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Homemade Dynamite

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We'll end up painted on the road

red and chrome

all the broken glass sparkling

guess we're partying

 

*

 

In retrospect, he’ll try to tell himself that he couldn’t have stopped it. That Sweet Pea’s actions, despite his best efforts, are out of his control. That the fire between the bulldogs and the serpents is one that’s been raging far longer than one night, far longer than he’s been a serpent, far longer than time itself.

 

(He concedes that the last part is a corny hyperbole, the kind he can’t afford to let slip into his writing).

 

Still.

 

Still, as he pulls the blankets against his chest, rain battering the roof of the trailer, Hot Dog snoring at the foot of his bed, the image feels burned onto his retinas.

 

Betty. Archie. Betty and Archie. The gentle upturn of the corner of her mouth as Archie had whispered something into her ear, the blue and gold of their uniforms bright against the darkening sky.

 

He remembers thinking, fuck it.

 

What did he have to lose now anyway?

 

*

 

The plan had formed somewhere between fourth and fifth period. The reasons were many but not so varied: Alice Cooper had written another expose about the Black Hood and the Serpents, and how the former had to be the latter because… Well, Jughead hadn’t quite followed the logic, as was usual with Alice Cooper’s theories, her ‘throw mud and see what sticks’ method as baseless as always, but the logic really didn’t matter in the end.

 

The Serpents were mobilized against the north side once more.

 

“You want to attack a football game?” he’d asked, voice saturated in disbelief.

 

Sweet Pea had delivered his usual, Jughead-instigated glare. “It’s not my fault that the only reason the whole of the north side gets together is for football, but that’s how it is.”

 

“So what,” Jughead had said, his tone unchanged, “you’re going to prove Alice Cooper wrong about the violence of the Southside by walking into a crowd of innocent people and inflicting violence upon them?”

 

“You still protecting your boy Andrews?” Sweet Pea asked, eyebrow raised. “Thought you’d be done with that after, you know…”

 

Jughead felt the lump form in his throat instantaneously. Of all the things that had pained him in the weeks following his break up with Betty, Sweet Pea’s casual daily reminder of it, usually with an accompanying smirk, had been the least painful by far.

 

Still.

 

“I’m not protecting Archie,” he said quietly. “I just think we can be smarter about it.”

 

“Jughead’s right,” Toni said, somewhere to his right.

 

The lump in his throat had twisted. He didn’t deserve Toni’s support, not after everything, not after weeks of silence and avoidance, implication heavy with maybe things would be different if

 

But things weren’t different. The slow unpacking of his feelings following their kiss had exposed a surprisingly simple truth: Kissing someone because they’re interested and because they’re there, is very different to kissing someone you’re in love with.

 

Even if the someone in question went about breaking up with him in the worst way imaginable.

 

He’d swallowed back the lump and forced himself to focus on the present. “We don’t need violence to make a statement. I’ve got an idea.”

 

*

 

His idea fell apart approximately twenty seconds after he and the better half of the serpents congregated behind the bleachers at Riverdale high.

 

The game was yet to begin; that part of the plan had remained unchanged, the majority of the crowd already seated. The footballers had taken to the field to warm up, the cheerleaders on the sidelines stretching.

 

Don’t look, he’d warned himself sternly. Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.

 

He’d ignored his own advice and chanced a glance towards the cheerleaders, trying to convince himself that he wasn’t seeking out a familiar blonde ponytail, that he was only casually glancing out of interest’s sake.

 

His mouth went dry as soon as he spotted her, her leg pulled up at the knee, her hand resting on Archie’s shoulder.

 

He stopped bothering with casual and openly stared at the scene in front of him. Betty, fuck she was beautiful, eyes glued to the ground, her face stern in concentration. Archie speaking to her in what looked like hushed tones, his expression trying to convey importance.

 

And then it had happened. She’d glanced up at Archie, her expression soft, the corner of her mouth turning up into a smile. Jughead knew that look well, he’d seen it on her face for the better part of their adolescence; adoration, all directed at Archie Andrews.

 

And just as quickly as the smile had come, it slipped away as she locked eyes with him instead, her foot falling to the ground, her mouth forming around his name.

 

Blood pumping in his ears, he ignored the hand on his shoulder, pulling him back towards the group. He marched forward, the injustice of it all pulling at his insides. He’d thought about this moment more than he cared to admit to himself, fragments of imagined conversations hitting him all at once, all the things he had wanted to say to her, to him, to no one in particular.

 

“Jughead.”

 

The sound of her voice pulled him up short and the imagined conversations disappeared instantly. What could he possibly say that encompassed this, thing, that he’d carried on his chest every single day since she sent Archie to break up with him?

 

“What are you doing here, Jug?”

 

Archie’s voice was guarded, his eyes darting between Jughead and the other serpents, still gathered behind the bleachers, clearly uncertain about the turn of events.

 

What are you doing here, Jug?

 

It occurred to him that the only reason Archie could ask that question with such incredulity was because he truly believed he had no ties left to the North Side.

 

Fuck it.

 

What do I have to lose now, anyway?

 

*

 

The knock stirs him out of his reverie. He gives it a moment, hoping that whichever serpent is knocking on his door this time will give up and assume he’s out. But then Hot Dog is barking and the knocking continues, loud and unrelenting, and he knows he can keep up the pretense no longer.

 

To say he’s surprised to see Betty Cooper on the other side of his door is an understatement. If he’d had any glimmer of hope of a reunion before tonight, he knows his actions at the football field shot it dead.

 

(Some ironic part of him is glad he couldn’t have expected her, knowing that any expectation of this moment would have lead to soul burying levels of existential angst).

 

“What are you doing here, Betty?”

 

His turn to ask. The significance isn’t lost on her.

 

She’s angry, that much he knows. She squares her shoulders, flicking her wet hair out of her face as she says, “can I come in?”

 

He doesn’t think he’s in a position to deny her but a part of him starts in annoyance. “I don’t think it’s your place to come across town and chastise me for my co-curriculars anymore, Betty.”

 

She shakes her head, her mouth pulled into a hard line. She pushes past him anyway, fitting herself through the crack he’s allowed in the door and pulling it closed firmly behind her. She walks exactly three steps into the living room before turning on him, her arms folded decidedly in front of her.

 

“What the hell were you thinking?”

 

He wasn’t. Which isn’t usually an action for which he finds himself facing consequences – that’s Archie’s territory. A snarky part of him wants to make the comparison, wonder out loud why he finds himself staring down the barrel of accusations that normally side swipe his so called best friend.

 

Instead he turns and opens the freezer, pulling out a bag of peas and pressing it into his jaw before turning and leaning against the kitchen counter.

 

“Jughead?” she enquires.

 

“Why do you care?” he finally answers, because, really, why does she?

 

She shakes her head again. He can see moisture in her eyes now and the instinctual almost balling of her fists, even with her arms folded against her chest.

 

“Jughead, this isn’t you,” she implores. “Turning up at a football field to start a fight? With your best friend? None of this is you.”

 

“I think we’ve had this conversation before,” Jughead says icily, “except, we didn’t, because you sent Archie to do it for you.”

 

She wipes away a tear and looks away from him. “I had to.”

 

“What the fuck does that mean, Betty?” he asks, his voice strained. “Who has to send someone else to deliver their break up for them?”

 

“Jughead.”

 

Her voice cuts him off. She’s crying properly now, sobs racking her chest as she looks down at her feet. It occurs to him all at once that despite how goddamn beautiful she looks, she also looks exhausted. He could put it down to any number of things – the limpness of her hair, already wet from the rain, her under eyes dark and uncharacteristically unconcealed – but he knows that isn’t it. Knows that it’s something unspoken between them, now that they’re facing each other properly for the first time in weeks.

 

“Betty, what…?”

 

She takes a deep breath. “I came in a cab.”

 

He racks his brains for how that could possibly be relevant to their previous discussion. It must be clear in his expression that he turns up nothing because she says a moment later, “I didn’t want to be followed.”

 

“Why would you be followed?”

 

She wrings her hands openly, in a more overt attempt to stop herself from balling them at her sides. He moves forward despite himself, dropping the frozen peas on the counter as he goes.

 

“I can’t drag you into this.”

 

“Drag me into what?”

 

She’s fighting herself, that much is obvious. He tries to work out which part of her is winning, as she bounces on her foot, teeth digging into her lip. He wants to kiss her there, right there, and he hates himself immediately for the thought because Betty Cooper related hope has yielded depressingly low results lately.

 

“I should go,” she says finally, “I’ll call a cab to take me home.”

 

She turns to leave, her hand reaching for the door handle.

 

He prides himself on being the type of person who delivers a message with the right strike of calculated words, but now they tumble out of his mouth in a shout without permission. “Go! Go back to Archie then!”

 

The look she gives him when she turns to face him is incredulous. “Why would you say that?”

 

“Why would I say that?” Jughead repeats, laughing hollowly. “I don’t know, Betty, it could have something to do with the fact that you and Archie were written in the fucking stars from day dot. I shouldn’t have needed you sending Archie to break up with me for you to remember it, but-”

 

“I didn’t send Archie to break up with you because I want Archie,” she says, fiercely, taking a step towards him. “I sent Archie because I knew I couldn’t go through with it while standing in front of you.”

 

Oh God, he thinks that might be worse. The thought of her trying and failing to break up with him taints every memory he has of them together before they broke up. Did she pity him?

 

He decides he doesn’t want to know.

 

“Either way,” he says, “it’s done. My Southside lifestyle, to quote your mother, needn’t affect you anymore.”

 

He goes to move past her but she catches his arm, forcing him round to face her.

 

“Jughead, I didn’t break up with you because you’re on the Southside. God, I hate it, and I don’t think it’s you, but it’s not even because you’re a serpent.”

 

“Then why?” he exclaims despite himself, despite the pain he knows he’s about to inflict on himself for the following weeks and months to come.

 

“Because I love you!” she exclaims back, her voice breaking and the tears falling once more. “I did it because I love you.”

 

“But-” his mind whirs trying to connect this piece of information with what he’s known to be true for the last four weeks. Can he even call it a piece of information? More like a nuclear bomb. How can she possibly love him if-?

 

He’s stopped short when her lips find his, her hands cupping his face in that oh so familiar, desperate way they did before everything went to hell. He barely notices the pressure where his jaw aches from earlier, his mind caught in an endless loop of how’s and why’s.

 

When she breaks away, her hands still on his face, her expression searching and tear streaked, his mind goes quiet but for one thought.

 

Fuck it.

 

*

 

They shed their clothes in the small hallway between the kitchen and the bedroom. In her underwear, he notices the goose bumps littered along her pale skin, the way she shakes slightly as she grips his face, arms, back...

 

There’s a pause as she reaches the waistband of his boxers and she’s the stillest he’s seen her since she arrived on his doorstep.

 

“You haven’t…?” she begins quietly.

 

He’s confused for a moment because he thinks she should know the answer to this question but then it dawns on him. Toni. She’s asking about Toni.

 

“No,” he says firmly. He could have, maybe even came close to it if he’s honest with himself, weeks ago in a position not unlike this one, fresh from a gang related fight.

 

His life is bordering on the ridiculous, some distant part of him thinks.

 

“But there was a kiss,” he admits, softly, his hand on her face now, tracing the angle of her jaw.

 

She looks pained, but offers with a slight quirk of an eyebrow, “just a kiss?”

 

“Just a kiss,” he mirrors, “right after… after everything. I’d love to say it meant nothing, like the proverbial cad in every movie, but it did. Just… Not nearly as much as it does with you.”

 

She meets his eye and he gets the impression that, for now at least, his answer has satisfied.

 

*

 

They fall into his bed still in their underwear, Hot Dog locked securely out in the hallway. He wants to ask a million questions once more, finding that most of them are fancy rewordings of a similar sentiment: are you sure you want to do this?

 

As if she can read his mind, she flips him onto his back, unclipping her bra and letting it slide down her chest. If he didn’t know her so well, he’d think she was being remarkably cavalier considering, but he notices the shake to her hand as she casts the bra over the side of the bed, the way she meets his gaze only briefly before leaning down and capturing his lips with hers.

 

He reaches up, running his hand through her hair. “Betty, we don’t have to-”

 

“I know,” she says firmly, pulling away from him slightly. “But I want to. Okay?”

 

There’s something urgent in the way she says it, something he hasn’t quite figured out yet. But he knows that she means it, in a way that he hasn’t known anything else in weeks.

 

“Okay.”

 

*

 

It doesn’t take long before they’re both completely naked. Looking down at her, he has the simultaneous urge to stare for hours and to put his mouth on every inch of her all at once.

 

Kissing her navel softly he says, “Can I…?”

 

She nods her assent shyly, shifting her legs slightly so that he has better access. He works his way from her navel to the inside of her thigh, kissing slowly towards her center.

 

He is wholly unprepared for the sound she makes when his mouth finds its target, her hand twisting in his hair. Part of him is terrified; terrified that this isn’t going to be good for her. But another part of him takes some modicum of solace from the fact that her reaction to his mouth is what it is.

 

It takes him a while to work out what makes her feel good, what makes her legs tremble persistently and her sighs less guarded. The second time he thinks she might be getting close she pulls his mouth to hers, her hand reaching between his legs. He groans, a sound so unlike anything he’s ever made in his life that it almost shocks him out of the moment.

 

“Do you have a condom?” she asks breathlessly.

 

He almost wants to reply, “What was your plan if I said no?” Because, really, he thinks, being Betty Cooper, this is her way of saying, “go get a condom. Now,” and there’s an instinctual part of him, even in the most inappropriate of situations, that wants to drag these things out of her.

 

What he actually says isn’t even close to a word, as he drags himself away from her long enough to rummage through his bedside table.

 

*

 

When he finally pushes into her - finally because the logistics of aligning his body with hers had been more complicated than he’d initially anticipated without a scrap of experience between them – she winces slightly, closing her eyes and breathing deeply.

 

“Do you want me to stop?”

 

She shakes her head, pulling his mouth to hers into a kiss. “Slow.”

 

The sex itself is more awkward in its execution than he hoped, but he has his suspicions that Betty was better prepared for that reality than he was. While he hates it, somewhere in the back of his head he can visualize the conference that she, Veronica and Kevin probably had on this very topic.

 

But there are moments, more than one of them, where he feels overwhelmed by it. When she pulls him down into a crushing kiss, her teeth grazing his bottom lip, he almost comes immediately. When she closes her eyes, her mouth forming around his name, her hand pulling at the back of his thigh to pull him closer towards her, he wants to tell her he loves her. When he does actually come, the soft smile that plays at her lips, like she’s proud she has an effect on him.

 

Overwhelmed doesn’t really do justice to what he’s feeling.

 

*

 

He wants to do more for her once he’s finished, but she kisses him once before she wraps his arm around her and begins to tell him about the Black Hood.

 

His emotions move swiftly between horror, guilt, rage and fear. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this?”

 

“He told me not to,” she says simply.

 

“You told Archie,” he says, before immediately regretting it.

 

“Archie was there,” she says quietly, “you weren’t.”

 

Horror is swapped for guilt once more, a lead filled guilt that fills his lungs.

 

You arsehole.

 

*

 

He wakes somewhere around dawn to the sound of Betty shuffling around his room, relocating her things.

 

“I have to catch a cab home before anyone notices I’m missing.”

 

“I’ll drive you.”

 

“You can’t,” she says softly. “If he sees us-”

 

She leaves the consequence hanging.

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” she says after a moment. “And I’m sorry I sent Archie.”

 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there to tell,” he says, swallowing the lump that’s formed in his throat. “I’m sorry about, you know, Toni.”

 

She doesn’t reply, whether it’s because she doesn’t know what to say or because she doesn’t want to ruin the relative truce they’ve formed, he’s not sure. After a moment, she smiles at him sadly before heading for the door.

 

“Betty?”

 

She turns, expression hopeful.

 

“When do you think we could see each other again?”

 

She breathes deeply, bringing a hand to her chest. “Honestly, I don’t know.”

 

He lets that sit for a moment. He thinks the answer might be when the Black Hood is discovered, but that’s a far too depressing answer for either of them to acknowledge.

 

“Betts?”

 

She looks up, her hand still against her chest.

 

“I love you.”

 

She exhales, her expression pained. “You too, Juggie.”

 

As he hears the trailer door bang shut, he thinks this break up is a vast improvement on the last.