Chapter One

"Thank you so much for agreeing to take him."

Jesse Pinkman heard the words through the walls of his aunt's bathroom; his ear was pressed against the wall and he felt a sense of being a little kid again, hiding from things he didn't quite want to face up to just yet. He had flocked in there shortly after their arrival, when his mother had announced that they hadn't just come to visit Aunt Jenny, but that this was where Jesse would be living as he was no longer welcome back at home.

"It's no problem at all," Jenny's voice replied, in its cool, crisp, somewhat floaty tones. Familiar tones, safe ones in a sea of uncertainty and, more than that, unbridled fury.

"He's impossible. I'm so grateful. We just didn't know what to do with him, Jennifer."

Mrs. Pinkman continued to bluster along, adding a few more apologies and layers of gratitude for her sister – "and considering everything, too" - to be willing to take in her disappointment of an older son, in part to take care of her given her worsening lung cancer, but as much so or more because Mrs. Pinkman had run out of places to put Jesse that were somewhere other than her own home.

She hadn't wanted to throw her older son out on to the curb, after all – even though he was eighteen, he was still a high school boy… And maybe, just maybe, he could get his act together. But Jesse's father would have none of that, and she couldn't really blame him. They hadn't been bad parents to him, not at all, and he had repaid them by constantly running with the wrong crowd, doing drugs, stealing things, and being an all-around problem child.

Their younger son, now, he was different. Jake was already showing signs of being, well, a prodigy almost. Mrs. Pinkman didn't quite like to use that word, it seemed a little boastful but, really, that's what he was – only five, and already so intelligent. So bright-eyed, so eager to learn – so unlike his older brother. Jesse had been a problem since the moment he was born, always a rambunctious child, getting into everything – he was the kid who would never sit still, was always sticking his hand into the light socket no matter how many times you told him no. Jesse seemed to take no as a challenge, one he would gladly accept, rather than a prohibition.

Sometimes Mrs. Pinkman felt it was a wonder they had decided to have a second child at all after their experience with Jesse.

Now, Jenny had always said to her that Jesse wasn't a bad kid; every time they would visit, she'd gush over him even while Mrs. Pinkman flushed and apologized for whatever his latest indiscretion had been.

She was at the point now where, if Jenny liked him so much, well, she could have him – but why she'd want him around, especially while she was dying, was anybody's guess.

"Janet, please," Aunt Jenny replied calmly. "It's no problem at all. I'm sure Jesse and I will get along splendidly. You can go – we'll be fine."

Jesse could see the light flush of Jenny's hand as she insisted, as if he was watching the conversation instead of merely eavesdropping. He heard a few murmured goodbyes before the door latched and the car drove away.

He reluctantly unlatched the bathroom door and walked out, stepping out on to the carpet and trying to shake off the dressing down he had gotten from his parents before he had been deposited on his aunt's doorstep. As he did, he considered the situation as he looked up at the woman whose house had become his own.

Jennifer Carlow was six years younger than her sister and had an appearance and a life rather different than Janet's. While she was also blonde, she kept her wavy, silky hair longer than her sister's, and she was taller and more slender. She had always stayed single, while her sister had married Adam Pinkman straight out of secretarial school and had Jesse about two years later. She had spent her life going between different careers; for a while she had been a flight attendant (or "stewardess" at the time), afterwards a manager for a local hotel, and most recently, before she had gone on indefinite sick leave, an elementary school teacher.

"Well?" Jenny asked as she looked at her blue-eyed nephew and smiled. Jesse raised an eyebrow and looked back at her, unsure of what to say.

"Well what?" he inquired, his energy seeping out of him at the realization that his parents had actually followed through on their threats to kick him out of the house. He had finally pushed them too far this time – there was no going back. It wasn't even fair. He hadn't done anything that bad. In fact, he couldn't even remember what he had actually done this time – it had been a week or so ago when he'd done it, and every little thing he had done since (not picked up after himself, left the garage door open, got caught smoking) had been another notch against him until, this morning, they had put their collective foot down.

"Well, what do you want to do?" Jenny pressed, smiling again. Jesse blinked and looked back at her. Maybe this living arrangement wouldn't be all bad. "I know you have friends and a life, and I'm not going to take that from you. There will be some ground rules, though. This isn't a flophouse." She paused, grinning. "But… in the meantime… Monopoly?"

"Monopoly?" Jesse's eyes lit up for a moment, before he lowered them again. "I dunno, I never win at that."

"Does anyone ever really win at Monopoly? How often does anyone finish a game? They tend to go on forever, don't they?" Aunt Jenny made her way to the bookcase in the cornered and retrieved a large rectangular, shaking it as she smiled. "Want to find out?"

"Sure, I guess," Jesse replied. "By the way… what's a flophouse?"

"I'm… not sure exactly," Jenny said, moving to the carpet and setting up the board. "But I know that this isn't one."