It’s a surprise when Sweet Pea reveals to the rest of the teenaged Serpents that he tried out for the basketball team. It’s even more of a surprise—to Sweet Pea especially—when he actually makes the team, despite Reggie Mantle’s intense hatred for him. He still has a particularly bad bruise on his left side from where Reggie launched himself elbow-first into him during the last day of tryouts. (He sank the three-pointer anyway.)
Jughead is relatively affronted by the concept, but warms up to it once he sees how pissed off Reggie is after the coach tells him in no uncertain terms that he’s off the team if he pulls any stunts toward Sweet Pea. It also cheers Jughead up considerably when he discovers that basketball season also means the return of regular Vixens practices for Betty. At this point in their relationship, things have evolved to the point where they see each other naked semi-often but Jughead still enjoys the thought of getting to see her in her cheer skirt again.
He knows it’s relatively chauvinistic of him but the way Betty still blushes and smiles every time he softly compliments her physical appearance when they’re wrapped up in each other’s limbs on the couch in his trailer or the soft comforter on her bed relieves some of his guilt. Jughead would happily tell Betty she is beautiful every second of every day even if she only believed him half the time. (It is beyond him how she doesn’t recognize that fact and seems to brush off his words, but Jughead knows the world is cruel to women’s sense of self-esteem and remembers how much Cheryl’s insults after Betty’s first Vixens tryout gutted her.) Being floored by her looks is a daily occurrence and though he prefers to whisper sweeter nothings into her ear, Jughead thoroughly enjoys that Betty’s blush is infinitely more pronounced when he’s a little more… liberal with his opinions.
In a particularly high moment of passion when Betty dolled herself in a lacey pink thing —he thinks it’s called a bralette but he also couldn’t even try to care he’s so turned on—his filter disappears and god you’re so fucking hot comes out in a groan when Betty climbs in his lap and places his hands on her equally-pink-and-lace-covered ass.
She looks startled for a brief moment, a deep red flush starting at the delicate skin above the soft pink cups on her chest and going all the way to her ears, before attacking his lips with her own and when she bites down on his bottom lip, Jughead’s baser instincts take over and he flips them over to show her just how hot he finds her.
So, yeah, he’s seen a lot of Betty’s legs as of late; more than to be expected, given the winter temperatures and her inclination for jeans and leggings. But he’s not sorry to see the return of her Vixens skirt. Sue him.
“To be discussed,” Jughead tells Archie, trying to drag out his sarcasm. “Over many burgers and many days.” His best friend-turned-brother gives him a rueful smile and it almost pains Jughead how much Archie looks like the quintessential American teenager with his square jaw and messy hair and the football uniform. He looks like one half of the all-American couple cliche, he’s just missing the perfect cheerleader-next-door girlfriend.
(He’s just missing Betty Cooper, Jughead thinks somewhat bitterly).
He does stick around a little while, ostensibly to solidify his angsty loner status by looking angry under the bleachers and staring scornfully at the football game under the lights. And partly because Betty has spent a little more time talking with him lately and he heard she made the River Vixens this year. He finds the entire concept of cheerleading relatively archaic and traditionalist and he would definitely be ruining his barely-existing street cred if he were caught watching it. Conventions of school spirit make him ill and not a single girl on the squad has ever spared him a kind word; every member of the Vixens, including Cheryl Blossom, was a walking stereotype and he really, really hates it.
Jughead swallows all those thoughts — and very nearly his own damn tongue — when the vision that is Betty Cooper with a genuine smile and a flippy skirt runs out onto the field in a blur of blue and gold.
It’s top 40 music with choreography that is probably too provocative for a group of fifteen-to-seventeen-year-olds to be performing, but Jughead is too mesmerized to care. It’s not just the gentle sway of Betty’s hips, it’s the way she looks loose and happy and carefree in a way he hasn’t seen since well before Alice Cooper dug her claws into her daughters’ self-image at the ripe age of twelve.
(Clear as day, Jughead remembers the day in the Andrews’ backyard when they’re all cooking smores over the fire pit and Betty looked forlornly at the treat. She eats a single graham cracker and says in a small voice, “Mom isn’t letting me eat sugar anymore,” when Jughead tries to offer up one of his jam-packed creations.)
Jughead Jones just might be okay with stereotypes if the stereotype is his childhood friend looking peppy and cheerful in a cheerleading uniform.
These days, Jughead knows what is under Betty’s cheer skirt. He hates how smug he feels about it, but it’s hard to feel guilty when he’s so happy to be graced by her presence every day.
His saving grace is that Sweet Pea’s position on the team is gives him a reason to show up to the Riverdale gym on a Friday night, other than to ostensibly stare at his girlfriend. (At the very least, it means Fangs and Toni will give him less shit for making them come with him.) They actually manage to rally a decent showing of the younger Serpents, so much so that there is a deafening silence when the group pushes through the double doors and the collective squeak of combat boots on gym floor draws the attention of everyone in attendance.
Cheryl Blossom looks enraged, her fiery hair a halo around her angry face, and Reggie—keeping himself in check for once in his life—merely flips them all off. Jughead returns in kind and Fangs makes a crude gesture before they all settle into a back corner of the home team bleachers. The whole thing feels a little too cliche for Jughead, the too cool for school crew begrudgingly showing up to an event that screams nothing but school spirit, the angsty loner from the wrong side of the tracks showing up specifically to watch the swish of a blonde cheerleader’s ponytail and to maybe get his hands up her skirt afterwards.
It is a cliche, he decides, watching Betty emerge from the locker rooms arm in arm with Veronica, but it’s a cliche he is more than okay with living. She has a bounce in her step that makes the pleats of her skirt swing and the curls of her ponytail swish more than usual. Veronica digs an elbow into his girlfriend’s side and gestures up toward the Serpents perched on the bleachers. A megawatt smile breaks out over her face when she sees him and she’s halfway across the court to him before Cheryl screams from the sidelines.
“Cooper, you can go play Nancy Drew grab-ass with your delinquent boyfriend when the game is over. Until the buzzer, your ass is mine so get back over here.”
The smile falters at Cheryl’s yelling; it makes Jughead want to rise from the bleachers and kiss her until it returns. Betty offers him a mildly dejected wave before turning with a flounce and his eyes trail down the backs of her legs.
Christ, he swears to himself. He’d forgotten how goddamn short the cheerleading skirt was. Cheryl’s warning to her rings in his ears and he wishes he had objected in the moment—technically, Betty’s ass belongs to nobody but herself but if it did, Jughead really hopes it’d be his.
(He feels a little gross for allowing himself the indulgence of possessiveness, but there truly isn’t enough blood in his brain right now to process what any of it means. He’s just too goddamn distracted by the literal image of Betty’s legs beneath the Vixens skirt and the mental image of those legs wrapped around his waist.)
Toni cuffs him on the back of the head, “Mind out of the gutter, Jones. We’re in public.” Jughead can feel his ears go red at her chastising and rubs a hand against the back of his neck. Mercifully, the game starts and he is able to get a grip on himself by paying extreme attention to all the finer points of a sport he knows approximately forty percent of the rules to. It’s an easy distraction because Sweet Pea is really goddamn good at basketball. After his first few minutes on the court, Sweet Pea has most of the spectators, but especially the Serpents, cheering him on. They hoot and holler and scream for every point he sinks, and when he’s fouled by a particularly aggressive player on the Greendale team, Jughead and Fangs boo so loudly the referees threaten to throw them out.
In a matter of minutes, Jughead has demonstrated more school spirit than he has before in his entire life. He feels almost proud to be back at Riverdale High—proud his friend is kicking ass on team usually dominated by pretentious assholes and proud his fellow teenage gang members have other things to focus on. And when the game breaks for halftime, Jughead is suddenly very proud to be dating a Riverdale Vixen.
The routine involves a lot of complicated flips and twirls, hip-swinging, and precise arm movements. Jughead is mainly distracted by one particular set of swinging hips and the way that Betty’s face lights up in a way he doesn’t get to see often—and that others would likely only ever see in this moment. He knows how much it meant to Betty to make the squad earlier in the year, to prove herself in a way she wasn’t able to previously, and to prove Cheryl’s expectations wrong.
And he has to admit, there’s a point there. Girl next door, perfect daughter, straight-As Betty Cooper certainly would not be expected to circle her hips as provocatively as she currently is, or flash a sultry smile to the crowd before a choreographed bend to the floor. All his careful distraction and focus on Sweet Pea’s individual point total goes out the window when Betty breaks her own focus for an imperceptible moment to lock eyes with him and bite her bottom lip.
Oh, he realizes. She’s doing this for him.
It gets a little hard to breathe after that.
When their halftime routine ends, Jughead forces himself to think of punches to the face with brass knuckles and Archie’s sweaty gym socks before standing with Toni and Fangs to go say hello to Sweet Pea down on the court. He’s chugging Gatorade on the sidelines, several feet away from the rest of the team who give him a wide berth after seeing the incoming leather jackets. A couple of the Vixens, however, are giggling shrilly and tossing less-than-conspicuous glances over their shoulders at a completely oblivious Sweet Pea.
(It strikes Jughead how blissfully normal that all feels. That, in the absence of something as arbitrary as a jacket, they might all be leading different lives. There’s no ignoring the S tattoo on Sweet Pea’s neck, of course, but the Bulldogs uniform seems to cancel it out. High school is already such a liminal space, but the Riverdale social divide makes it infinitely more gray and confusing.)
On the other side of the giggling Vixens are Veronica and Betty. Veronica nods in hello to them before turning in a flash of brunette and pearls, leaving Betty to make her way over to their small cluster. The sight of her in the uniform, up close, is enough to leave Jughead choking on his words again, and when she rushes to fling her arms around his neck, he has the distinct feeling of coming home.
She doesn’t let go when she turns to say hello to everyone else, sliding one arm around Jughead’s waist under his jacket and lightly rubbing her thumb over the soft fabric of his flannel. It makes him giddy. He’s nonchalantly toying with the ends of her ponytail when she addresses Sweet Pea, craning her neck only slightly to meet his eye.
“You guys are doing great out there!” she says brightly. “ And,” Betty smirks, “I’ve had four requests to get your number for Vixens. Only if you’re interested of course.”
Toni wolf whistles when Sweet Pea blinks repeatedly in shock. He gulps down the rest of his drink before answering. “I’m not exactly thrilled at the idea of playing into that cliche, but I’d never say no. Any chance one of the four is that girl from our geometry class?”
While they’re busy discussing logistics, Jughead lets his hand wander aimlessly from Betty’s ponytail to trail down her spine. The skirt is so painfully short that it’s all he can do not to reach under it. Instead, he settles for resting his fingers against the jut of her hip and lets his thumb slip under the space between the top of her skirt and the bottom of her tank, rubbing soft circles against the delicious strip of smooth skin there.
She’s so engrossed in conversation that the only way Jughead knows it’s affecting her is the slight tinge of pink that hits her cheekbones. Feeling dangerous, he dips his mouth down to her ear and whispers, “I forgot how awesome this uniform is.” The pink spreads and he presses his thumb against her hip bone a little harder. “Trust me, I could write a goddamn sonnet about how good your ass looks right now.”
Betty lets out a startled squeak-turned-cough that is drowned out by the buzzer alerting them to the start of the second half. Keeping his hand on her hip, Jughead yanks her forward into a bruising kiss and threads his free fingers through her ponytail. She’s gasping and thoroughly blushing by the time they break apart but he can’t bring himself to care that his friends, the Vixens, and half the high school class is watching. Let them stare.
“You should keep the skirt on later,” he whispers before Toni and Fangs yank him backwards. The way her green eyes widen and sparkle in response is enough to make up for the embarrassment he’ll feel later. The mouthed I love you does the trick, too.
When the game finally ends, Jughead is so wound up from watching the back of Betty’s head and the crossing and uncrossing of her legs at the bottom of the bleachers where she sits with the Vixens that he rushes outside into the cold air without waiting for anyone.
Leaning against the brick exterior of Riverdale High, he shrugs off his Serpent jacket in a half-hearted attempt to cool himself off. The air is a little too crisp for just a tshirt and flannel but it helps to calm him down and clear his head. He doesn’t want to be the jackass teenager who is so hormonal he tries to jump his girlfriend’s bones the second he sees her.
(The effort is all for naught because when Betty does emerge from the front doors, backpack slung over her uniformed shoulder and one hand shaking out the crease from her scrunchie, it’s all Jughead can do not to push her up against the wall and take her right there. Damn that skirt.)
By some miracle, his voice sounds normal when he opens his mouth. “Hey, Betts,” he calls out softly. Her answering smile makes him weak in the knees. And then somehow it’s her pushing him against the brick and kissing him senseless and they’re both letting it go much farther than it should in a public setting. When his hand slides down her back and palms the back of her skirt, they both seem to come to their senses.
The throat-clearing from an amused group consisting of Sweet Pea, Toni, Fangs, and Veronica also brings them back to earth. Veronica arches a perfectly manicured eyebrow before staring pointedly at Jughead’s hand where it rests south of Betty’s hip. “I presume,” she says, “that if Alice asks, you’re staying at my place tonight?”
Betty flushes. The Serpents snicker loudly and Jughead tries to silence them with a glare that falls short of its usual venom. He removes his hand but merely moves it to rub reassuringly at Betty’s shoulder. The embarrassment is clear on her face when their friends leave but he kisses it away softly. In the absence of hormonal confidence, they both feel and look more vulnerable than before. Leaning into his earlier bravado, Jughead reaches for his jacket and places it around Betty’s shoulders. She bites her lip, shyly this time, and the possessive roar inside him from early merely purrs contentedly.
After Betty slides her arms through the sleeves of the leather that smells strongly of Jughead’s soap, she wraps him in a hug and Jughead rests his chin on the top of her head where it tucks into the crook of his neck.
The image itself is a cliche and he knows that how right this all feels is yet another cliche on top of that. But if being a cliche means getting to live in this happy bubble, forever, Jughead won’t fight it.
(Their need for each other wins out during the ride to Sunnyside and Betty slips her hand under Jughead’s shirt to lightly run her nails against the hard muscles there. They’re barely able to keep their hands off each other in their clamour to push through the front door, rattling the rickety door on its hinges when Jughead slams it before he kisses his way down her throat and puts his hand under her skirt the way he’s been dying to since she first walked into the Riverdale High gym. Betty Cooper, ever the surprise, turns the tables on him by dropping to her knees, Serpent leather, Vixen skirt, and all, to undo his jeans. There’s a lot of whispered holy fuck, Betty’s, and oh my god’s, and when Jughead finally has his breath again he enthusiastically returns the favor. He doesn’t let her take the skirt off.)