Chapter One

"I'm happy just to dance with you…" bounced out cheerily from Gale Boetticher's car radio.

He couldn't believe that after all this, there was this final insult, final embarrassment – he had to go back to the lab, plead with the man who had just fired him (and in favor of who? Some little punk kid! Of all the people!) – and ask for the key he'd left in his locker, the key to the same in his apartment – why had he even brought the damn thing with him to the lab in the first place?

He supposed he could get the locks changed on the safe, somehow, but… still, he'd have to come up with some excuse other than "Sorry, sir, I left the key in the meth lab I work in, must have slipped my mind."

Or maybe it wasn't about the key at all.

Maybe he was just looking for another reason to see Walter White again.

To plead his case, and maybe more.

To tell him how I feel. No, that was stupid. It was middle-school crap, boy-meets-girl ridiculousness that had no place in the world Gale was currently inhabiting.

But yet, there was still a part of him that wanted to do it. Maybe that had been the real reason behind the firing – maybe clear-headed Walter White didn't want feelings clouding his judgment, so he brought in someone who could only vaguely follow simple instructions, because seriously, what could this kid be other than a simple gofer? He couldn't possibly mean anything to Walt. It just wasn't possible.

Gale had to get back into the lab with Walt. There simply was no way around it. Not to mention that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Maybe he was only thirty-four, but Gale wasn't getting any younger, and he had no desire to spend the rest of his life screwing around with departmental politics at some dinky private college when he could be working with the best – hell, he could be becoming the best.

But only if he fought for this. Only if he refused to let it slip through his fingers.

The problem was that confrontation had never been Gale's strong suit. He clammed up at adversity, rather than fight for what was his, or should be his.

Except this time. Because Walter White was his. Should be his.

Oh, what was he saying? What was he thinking?

He pulled into the laundry's parking lot and sighed, resting his face in his hands a moment before shutting the car off and pulling his keys from the ignition. Here goes nothing.

He pressed down the lock with two fingers and reminded himself to look into getting a new car. One of those ones with a button you could press to open it, instead of having to fish around and pull out the right key.

Too bad they didn't make something like that for his apartment door, or, while he was harping on the subject, his safe. He was always losing his keys, always misplacing them, no matter whether he marked them with fancy little doo-dads on the end or put them on a keychain (not that he could ever find personalized ones with his name on them) or anything else he'd tried. He was just a scatterbrain – the only reason he could find his lab notes was because he left them on his table half the time.

He climbed out of the car and put his hands on his hips a moment, trying to focus on the single thought of get what you want.

You want Walter White, then get him. Reach out and take it!

But the thought seemed as ridiculous as it had a moment before.

What was he supposed to do, scrap with the kid for Walt's honor, like two guys in a bar-fight over a pretty girl who couldn't choose between them? What better way to just utterly humiliate himself than that?

No, Gale didn't fight. Had never been a fighter. A quiet, gentle-hearted boy he'd been.

He snorted at the description as it floated through his mind; it made him sound downright bucolic, and perhaps in a way, he was. But he found no pleasure in that, as if he were Little Bo Peep or something of the sort, too docile to stand up and shove Walt's new assistant away and fight, for the love of God, fight!

He entered the laundry and found the secret doorway already open; he wondered at it a moment but was too caught up in nervousness to dwell on it. He started down the red spiral staircase until, at the bottom of it, he found Walter White and his new assistant - Gale's replacement – bound and gagged and surrounded by armed men.