Intermittent calls to both Mike and Jesse's phones went unanswered the rest of the afternoon.
Frustrated and admittedly concerned, Walt continued his work at the lab, pushing himself harder to do a two-man effort by himself, eager to end the day.
Despite his drive, several times he considered just throwing in the towel and leaving. He would go to Dumont's office, find out where Mike and Jesse were, and they would call their own shots. At the end of the day, their lives should have more value than a simple bargaining chip.
They didn't deserve to be used as test subjects.
By remaining in the lab, working, was he being complicit?
His mind was reeling from the discussion with Gus.
His thoughts meandered inconsistently from focus on the task at hand, feeling Jesse's absence as he filled in the effort to complete the younger man's usual contribution, to anxiety about what else was happening and what was or wasn't in their control. He began to feel as though there was a master plan here with a fixed outcome that they could not prevent.
He also had lingering concerns over his own recent collapse…He was unnerved about his own weakness, seemingly losing consciousness in front of Gus. That wasn't like him, to fall weak, inclusive of his illness. It bothered him, thinking about that happening, outside of his control…
Control; this was all coming down to control.
On every topic, his mind was conflicted. He was also now undeniably, irreversibly tied to Mike and Jesse, and the outcome of this situation. This was beyond business now. This was personal. Walt usually operated with his own agenda prioritized. At times he compromised… jeopardized that to interfere when Jesse didn't seem to know how or to even care to do the same for himself. This time….
Gus's complete disregard for Jesse's personal well-being… His assertion that this situation was almost a 'favor' of some kind – giving Jesse another chance at life.
He felt nauseated.
Cleaning the lab after a full day of solo work felt more painful and arduous than it ever had before. Scenarios flashed through his mind. His involvement in Gus's underground world was already complicated enough before this rogue human experiment. He still couldn't believe it's validity and yet here they were…
If he refused to cook, where would that get him?
He shut that thought down.
Complicit or not, he knew it wasn't an option.
While Gus's words replayed in his mind and infuriated him further, he closed up the lab for the day and headed upstairs. Outside, he tried yet again to reach Mike and Jesse.
No response. Voicemails.
He tried to ignore the pang of worry he felt, and questioned its genesis. Why did he feel so concerned for these individuals that were merely business partners?
He'd always, sometimes increasingly, felt a sense of protectiveness for Jesse – his student. As much as he found himself infuriated and frustrated with the kid, Jesse meant well. His rebellion was deeply rooted in other catalysts. And they now shared an experience, one that inexplicitly resulted in them being bound.
Sighing, he sat in his car for a few minutes then, air conditioning blasting, questioning his next move. Time was of the essence here, and he didn't want to waste any of it on miscalculation.
Surely they were no longer at Dupont's.
Would they have gone back to Jesse's?
Was Mike expected somewhere else that day?
Why weren't they answering their phones?
Tired of conjecture, he then resolutely put his car into drive and found himself on his way home.
He was exhausted by the time he reached the condo. His muscles ached and his mind was on overdrive. He wanted more than anything to go back in time, to intervene that fateful day when something had been secretly deposited into Jesse's coat, to prevent this whole chain of events from happening. When had someone managed to do it? Who else had ventured into the lab?
He cursed himself for not intervening. There was a period of time where Walt would actually consider checking Jesse's pockets before departing the lab. He should be succumbed to that inclination and made it routine, Jesse's feelings be damned. That could have prevented this.
Mind racing, he was beyond surprised to enter the doorway of his condo and find Mike and Jesse inside.
He froze for a moment in the doorway, frowning, keys dangling in his hand.
Mike was the first one to see him, turning his head from his seat on the couch with a grim expression. On the floor a couple feet in front of him sat the child version of Jesse, seemingly in once piece, fingers gripping his video game console in full attention of the action on the television screen.
"Walter," Mike spoke. His face remained stoic. "We've been trying to call you."
"Call me?" Walt repeated, surprised. He frowned and pushed the door shut behind him. "I've been calling you both all afternoon." He reached into his pocket to extract his phone. It was on, full signal, with no missed calls. "I didn't get a single call."
"Well, whatever the reason," Mike spoke gruffly, "we only got your voicemail all afternoon. That's why we came here."
Walt continued to frown, looking at his phone as though it had failed him. He'd had a signal at the lab… How long had they been here?
"What happened at Dupont's?" Walt asked, eager to fill in the rest of the gaps of the day. Mike didn't appear to be at all ruffled, but that was typical of the man. He turned to look at Jesse. "Jesse, are you alright?" Gus's words loomed over him like a dark cloud, an ominous secret, as he asked about the well-being of the youngest in the room.
Jesse, oblivious or distracted, didn't respond, verbally or physically.
"Hey, Kid," Mike directed his attention to child Jesse, nudging him with his boot. A small hand reached back to attempt futilely to push away the interfering leg.
"Yo, stop," Jesse replied in annoyance.
"You care about the game or you care about what's going on with you right now?" Mike retorted brusquely.
"Yo, to be honest? I like the game better than reality right now," Jesse replied, small voice teetering between being tough and whining.
"We gotta fix the reality…" Mike replied. "Turn off the game."
"That's the quietest I've heard that game," Walt commented, glancing over at the television screen that had Jesse's full attention.
"Well, the only way it was turning on with me here was with the mute button…" Mike replied coldly. "We compromised." He nudged Jesse again, a little harder. The small body squirmed at the impact. "Hey. Did you hear me?" He gave Walt a disgruntled look. "He's been playing this god damn game for nearly two hours now."
"That's fine. Let him play," Walt said dismissively as he moved into the room. He wasn't looking forward to giving Jesse a recap of his discussion with Gus as it was… He looked around the condo. Nothing else seemed out of place. He turned back to give Mike a pointed look. "You and I need to talk anyway." He paused. "Alone."
"Alone?" Mike repeated.
Walt nodded. He glanced over at the still gaming Jesse on the floor. "Might be better." He then asked, "By the way, how'd you get in here?"
"Huh?" Mike looked at him with a frown.
"The door was locked," Walt commented. "How did you get in here?"
Mike simply raised his eyebrows. "Of all the mysteries that surround us," he spoke slowly, "that's the one you're going to ask about? You think a locked door is an obstacle to me?"
"Fine. Forget it," Walt replied, dismissing the topic with a wave of his hand. "Like I said. You and I should talk. Now."
Mike slowly rose from the couch, casting one indifferent look towards Jesse, who didn't appear close to breaking from his game. "Yeah, I'd say we should," he replied as he began to walk slowly towards Walt.
As though innately sensing he was actually not required for once, and that the urging of him to pay attention had ceased, it was then Jesse paused the game, dropping the controller and giving them both a suspicious look. "Talk about what?"
"Keep playing," Mike told him dryly.
"You told me to stop," Jesse reminded him.
"Twenty times over the last hour," Mike answered stiffly. "You didn't listen then. Now I'm telling you to keep playing."
Jesse focused on Walt. "Mr. White," he said, climbing to his feet, "talk about what?"
"Hey," Mike objected. He pointed to the spot that Jesse had just abandoned. "Sit your caboose down. Adults need to talk."
Jesse's eyes shifted from Walt to Mike. He stood his ground and crossed his arms over his chest, looking as 'tough' as a six year old could manage. "I am an adult."
"Right now you're not," Mike replied with a shake of his head. "And your selectiveness of choosing when to act like one is getting old." He pointed again to the floor. "Sit."
"Yo, it's about me though, isn't it?" Jesse persisted, voice more insistent. "After what I went through today, I have a right to hear first hand!"
"What did you go through today?" Walt asked him, frowning. He was yet to hear anything about their trip back to see Dr. Dumont. "Did they tell you anything?"
"Needles," Jesse responded, expression conveying his distaste for the experience. "Lots of needles."
"But did they tell you anything?" Walt repeated the question. He was sympathetic to the tests that Jesse had undoubtedly been subjected to, but getting to the truth behind this and their next steps was more pressing at the moment. Gus's conversation was weighing on him heavily.
"Nada," Mike replied to Walt. "Zilch." He then turned back to Jesse again. "Sit," he repeated more emphatically. "I'm not going to repeat myself. You don't sit now, and sitting's going to be an issue for you, understand me?"
Jesse grunted, clearly unhappy with the outcome but despite a stubborn look, eventually backing down, not willing to push it further. Under Mike's stern glare, he slowly backed into where he'd been sitting and lowered himself to the ground. "Mike…" he said, almost a whine. "It's about me. It's not fair."
"None of this is fair. But this is the first and last time you'll ever hear me tell you to play that god damn game, Kid," Mike told him, now pointing at the console. "Do it."
Jesse sighed, reaching for the controller of the game disinterestedly.
Walt walked towards his bedroom, the one room that offered a door to close, exchanging a look with Mike. "Let's talk in here."
"The bug's in there," Mike commented.
Walt sighed and stopped walking. Did they really care about the bug? Was anyone really buying the silence for hours followed by staged conversations? Was anyone really even listening?
"Kitchen then," he said. "Jesse, you stay here."
"Whatever," Jesse mumbled back disgruntledly, fingers once again flying over the game controller. His expression put no effort into hiding a clear sulk.
In the kitchen, Walt walked across his tile floor to the far wall, silent for a moment with his back to Mike. He could hear the other man slowly walk in behind him, also quiet. He realized he'd spent more time with Mike in the last few days than ever before. He had to admit to a growing, mutual respect forming… And somehow the common link was Jesse.
He turned around, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. "I want to hear about what happened at Dumont's," he said, "but first I think it's important that you know I had a visitor at the lab today."
Mike's expression remained unchanged, patiently awaiting the punch line. "What kind of visitor?"
With that news, Mike's eyebrows raised. "Continue…"
"He knows everything."
"Everything… And what exactly do you mean by everything?"
"I mean he caused everything," Walt continued, tone aggravated. He felt angry just thinking about the conversation. He kept his voice low, not wanting to draw Jesse's attention to the fact something was more wrong than he knew. "In fact, everyone seems to be an accessory to this whole thing except you and me. And Jesse."
"Who is 'everyone'?" Mike replied.
"Gus is behind this whole thing. This is a pet project of his. And Saul for example," Walt replied edgily, almost in a hiss. He gestured as he spoke, walking a few feet away with agitated energy. "Completely involved."
"What do you mean he's 'completely' involved?" Mike's tone was clearly growing skeptical as he questioned each statement of Walt's. The news of who had caused this, who was involved, was clearly hard for him to believe as well.
"You think it's a coincidence he knew what doctor to call?"
"He didn't know right away…" Mike began. "He thought the whole thing was crazy."
"Did he?" Walt challenged. "Wouldn't otherwise have been just a little too convenient? This whole situation is absurd! But wouldn't we have been just a little suspicious if Saul didn't flinch and immediately knew who to contact?"
"Walter… We can't just suspect everyone who—"
"I'm not suspecting," Walt interjected. "I'm stating the facts. Gus made it clear to me that Saul is involved. I'm not speculating. You on the other hand… Apparently they didn't trust you to be part of this."
Mike frowned now, shaking his head slightly. While his expression was mostly ambivalent, it was clear the comment had rubbed him the wrong way. "Is that what Gus said?"
"More or less," Walt admitted. "Frankly, I'm not really in the state of mind to quote verbatim or to care," he added, more curtly than he intended. He watched Mike's expression, which looked a bit conflicted at the revelation. "From what he said, I would take it to mean they were concerned you might have opposed to Jesse being part of a science experiment. That you might have made it more difficult."
"I'm a science experiment?" came the small voice from the doorway.
Surprised, both Walt and Mike's attention turned to the doorway.
Six-year-old Jesse stood there, leaning against the wall, watching them with a look of confusion and fear. "Gus did this?" his voice wavered just so slightly.
"Jesse…" Walt started, sighing. This was not the way he had planned to deliver the news to his now small partner.
"Why?" Jesse asked. He sounded victimized. "And how?" His voice was shaking now.
"Hey - didn't we tell you to stay inside while we talked?" Mike began crossly, clearly taking the approach of calling Jesse out on his disobedience rather than to address or answer the questions.
"I have a right to know!" Jesse replied, raising his own tone daringly. His voice was strained, emotional. His little hand gripped the wall of the doorway, as though it was serving as some sort of support beam.
"Go inside, Kid," Mike told him stiffly. He gave him a look. "Let us talk."
"Why, because you're adults?" Jesse demanded, quoting Mike's earlier response. He narrowed his eyes, shaking his head. "Yo, I told you - I'm an adult too! And it's about me! All of it!"
"Maybe he should hear this…" Walt began slowly. After all, Jesse did have a point, emotions aside.
Mike shot Walt a look. "Why do you insist on giving in to him?" he asked the other man.
"I want to know the truth!" Jesse exclaimed insistently. "Why am I trapped in this body? And what do you mean by experiment? Did they do this on purpose?" His back-to-back questions were addressed to Walt, desperate to get some sort of response from one of the other men and calculating that his former teacher was most likely to do so. As he spoke, he became more distressed. "Why is this happening, Mr. White?"
Mike turned back to the shouting child. Jesse's face had flushed, either in anger or distress. "Calm down, and go inside," he told him firmly, keeping his voice steady with a forced calm. His expression was stony. "I'm done negotiating with you today. Walter and I need to talk."
"About me!" Jesse persisted.
"One…" Mike slowly counted.
"I'm not a child!" Jesse insisted, voice shriller.
"Jesse…" Walt said, attempting to sound placating.
"You just said I'm part of a science experiment!" With those words spoken out loud, Jesse's breathing appeared more labored, chest rising up and down visibly. "What's that even mean?"
"Two…" Mike stated.
Jesse just glared, breathing in and out fervently. It was hard to tell if it was the beginning of a panic attack or a tantrum.
Mike sighed. "Kid, don't make me finish counting…"
"One, Two, Three!" Jesse yelled at him.
"You think you're helping the situation?" Mike replied irritably.
"I don't care! I just need to know what's going on and what we're doing to do about it!" he persisted. "What experiment? And why? I can't stay like this! I can't!"
Without responding, Mike slowly walked towards Jesse, but the kid held his ground, continuing to take deep, shaky breaths. His eyes were shining bright, tears brimming but not yet spilling over.
"Mike…" Walt warned, watching the man's approach to the doorway cautiously. "Let's all talk." In his mind, he couldn't fault Jesse. This was all about him. This whole discussion had his future and his well-being hanging in its grasp. If situations were reversed, they would each want to know what it all meant as soon as possible for their individual outlook.
As Mike came within a foot of Jesse, the kid unraveled. A trembling lip had been holding strong but then released into tears. He rushed forward, attaching himself now to Mike's leg, arms wrapping around and clinging as he rubbed his face into the fabric of his pants, now crying openly.
Mike stood there for a moment, taking a deep breath that he let out slowly. He rolled his eyes heavenward for a moment.
"Kid…" he spoke, voice a low, disapproving grumble.
Jesse didn't respond other than gripping the man's leg more tightly. His crying was in earnest.
"He calls this being an adult," Mike muttered.
"We are all being stressed here," Walt replied, feeling a bit pained by Jesse's emotional breakdown. Poor Jesse didn't even know the full truth yet. "This isn't exactly easy to deal with."
Emotionless, Mike just leaned over, taking the miniature version of Jesse under his arms, lifting him up. Once he initially touched him, Jesse gripped his leg more tightly, but a firm grip to pull him upwards loosened that hold rather readily. As Jesse curled into him, crying into his shoulder, knees pushing into Mike's waist, Mike moved across the room and placed him on the countertop.
Jesse was unwilling to let go and sit on his own, but gave up as Mike easily pulled his grip off of him.
"Listen," Mike told him as he placed firm hands over Jesse's thighs. "If you're really an adult and you want to be part of this conversation, then you're going to need to stop bawling your eyes out."
Listening to the blunt response, Walt wondered if Mike really was so unsympathetic, or this was simply the tactic he chose with Jesse.
A flushed, weeping Jesse stared back at him, fat tears spilling from blue orbs and rolling down his cheeks. He nodded.
"You're nodding at me," Mike spoke matter-of-factly, "and yet you're still crying."
Jesse's hands rose to his eyes, wiping away the falling tears futilely with balled fists. "I'm not," he replied shakily.
Mike sighed, and then turned his head towards Walt, who had been observing silently. "You still want to include him in this conversation?"
Walt's eyes shifted between the angst-ridden, sniveling version of his partner and the hard as nails, brooding older man. "Eventually he has to be," he replied rationally.
"Am I really an experiment?" Jesse asked between lamenting breaths.
"Yes," Walt told him. He didn't even pause before responding. It was like pulling off a bandaid. "You are."
"Walter," Mike said stiffly. Keeping his hands on Jesse to hold him in place, he turned his head, raising his brows at the other man. "You think that's wise?"
"Are you protecting him from the truth now as well, Mike?" Walt responded, finding the critique of his approach rather ironic. "Does hiding the facts from him help?"
Mike kept one hand on Jesse, bracing him against the countertop, and turned further towards Walt. "Does telling him that help?" he challenged. "You're the one that suggested we talk alone first."
"Maybe he'll realize this is serious."
"I already know it's serious," Jesse sniveled. "It's most serious for me."
"So he's an experiment. That's what Gus told you?" Mike shook his head. "They purposefully put him in this state, somehow. And why? Why would someone want the Kid to be like this?" He waved his arm toward the miniature version of Jesse. "Unable to cook? A liability? A potential legal nightmare? To what end?"
Jesse's sniffling picked up again, somewhat choked as he clearly tried to hold it in.
"Hey," Mike snapped at him, turning his head. "Enough waterworks."
"Can you blame him?" Walt responded. "Let him cry."
Mike looked frustrated, not bothering to shade his reaction to their scenario, narrowing his eyes at Walt as the child under his hold trembled. "What else did Gus tell you?" he asked irritably. "If we're going to have this conversation with the Kid, then let's put all the cards on the table. What else did he say?"
"Their objective has nothing to do with Jesse himself," Walt replied. He glanced at the child on the counter, but couldn't see his expression as Jesse rubbed his hands over his face. "They're just using Jesse. This is a step in an investment to help people achieve youth. Jesse proves it's possible. Gus believes it's a lucrative endeavor. What did Dumont tell you?"
"Like I said, next to nothing," Mike replied dryly. "I felt like I was at a god damn pediatric check-up. I sure as hell wish I knew all this while I was there." He grunted. "His security though – it's high-end. That's no normal doctor's office."
"They did this on purpose," Walt said stiffly. "In going there, we gave them what they wanted. Access to Jesse. The blood, the vitals – that's what they want. It's data for their research. And we are handing it over like active participants."
"Versus what?" Mike replied. "What's the alternative?"
Walt didn't know. He shook his head, raising his hands in a shrugging gesture, a mixture of disbelief and his own frustration. He paced a little bit across the floor. "I can't say that I know. What I know is science. And none of this is founded in science."
"Maybe they need the data to help figure out how to turn him back," Mike continued. "If taking some blood's gonna get him back to normal, then I'd take him back there tomorrow."
"No…" Jesse moaned.
Mike pivoted back to Jesse and squeezed his hold on him. "Why not, Kid? Don't you want to turn back?"
Turn back, Walt repeated in his head. It wasn't possible. At least, they didn't know how. They weren't focused on that.
The interaction with Gus still infuriated Walt. His dismissiveness of the impact on Jesse, on the human aspect of it. On using unsuspecting victims as lab rats.
Unexpectedly, he suddenly felt a sense of blackness approaching again. For a moment, his vision blurred, and he found himself catching his balance by anchoring himself with a grip on his counter. He was suddenly thankful of the luck that he'd been near the counter in his pacing to catch himself.
The moment wasn't overlooked.
"You alright, Walter?" Mike's voice conveyed the question only, and not concern.
"Fine," Walt responded, a little dismissively. He removed his glasses briefly, rubbing at his eyes. The last few days were clearly taking their toll.
"You sure?" Mike asked slowly, clearly skeptical.
Jesse had quieted, and was sitting meekly on the countertop, the distracted hand of Mike just barely on his knee. With the other two distracted, he started to shift towards the edge of the counter, direction heading to slide downwards.
"Yes, fine," Walt answered, a little curtly. "Must just be a bit tired."
"You don't look so good…" Mike told him. He had noticed Jesse's weight shift and didn't object, actually moving his hands to help provide support as the child version of Jesse slid down off the countertop. Once the small feet hit the floor, he grabbed him by the wrist. "Where are you going?"
"I feel sick," Jesse told him, chin pressed to his chest. "I need air."
"Well, you can get air in the other room. Stay inside," he told him brusquely.
"Mm-hm," came Jesse's acquiescent but unfocussed response.
Mike yanked his wrist, getting his attention, and the kid's head shot up. "Stay inside," Mike repeated. "You were missing once during this debacle already. I'm not looking for you again."
Jesse nodded earnestly, for once no backtalk or objection. He met Mike's gaze with direct eye contact. His face was still tear-stained, eyes deep blue and melancholy. "Mike, I promise," he replied. He tugged at his wrist gently to be released.
Trusting the engagement as genuine, Mike let him go, and Jesse disappeared from the room with slow but purposeful steps, evidently no longer wanting to be part of the conversation. It was the lowest Walt had ever seen a child droop his shoulders.
"Walter," Mike began, walking towards the other man. "Normally I wouldn't press but… We're unfortunately too deeply involved for me to ignore what just happened. Are you sure you're alright?"
"Fine," Walter insisted. The memory of dropping to the ground at the lab hit him like a ton of bricks. "Completely fine."
Mike cleared his throat, studying Walt without a word. He then dismissed the inquiry of well-being to return to their more urgent problem. "Providing someone the chance at youth," he mused. "Really? How much is something like that even worth?"
"Worth?" Walt echoed. "Monetarily? I mean… You tell me, Mike."
Mike shrugged. "Not sure I'd want to go back," he responded dryly.
"No? Not even to redo things again?"
"Redo?" Mike regarded him calmly, as though digesting the question. He took a deep breath and sighed. "The things I would want to redo won't be solved by taking a few years off of me, Walter. That's only a superficial change. It won't bring back what I've lost."
Walt paused, considering the statement. It was valid. "Fine. So not compelling for you on an individual basis, but for others, those that felt they wasted their youth… I mean… It's priceless to get another chance, isn't it?"
"Certainly worth more than that blue garbage we produce daily?"
"One man's trash is another man's treasure."
"Exactly," Walt responded.
"Would you go back?"
Walt paused, a little surprised at the questioning turning to him. "Me?" he asked.
"You're sick," Mike told him bluntly. "Wouldn't you want to go back?"
"Go back… And what?" Walt answered, narrowing his eyes slightly. This was about as personal of a conversation that he'd ever had with the other man. "Fulfill my bucket list? Prevent it?"
Mike shrugged. "You tell me. You're the scientist."
"Like you said," Walt replied, trying to remain cordial, "everything would have happened already anyway. The decisions I made... The places I've been…" He shook his head. "I mean, maybe… Maybe." He paused, thinking of his children. "To buy a little more time."
"Judging by the kid… You could buy yourself nearly twenty years… That's more than a little."
Walt didn't respond right away.
"The kid," Mike continued. "What are we going to do?"
Walt paused, hesitating before responding.
Before he could, not that he had an answer, they heard a scream from inside.
A bloodcurdling sound of a child screaming. Jesse's scream.
There was no hesitation as they both ran towards the other room.