’re going to be okay. Get some sleep, and we’ll think of something in the morning. Okay?”
Jesse nods. Tears are still streaming down his face, but he swallows hard, tries to ignore it. “It’s going to be okay, Jesse. I’m not going to let you die here. Do you understand?” Jesse nods again, but doesn’t speak. He’s afraid to say anything.
Mr. White is still talking, anyway. “I won’t let you die, remember? You’re my partner. Okay?”
That’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Jesse yelps, trying to hold in a sob as he pulls Mr. White down the rest of the way and kisses him.
The kiss is hard and desperate and Jesse can taste his own tears as he pushes Mr. White’s mouth open with his tongue. He’s got nothing left to lose, now, just doesn’t want to feel alone. Mr. White has gone rigid, but doesn’t pull away, doesn’t push at Jesse. He’s just frozen.
Jesse reaches up and touches Mr. White’s neck, and he jumps. For a split second, Jesse thinks it’s to pull away, but it’s only to cradle Jesse’s head in his hands.
Jesse’s throat hurts from trying so hard not to cry, he pulls away to catch his breath and barely gets a lungful before Mr. White is on him again, leading the kiss and pushing Jesse down onto his cot. Jesse gasps, his back arching against Mr. White’s grasp on his wrists.
Mr. White pulls back and at first Jesse thinks that’s it, but he only moves to Jesse’s neck, biting down and sucking hard just below his jaw. Jesse groans, pulls against Mr. White’s hands, but Mr. White clenches his fists around Jesse’s wrists and says firmly into his neck, “Stay still.”
It could very well be for the same reason, but it means something else, now. Jesse shivers, nods and goes still. Mr. White goes back to leaving bite marks in his throat.
They don’t go any further. Jesse blames it on the cold - too afraid to remove any layers. He doesn’t want to know if Mr. White has other reasons. He falls asleep curled under Mr. White’s chest, his head tucked under his chin.
They don’t talk about it in the morning. They’re too preoccupied with getting home. Jesse thinks of kissing him, once, kneeling over Mr. White’s cot as he tries to convince him he’s smart enough to get them out of this. Telling him that he knows Mr. White can fix it. He promised he would. He always does.
They don’t talk about it on the way back home, either. They stop at Jesse’s apartment and take turns showering. Mr. White gets dressed quickly and doesn’t look in Jesse’s direction. The ride to the airport is perfectly silent - save Mr. White’s worsening coughs - until they stop in front of the doors.
They talk tensely about shares and the money for a second, and then, as Mr. White is leaving, Jesse calls out, “So I’ll see you around, yeah?”
Mr. White stares at him. He looks sad. “Yeah,” he says after a moment, and then leans forward, through the window.
Without being entirely sure what he’s even doing, Jesse leaps out of his seat, throwing off the safety belt and lunging into the passenger's side, pulling Mr. White in for a kiss.
Mr. White kisses back, and for a moment everything is okay, until the loud, startling blare of the car behind them honking its horn. Mr. White pulls away sheepishly, and Jesse feels stupid as the cab gives up and drives around, having dropped off their fare.
Mr. White watches the cab drive away before reaching into the window and running his hand through Jesse’s hair. “Yeah,” Mr. White repeats. “I’ll see you around.”