Jughead isn’t sure when he went soft. He was always nice enough, as a kid, flanked by the perpetually cheerful Little Archie and veritable ball of sunshine Little Betty.
Even then, he was a little sharper than Archie, a little harder. And that sharpness found a companion in bitterness as he got older, watching the world turn mean around them. His friends didn’t see it, but they were young.
Jughead wasn’t, not even then. He thinks he might have been born seventy years old. Crotchety and jaded, and deeply, deeply skeptical.
As if he’d set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy, then came Jason Blossom’s untimely death. And now, it turns out, there’s a murderer amongst them.
He’s considered an outsider now, he knows. The weird, dark kid on the fringe. He had Archie, before, to keep him tethered to the rest of society. But now Archie is as strange to him as the rest of them.
He’s supposed to be aloof and sharp-tongued, and most of the time, he is. But tonight, he’s sitting in his usual booth at Pop’s, and he can’t keep his gaze from creeping back towards Betty, sitting alone in her own booth. She was there when he arrived, a cherry soda on the table in front of her, the first sign that something isn’t right. She’s a vanilla milkshake girl, as constant as Pop himself, but she’s playing with the straw in her fizzy red drink now. It doesn’t look like she’s taken a single sip in the hour they’ve both been here.
Betty…Betty was a casualty of his falling out with Archie. And as much as Jughead has always been considered a woman-hater, the rest of Riverdale ascribing him an aversion to the fairer sex, he liked Betty. She was far kinder than either of the boys ever really deserved, and more loyal than anyone he’d known. She was nice to Jughead when no one else was, even after. And though she would never have outright chosen Archie over him if forced to pick sides, despite the way she loves him, Jughead decided to make it easy for her. He burned that bridge himself, freezing her out as he did his former best friend.
She should be angry at him for it, probably. He tells himself that if she were he wouldn’t care.
He’s usually better at lying to himself.
But tonight…tonight he can’t convince himself that whatever’s got her down is irrelevant to him. Tonight even her usually perky ponytail seems to droop, and before he knows it, his feet are carrying him to her table, laptop bag slung over his shoulder.
He suddenly finds himself standing in front of her, surprise apparent in her big blue eyes as she looks up at the sound of his approach.
“Oh. Hi, Jughead.”
“Cherry soda?” He asks, the first words to come to mind. For a moment he expects her to tell him to fuck off, and then he remembers who he’s talking to.
“I-” She glances at her soda, then back at him. “Yeah.” He shifts awkwardly on his feet, and it seems to occur to her then that he’s angling for an invitation. She’s Betty, so she waves a hand at the seat across from her. “You wanna sit?”
He sits, not entirely sure what he means to do now.
“I know I can’t be your first choice for…anything, probably,” he muses, half to himself, before continuing. “But if you want to talk about it…”
Betty blinks, twirling her pink straw absently between her thumb and pointer finger.
“Talk about what?” Her voice is guarded, something he doesn’t think he’s ever heard on her before. It startles him.
“Cherry soda’s the Betty Cooper equivalent of hard liquor.” He remembers that much, anyway. “It’s usually a pretty good indicator that something is wrong.”
“Am I that predictable?” She wonders, and he gets the feeling there’s a question under the question. “Boring old Betty Cooper.”
Jughead raises an eyebrow.
“Boring? Is there something wrong with being reliable?” He wouldn’t have thought so. He’s always appreciated that about her. Apparently that was the wrong thing to say, because she huffs out a breath and crosses her arms over her chest.
“Reliable. Like-like what? A pair of old shoes?”
It occurs to him that he may have walked into something more than a little out of his depth.
“Or a car,” he suggests. “Or…good wi-fi?”
She glares at him, and it’s both warmly familiar and laced with a fire he doesn’t remember. How much can she have changed, since they were friends? How much has happened behind closed doors in both their lives?
“My whole life I’ve had to be perfect. Be what Polly wasn’t, be what my mom never got to be, be…this person that my family could put up on a pedestal.” She leans forward, taking a long sip of her drink. “But they didn’t. No matter how hard I tried, I was never good enough. My reputation was never enough to make up for the way Polly embarrassed my mom, and she’ll never forgive either of us for that. And then I thought if I was just better, if I was just smarter and-and prettier, and nicer, then maybe-”
“Archie would notice.” Jughead finishes for her, and her eyes snap back to his, cheeks pink. “Was that supposed to be a secret?” He asks, when she continues to stare at him, arching an eyebrow.
Betty deflates, then, slumping her seat.
“I guess not. It isn’t anymore, anyways.”
At that, he frowns, leaning forward on his elbows.
“You told him?”
She just nods, gaze fixed on the vinyl of her seat. It all makes sense, suddenly. The cherry soda, her sitting alone in a booth usually reserved for her and Archie, her long face.
“And he said…” Jughead thinks for a moment, drawing on the years of observations he’d made about the relationship between Archie and Betty. They’d never outright talked about it, that wasn’t something boys did. “He said you were too good for him.” He guesses.
Betty looks back up at him, eyes wide. He takes that as confirmation.
“I mean, he’s right,” he adds, as though it would be helpful. Clearly, it’s not.
“How do you-” her eyebrows draw together. “Did he tell you-“
“We don’t exactly get together to talk about girls.”
A shadow passes over her face, delicate features a different kind of sad for a moment, before it wipes away.
“Neither do we,” she says quietly, and he finds himself surprised that she’d bring that up. Betty has always been the type to brush tension under the rug and walk right over it.
He shrugs, then smiles at her suggestively.
“Was there a girl you wanted to talk about?”
For the first time tonight, her lips twitch in a smile.
“Well, I did kiss Veronica.”
He smirks, that’s a risqué joke for Betty, but his smile falls away when she blushes.
“You-” His voice comes out a little higher than intended, and he clears his throat. “Huh. I guess things really have changed.” He doesn’t mean for it to sound quite so morose, but there’s a mood tonight, and he’s not immune to it.
Across from him, Betty sighs.
“So, are you alright? Or are you going to fling yourself into Sweetwater River Jason Blossom style.”
“Jughead!” She gasps, ponytail swinging as she glances around to make sure no one heard him. “That’s not funny.”
“We just have different senses of humour,” he informs her, stifling a yawn. That reproving look doesn’t budge from her face, but after a moment she decides to let it go.
“I’m-I don’t know what I am. I want to be mad at him, but he hasn’t done anything wrong. “
Very Betty, Jughead thinks, to even care about that.
“So instead you’re just going to sit here alone, in his booth, and pine.”
Someone who didn’t know him as well as she does might have been offended at his bluntness. But Betty just sighs, giving him that same, stern look.
“Maybe. If I go home my mom will ask me what’s wrong, and I can’t tell her. She already hates Archie. She’ll just say she told me so.”
Jughead has always hated Alice Cooper. And in that moment, knowing how much Betty could use a mother that knows the right thing to say, that cares to say the right thing, his hatred only grows.
“You’ll have to go home eventually,” he points out. “It’s almost eleven.” His parents have never been much for curfews, but hers are.
Her hand tightens around the glass, so hard that her knuckles begin to turn white. Alarmed, he reaches over, tugging it out of her grasp before it shatters.
“I don’t want to.” Her voice shakes, unsettling him. “I don’t think I can face her tonight.”
“Um,” he blinks. “I-you can stay at my place. If you want.” The offer tumbles out of it’s own accord, his brain reeling in shock at the words. Betty looks just as surprised.
Yeah, Jughead, a voice in the back of his mind asks. Really?
“Sure.” Something about this feels like a terrible idea, though he can’t put his finger on what.
“Oh.” She launches herself across the table at him, almost knocking over her soda as she throws her arms around him. “Thank you! You’re the best.”
He pats her awkwardly on the back, trying to ignore that the way he suddenly can’t breathe has nothing to do with how tightly she’s hugging him. Her scent is a familiar juxtaposition, vanilla and motor oil, and for the briefest of seconds, his fingers splay across her waist. Then she settles back in her seat, a genuine smile warming her face.
After a moment, the silence stretching on in a way that should have been uncomfortable, he raps his knuckles against the table.
“Should we head out, then? It is a school night.” He’s only half joking, gaze catching on the way dark circles are beginning to drag under her eyes. She’s always been a whirlwind, spreading herself near to nothing in order to make sure her friends never want for anything, to make sure her mother is satisfied.
Betty just shrugs, glancing over at her half finished soda before sliding it across the tabletop toward him. He finishes it in one long gulp, earning an amused smile from the blonde.
“Alright, blondie.” He jumps to his feet, cocking his head as he smiles at her. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
She giggles at that, and though the words felt a little ridiculous, he decides it was worth it.
It’s brisk outside, and as the wind picks up, Betty loops her arm through his. He stiffens, is about to shake her off, but then he feels a shiver travel their linked arms. She leans in closer to him, drawn to his body heat, and with a start, Jughead realizes that the feeling of her pressed against his side is actually kind of pleasant.
“Can I ask you a question?” Even her voice catches in the cold, and he quickens his pace a little.
“Sure,” he agrees, “-as long as you’re good with a short and evasive answer.”
Betty sighs, but there’s no missing the fondness in it.
“Do you think you and Archie will ever go back to how you were before?”
His chest constricts.
“Uh-” A car rattles past, sending another gust of frigid air cutting through his denim jacket. Betty’s only wearing a cardigan, and Jughead considers whether giving up his jacket for her would be too great a hit for his reputation before realizing they’re at the end of his driveway. “No.” He mutters.
He can feel her eyes on the side of his face, knows the way her lips are turning down without even having to look.
“I mean, we’re, you know, fine now. But I don’t think it will ever be like it was before. We’re different people than we were then.”
When he finally does look down at her, swinging open his front door to let her rush inside, her bottom lip is caught between her teeth.
“Oh.” Her response is so soft it’s almost lost under the click of the door falling shut. The warm air wraps around him immediately, soothing the aching cold from his limbs, and he kicks off his boots. Betty toes off her flats, and Jughead almost shakes his head at the thin jeans and cardigan she’s wearing. She must be freezing.
“Come on.” He grabs her upper arms, steering her into the kitchen. It’s quarter after eleven, so he knows his mother and sister will be asleep.
“Hungry again?” She wonders, as he lets go of her to bury his head in the fridge. “I saw you eat two burgers at Pop’s.”
“Always,” he replies from next to the orange juice. “But I was thinking some hot chocolate might be in order.”
“Ooh.” She sinks into a chair at his kitchen table with a contented sigh, slumping forward. “Yes, please.”
They fall back into silence as he melts chocolate into a small saucepan. One of the perks that comes with near constant eating is that he’s learned to be pretty comfortable in the kitchen.
“What about you?” He asks, whisking some milk into the pot after a moment.
“What about me what?” Betty responds, stifling a yawn.
“Well, you and Archie. What are you going to do about that?”
“I-“ She blinks at him. “I do-” But she’s saved from answering when a blur of white fur suddenly dashes into the kitchen, lifting both paws onto her lap.
Jughead makes a noise of irritation.
“Hot Dog, get off of her.”
But Betty just laughs, burying her slender fingers in the fur behind Hot Dog’s ears. The sheepdog pants happily, his tail thumping against the leg of the table. Jughead turns back to the stove, listening to the sound of happy whines and Betty’s soft murmurs.
Deciding to steer the topic back to something safer, he pours the steaming hot cocoa into a pair of mugs, placing one in front of her on the table, and maneuvering Hot Dog out of the way with his foot.
Her hands curl around the mug, and the image of her here, in his kitchen so late at night, his dog’s head in her lap, evokes feelings of that same strange mixture of familiarity and change.
“Is your mom going to care?” Betty wonders suddenly, blue eyes snapping up to meet his. “If she comes down and finds me sleeping on your couch?”
“Well she won’t,” Jughead says with a frown. “Since you’ll be sleeping in my bed. But no, she won’t care. My mom loves you.”
Her fingers, which had been methodically combing through the fur under Hot Dog’s collar, still.
“Yeah.” He raises his cocoa to his lips, savouring the warmth as it slides down his throat. “I’ll sleep in the chair.”
The well-worn blue recliner that sits in the corner of his room, he knows she knows it after all the nights she or Archie fell asleep in it as kids.
“Jug, you don’t have to-”
“It’s fine,” he waves her off. “You know me, I can sleep anywhere.”
They finish their cocoa in silence, Hot Dog ambling away after a few minutes, probably to go back to sleep. When she covers a yawn with her hand, he gets up, dumping their mugs in the sink.
“Alright, Cooper. Time for bed.”
“Sorry,” Her apology is cut short by another yawn. “I haven’t really been sleeping lately.”
She follows him up the stairs to his room, their voices hushed as they pass his mother and Jellybean’s rooms.
“Insomnia?” He asks, again letting her step through the door in front of him.
“More like…” She settles cross legged on his bed, rubbing at her eyes. “Nightmares. I know it’s childish but it makes me not really want to go to sleep. Every night it’s just like…I know what I’m going to see when I close my eyes and I’d almost rather not sleep at all.”
He wonders what she sees. What is Betty Cooper afraid of, exactly? Alice Cooper, he’s fairly sure, although Betty must be braver than the rest of them to have lived under a roof with that perfectly coiffed Reptilian for all these years. He almost asks, but decides if she wants to tell him, she will.
Instead, he frowns at her jeans.
“I, uh-” Turning, he roots around his dresser, eventually pulling out a pair of plain black sweatpants that he’s had for years, and a worn grey Pacman t-shirt. “Here.” He thrusts the clothes at Betty, who blinks as she takes them.
“Oh. Thanks Jug.”
There’s a quiet in the room that feels anticipatory. Ignoring it, Jughead collapses into his recliner, swiping the crown-fringed beanie off his head with a sigh.
“I’m sure when you usually imagine this movie moment I don’t make a cameo.”
Already on her feet, Betty turns to frown at him.
“What do you mean?”
He gestures vaguely at her.
“You know. The whole sleeping in a guys bed and borrowing his clothes domesticity thing. I’m sure I’ve seen it in a romantic comedy or two.”
She just stares.
Eyes darting to the side, he makes a dismissive motion with his hand.
Usually, Betty is a match for him, mentally. She catches his quips and snide comments when no-one else does. But tonight she’s distracted, eyes still sad and rimmed in red.
Even when he and Archie were still best friends, there were moments, more regularly than Jughead was comfortable with, where he kind of wanted to hit the red-haired boy over the head with a bat. Usually when he was off chasing some girl, leaving Betty to bat her downcast blue eyes at Jughead, who was never very good at cheering people up. She never seemed to mind though. She would laugh at one of his terrible jokes, wipe a few tears away, and pretend this was fine, just the two of them.
She was never going to love him the way she loved Archie, he wasn’t sure she would ever love him at all. And young Jughead had been fine with that. Betty was the third wheel in his friendship with Archie as far as he was concerned.
He changes quickly while she’s gone, sliding into a pair of threadbare plaid pajama pants and a t-shirt he doesn’t remember at all with an elephant on the front. Usually, he flops into bed in a pair of boxers and nothing else, but they’re older now, and-
For some reason that would feel weird. He grabs the thick spare blanket on the foot of his bed, and curls up in the armchair, trying to get comfortable.
Betty returns a few minutes later, hair loose. He notes, with some amusement, that his clothes are far too big for her. His build is slimmer than that of Archie’s new Adonis status, but he’s filled out over the past summer as well, and Betty is slim, despite being nearly the same height as him.
The makeup she was wearing earlier is gone, cheeks a little pink from the scrubbing. Looking at her like this, his earlier words come back to him. Domestic, he thinks. He certainly feels it, wonders if she does too. And Jughead Jones does not do domestic.
Her own clothes are neatly folded, and she drops them primly beside his bed. She crawls between the sheets, and he reaches up to flick off the overhead light. The silence feels heavier, somehow, in the dark.
Her soft voice, and the old nickname, stir something he has no intention of acknowledging in his chest.
Jughead is a man of, if not few words, then deliberate ones. He’s quiet when he’s observing others, or thinking, which is often. In fact, he’s so immersed in his thoughts of Jason Blossom, and the shocking revelation that the late teenager was shot nearly a week after he disappeared, that he doesn’t hear the body hurtling up behind him until they’re colliding.
“Oof.” He reaches out to steady the jogger who bashed into him, and realizes belatedly that it’s Betty. “Are you okay?”
“Um,” she raises a hand to her head, eyes glazed. “I-Yeah I think so. Sorry, Juggie, I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“Clearly. Did-wait. Is that my shirt?” His gaze has dropped to where a familiar yellow arcade mascot is staring back at him. Realizing that he’s staring at her chest, he snaps his eyes back to her face.
“Oh.” She glances down, exercise-induced flush deepening. “Yeah. I didn’t have anything else this morning because I slept in and forgot to do laundry, and this wasn’t that dirty because I just slept in it, but I swear I was going to wash it, and-”
Holding up a hand to stop her rambling, Jughead shakes his head. The sun is beginning to set behind Betty, giving her a glowing pink halo, and she looks so startlingly perfect that for a moment he forgets himself.
“Jughead?” Her voice brings him back.
“Yeah.” He blinks. “You can keep the shirt.”
Her mouth opens slightly in confusion, but after a few seconds she just nods.
“Thanks.” After a moments hesitation she adds “I haven’t seen much of you the past few days.” It’s a question, despite it’s appearance.
“I’ve just been busy,” he shrugs, and now they’re walking together back in the direction of their houses. “This whole Jason thing, it’s brought up a bunch of new questions. Where was he for that week he was missing, who would have held him captive? Who was he running away from?”
“Yeah.” Betty rubs one of her arms distractedly. “My mom’s pretty caught up in it too, but, you know. All she really wants to do is punish the Blossoms. I don’t think she cares about the truth at all.”
Jughead makes a noncommittal noise, having seen the piece Alice did on Jason’s autopsy. It was good information, for him, but he can’t imagine the Blossom’s are please at having their son literally dissected on the front page of the Register. From the look on Betty’s face, it wasn’t a decision she agreed with.
“If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be?”
He smiles, the leaves crunching under their feet, mingling with the sound of distant wind and traffic. From a few blocks back, the whistle tones and shouting of the Riverdale Rockets soccer practice can be heard.
“What make you think I wouldn’t be me?” He asks, giving her a wry grin. The question reminds him of when they were younger. Betty was always chatty, bouncing beside him with a mouth full of words, so carefree before her mother’s judgment wore her down. Sometimes she would regale him with tales of her day, sometimes it was just a stream of consciousness. Other times she’d ask him deep, philosophical questions that lead to long discussions or heated debates. She didn’t ask Archie those. She complained that always gave her one word answers.
Her eyes come up to meet his, bright and sharp, and it feels a little like being x-rayed.
“You know,” she says thoughtfully, almost sounding surprised. “You’re maybe the only person who could give me that answer and I’d believe them.”
For some reason, that feels like a compliment.
“Well, you can’t improve upon perfection.” He puffs out his chest, giving her a haughty frown, and she laughs, smacking his arm.
“Of course.” She rolls her eyes. “What was I thinking? There’s no finer man around than Forsythe P Jones III.”
Scowling in earnest, he glances behind them.
“Shh.” He hisses. “Someone might hear you.”
“Everyone knows your name, weirdo. Except maybe Veronica.”
He eyes her suspiciously.
“You haven’t told her?”
She shakes her head.
“We don’t exactly talk about you.”
He stiffens, and Betty’s face freezes.
“I’m sorry.” She murmurs, “I didn’t mean it like-”
“It’s fine.” He shrugs. “I’m not exactly a topic of discussion in this town, and that’s the way I like it. If the alternative is being a Blossom, I think I’d rather stick to being irrelevant.”
Her sudden stop tugs on his arm, and he looks down with surprise to see that she’s been holding onto it the whole time. How did he not notice that?
“You’re not irrelevant.” She’s truly frowning now, bottom lip jutting out in an almost cartoonish fashion. On anyone else it would look ridiculous, but Betty Cooper seems to have been born for the art of sad eyes and pouty lips. “Is that what you think?”
“I-” He’s a little startled by the intensity in her stare, and it muddles his thoughts. “I’m pretty sure that’s what everyone thinks. Or doesn’t think. This town just kind of forgets I’m here. As a journalist, I have to say, it’s definitely an advantage. It’s like being invisible.” He winks at her, hoping to lighten the mood, but she stands her ground.
“You’re not invisible,” she says softly.
“Well, no. Not literally.”
“Fine.” She throws her hands in the air, resuming their path along the sidewalk. “Nevermind. God forbid Jughead Jones talk about something remotely real for a second.”
“Jason Blossom was really murdered,” he says unhelpfully, jogging to catch up. “We talked about that.”
Rolling her eyes, she falls silent, folding her arms across her chest. His own arm feels a little cold now, without her hand wrapped around it, but he buries the thought in a rapidly crowding corner in the back of his mind.
It’s been nearly five minutes since either of them spoke when Betty says “So, I was thinking of starting up the Blue and Gold again.”
“The old school paper?” It was abandoned a few years ago, when print was deemed obsolete by the then-editor in favour of something more high tech. “Why?”
“Well…it was something my mom said, actually.” The admission sounds a little guilty. “About how if I was so concerned with what happened to Jason I should just go work with her at the Register.”
His eyebrows fly up, and the movement isn’t missed by the blonde.
“Yeah, obviously that’s not going to happen. But it got me thinking…how else are people going to know what really happened? If my mother is the one deciding the headlines then all they’ll publish is that the Blossoms are terrible people who deserved what happened to their son. But if I were to become the editor of a different paper, with the help of someone who also happens to be interested in finding out what really happened to Jason…” She trails off, fixing him with a pleading stare so potent he thinks she could have asked for a kidney and he’d have handed it over without a second thought. But his brain returns after a moment, and he shakes his head.
“Oh come on, Juggie, please. No one else knows the story like you do, and I could use someone who thinks differently than I do. Besides you’re the best writer I know.” Her hand once again curls around his forearm, and the heat seeps through his hoodie climbing up into his shoulder.
Stalling, he cocks his head.
“Would I have complete freedom?”
“I…” She hesitates. “I’ll help. And edit. And suggest. But it’s your story, it’s your voice.”
“That doesn’t sound like complete freedom,” he notes, giving her a pointed look. “But…I’m in.” The words tumble out completely of their own accord, the second time in as many weeks that this has happened in her presence. His mind scrambles for an out, any excuse, but none comes. The pout on her face morphs into a blinding smile, and she all but leaps at him, her arms winding around his neck.
“Great!” She doesn’t smell as sweet today, that vanilla and auto garage scent that’s been clinging to his bedsheets through multiple washings mixed with something muskier that sends an unfamiliar tug through his stomach. Most people smell disgusting after exercise, particularly Archie, who always ended football practice smelling like a mixture of grass and sweaty socks. Jughead thinks Betty could probably make her post-workout scent into a candle and people would buy it. What exactly is happening to him? He’s never noticed how good she smells before, save for the few times she’d stride up to him smelling like freshly baked brownies or snickerdoodles. But now she smells delicious in an entirely different way.
Not to him, of course. And not just because he finds it incredibly distracting. It’s not until she pulls away, and he’s not quite so suffocated by it that he realizes what he’s committed to.
Hours of working with her, alone. It’s far more human contact than he usually chooses to have, and normally that would loom in the near future with all the appeal of getting a cavity filled, but…he can’t seem to convince himself that he’s dreading it. She’s still beaming at him, but there’s something under the smile that has him sighing.
“Why do I get the feeling you already have an assignment for me?”
“Well…I realized that there was someone else who was at Sweetwater River that day, someone no one is talking about.”
He nods, having already had that thought. “Dilton Doiley, and his Scouts.”
“Alright.” He swipes his thumb across the side of his nose, indicating that he’s on it. “You got it chief.”
One of these days, he’s going to learn how to say no to her.
But as he stands at the foot of her driveway, waiting until the heavy red door falls shut behind her before he turns to walk home, he has a feeling that day won’t come any time soon.
Thank you guys so much for your comments! It seems like you all want me to continue it so I will for now. As long as there's interest/feedback I'll keep going!
Also, poor Juggie. <3
“You did not drink the last of my beer, kid.” Tony turns to pull his head from the fridge long enough to send Jughead a bleary but menacing scowl.
“No.” Jughead says, not even looking up from his homework at the kitchen table. “I didn’t.”
That answer doesn’t seem to work for his stepfather, who slams the refrigerator shut before stomping toward him, the action no less menacing for the subtle swaying of his gait. Internally, Jughead sighs.
Here we go again.
“GLADYS!” Tony screams, spit flying from his mouth as his face begins to turn red.
“Hey,” Jughead snaps, irritated. “Leave her out of this. I didn’t drink your beer, Tony. I never touched it, alright? You probably finished it yourself last night during the football game.”
“Excuse me? Are you calling me a liar, son?”
“I’m not your son.” Jughead turns and stands then, coming face to face with the angry drunk. It’s clear he’s already had a few drinks, if the smell of alcohol pouring off of him is any indication. “And no, I’m not calling you a liar. I’m saying you’re a drunk who can’t even remember polishing off an entire case of Keystone and passing out on the couch before half-time.”
Someone who wasn’t familiar with Anthony Marino’s particular brand of anger would have been surprised by the grin that breaks across his face at that. But Jughead has been going toe-to-toe with the pathetic excuse of a man ever since his mother first brought him home, so he knows what comes next.
“I’m gonna fucking kill you, kid,” He says with an almost deranged glee, right as Jughead’s mother walks in.
“Wh-Tony!” Her face whitens as she takes in the tension, and the look on her husband’s face. She knows it too, although she’s never been on the receiving end of what’s coming. Jughead has made damn sure of that. “Don’t, please, just-” She looks pleadingly at her son, an apology in her eyes, one she can’t say out loud, not now. “Forsythe will leave, he’ll take the night to cool down.”
“Yeah.” Jughead kicks the chair back into place under the table, shouldering his messenger bag. “Fine.”
For a moment, Tony looks like he might protest, it’s been a while since he’s gotten to knock the stuffing out of his stepson after all, but he doesn’t. His voice carries out into the night as Jughead ducks through the back door, once again complaining about his missing lagers.
Usually in this situation Jughead would go to Archie’s. But there’s something stopping him now, whether it’s the falling out they had over the summer or the more recent tension that’s developed between them. Either way, his feet pause momentarily on the grass, not quite sure where to take him. The pitiful state of his domestic life is one of his best kept secrets, from the monster his mother has married to the complicated criminal entanglements that surround his biological father. Not even Archie knows. And it’s hard to imagine showing up on anyone else’s doorstep at this time of night without raising an eyebrow or two.
He ends up at Pop’s, though he knows it’s due to close in less than an hour. It’s only supposed to buy him some time, but when the man drops the diner’s keys on the table in front of him, something he’s done a dozen times before, and asks Jughead to lock up, an idea forms.
“Sure,” he agrees, giving the older man a reassuring smile. “Will do, Pop.”
And then, when he’s the only one left, he shuts off the lights and curls up in a booth, jacket draped over himself like a blanket.
It’s not comfortable, and he doesn’t sleep well at all. He dreams of blonde hair and blood, and the next morning he wakes up with the unshakable feeling that something is going to go terribly wrong.
“She’s going to find out, you know.”
Archie looks up at Jughead, face blank.
“Betty. She’s going to find out about Grundy.” He stuffs another french fry into his mouth, chewing as his friend’s expression turns dark. They haven’t really spoken about Betty since that night, when Archie came to him for advice after the disastrous homecoming dance. Things seem to have smoothed out between the redhead and the blonde, on the surface anyway, and neither boy has been eager to examine the cracks in that facade too closely.
“How would she? You’re not going to tell her, are you?”
“Of course not,” he mutters, though the words stick a little in his throat. It feels like a betrayal, for reasons he chooses to ignore. Archie was his best friend once, and this isn’t the first time he’s told Jughead something in confidence. But things have changed now, the dynamic of their little trio has shifted, and keeping secrets from Betty no longer feels incidental. “But she’s Betty. She’s in some kind of weird Nancy Drew phase, and she might not be looking for your little Mrs.Robinson story, but in a town this size it’s only a matter of time before she figures it out. She’s too smart not to put the pieces together if she runs into them.”
There’s a desperation on his friend’s face now, Archie’s fingers drumming loudly on the tabletop. Their voices are hushed, just in case any of the other patrons at Pop’s have any actual interest in this discussion, but Jughead can practically hear the panicked scrambling in Archie’s mind.
“Jug, she-she can’t. She’ll hate me.”
“Betty?” He raises an eyebrow. “That’s not really her style.” He’s not sure why it sounds a little bitter when he adds “She’s loved you since we were in elementary school, she’ll get over it.”
Archie’s gaze drops to the table at the mention of Betty’s feelings for him, something like shame colouring his features.
“I hate that I hurt her, man. And if she finds out about Geraldine it’ll just…it’s only going to make things worse.”
“For you, you mean.”
“No.” Archie glares at him. “For Betty. She’ll think Ms. Grundy is the reason I can’t be with her and that’s-“
“Is that not the reason?”
Jughead likes to think he knows things about the people of Riverdale, that his deductive skills have served him well after years of silently observing the residents of the small town. But he’s never quite figured out whether there are any hidden feelings under Archie’s oblivion when it comes to Betty. And now that they’ve been brought to light…
“No! I mean…I don’t…it’s Betty.” Archie flails a hand helplessly in the air, as though that should mean something to Jughead.
“Right.” He nods, then adds, “I don’t know what that means.”
Archie sighs, sagging in his seat.
“We’re best friends. We’ve always been best friends. I’ve never really thought about anything more than that.”
“Uh-huh…” Jughead leans forward, fixing Archie with an appraising look. “So what your saying is you don’t have any feelings for her. Non-platonic ones, I mean.”
“I don’t-I don’t know, okay?” The redheaded boy’s voice cracks a little, like there’s an admission in his words that wasn’t supposed to get out.
Jughead blinks. He isn’t even sure why he’s pushing this, but there’s something inside him that suddenly needs to know. A rapidly amplifying voice that wants to grab Archie by the shoulders and shake him until he decides exactly where he stands with Betty.
“Yeah,” Jughead sits back against the booth. “Okay.”
And that’s that. But now he’s aware of that voice in the back of his mind, the one that can’t stop thinking about the possibility that Archie will come to his senses and proclaim his love for Betty. He sips at his cola, chasing it with another handful of fries. He hopes this strange preoccupation with all things Betty Cooper will pass once things in their group have settled down a bit.
“Jughead,” Betty groans, dropping her head onto the desk in front of her. “We’ve been over this. You can’t just break into the Blossom’s house to snoop around. That’s illegal.”
“It’s only illegal if you get caught.” He’s sitting on a desk a few feet away, legs crossed underneath him, chin propped up on one fist.
“No,” She rolls her head to the side so she can frown at him, cheek pressed against the desk. “I’m pretty sure it’s technically illegal either way. And it’s not that I’m morally opposed to this-”
“-But everyone is so on edge right now. If you were to get caught-”
“-It would be really bad. The Blossoms are out for blood, and so is Sheriff Keller. It’s not worth it, Juggie. We’ll find another lead.”
“I’m a minor,” he scoffs. “-They’re not going to put me in jail, at worst I’d get community service. And who’s to say I’d get caught anyways? I’m wounded at your lack of confidence in my stealthing skills.”
Her lips quirk, but the moment of levity is shadowed by her following grimace.
“You don’t know that. We’ll find another lead,” she repeats, using a tone Jughead has come to recognize as meaning this conversation is over. It’s a little chilling in it’s reminiscence of Alice Cooper, but he would never tell her that.
“Remember when I was promised complete creative freedom?” He wonders, hopping off his desk and striding over to glare down at the blonde who’s once again face down on the tabletop.
“No.” Her voice is muffled into the wood. “I don’t believe I ever actually promised that.”
He narrows his eyes, though she can’t see it.
“You’ve gotten kind of wily Cooper,” he remarks, with more than a little pride in his voice. “I think I like it.”
She giggles then, craning her neck to smile up at him.
“Well,” he shakes his head. “The girlish giggling is kind of ruining the image of a hardened newswoman, but my comment stands.”
The smile falls off her face, and for a moment he thinks it’s something he said, but then she looks away, smoothing a hand over the curls of her ponytail.
“Jughead…” Her voice is suddenly so wistful that he thinks he might get whiplash from the jolting change in mood. “You know how you said you didn’t think you and Archie could ever go back to before?”
“Yeah,” he says carefully, leaning up against the filing cabinet behind them.
“Did you mean that? I mean…do you still feel that way?”
He doesn’t answer right away, taking a moment to consider her question.
“Uh, yeah. Like I said, Archie and I are fine, but…things are just different now. I think he’d agree, if you asked him about it.” Not that she would. He’s noticed that for all Betty has been insisting things with Archie are great, he’s not the only one whose friendship with the redhead has taken a turn for cooler temperatures.
“Because you guys have changed,” she murmurs, almost to herself. He nods. “Juggie…what about us? Do you think you and I will ever go back to how we used to be?”
He stares at her. As sweet as Betty has always been, as caring, he always suspected that she didn’t actually put too much stock into her friendship with him. He was a byproduct of her relationship with Archie, and she’d accepted that with grace. But there’s a vulnerability in her voice now, a tenet of genuine fear that has his heart slamming into his ribcage.
She cares. And it’s been so long that he’s felt something even remotely like it that for a moment all he can do is stare at her as her cheeks turn pink.
“No,” he finds himself saying. Her mouth drops open slightly, eyes darting away from his, but not before he sees the hurt in them. “I mean,” he says hastily, already noticing the way her palms are flat against the desk, ready to push to her feet. “I think maybe we used to just be friends because of Archie. And maybe now we have some other stuff in common.”
Some of the tension fades from her shoulders, and she settles back into her chair. There’s a thoughtful expression on her face that has him wishing desperately he could see inside her head. It wasn’t exactly a proclamation of love, or even really a particularly sentimental assurance that he values her friendship, but his response leaves him feeling uncomfortably exposed. Jughead Jones doesn’t really do emotions, but she caught him off guard.
“Like the Blue and Gold.” She offers, an olive branch, and a path away from the sentimentality that has him so uncomfortable. “Or a slightly obsessive interest in what happened to Jason Blossom.”
“Yeah,” he says, clearing his throat. “Like those things.” Or others. Like being raised by parents who have no concept of healthy love, and subsequently growing up to be completely inept at determining what a functional relationship should look like. But he thinks bringing that sort of thing up now might ruin the moment.
“I, um, I think we should look into Ms. Grundy.”
Whatever he was expecting her to say next, it wasn’t that.
“Yeah,” she bites her lip. “After what Dilton said…I know we haven’t really talked about it, but if Archie was there too-”
“Betty,” he says warningly. He can’t keep this secret from her forever. He warned Archie about this, and maybe he didn’t think she would figure it out so soon, but if she starts down this path he won’t be able to do anything about it. She’ll uncover the truth. And while he’s fairly certain that she’ll come out of this firmly on Archie’s side, trying to protect him, he’s not quite as convinced that she’ll so easily forgive him for lying to her.
The thought bothers him more than he expected.
She shakes her head.
“I know it’s kind of weird to even consider it but…what if they were together? What if she’s…like, taking advantage of him? What if he needs us, Jughead?”
Guilt coils, hot and sticky, in his stomach. He tells himself that he tried to talk Archie out of this bizarre fling, that as a friend he did his best.
But the truth is those conversations were always more about convincing Archie to come forward about that morning at Sweetwater River than getting his friend away from a potential predator.
Some friend he is.
And Betty, bless her, has put all judgment aside, solely focused on making sure Archie is alright. That he’s not in trouble. That sadness is back in her eyes, the same darkening of her sky blue irises that he noticed the day after the dance at Pop Tate’s. It’s breaking her heart, he realizes, thinking about Archie with their music teacher. But it doesn’t matter, not to Betty. It won’t stop her from doing the right thing, from making sure the boy she loves is safe.
“We can’t put that in the paper,” he says hoarsely. “Any of it. If Archie is implicated in a relationship with a teacher-“
She stares up at him, aghast.
“Do you really think I’d do that? I know Archie and I haven’t been in the best place lately, but-
“No,” he pinches the bridge of his nose, beginning to get a headache. “I don’t. I don’t know why I said that.”
“So…will you help me?” She turns that warm blue gaze on him, and every part of this plan that is a terrible idea seems to fade away.
“Yeah,” he sighs. “Sure, Bets. I’ll help.”
All things considered, Betty takes the atomic explosion which is the Archie/Grundy exposé surprisingly well. Jughead wasn’t there when it happened, too busy closing out the Twilight’s last Drive-In night to attend what was likely the most embarrassing night of his ex-best friend’s life. But Archie tells him all about it the next day.
“I was so pissed, you know. I thought Betty told her mom.”
Jughead arches an eyebrow at him, shoving a forkful of pancake into his mouth as he considers the absurdity of that statement.
“You thought Betty told her mom, her mom, that you were having an illicit affair with your music teacher.” He’s careful to emphasize the parts of that sentence which strike him as particularly stupid. The look he’s giving Archie, as he continues to stuff his face with fruit and carbohydrates, is one of amused judgment.
“I know,” Archie says, at least having the good sense to look embarrassed. “But my dad came bursting in, with Betty and Mrs. Cooper right behind him, and I just kind of…panicked.”
“That’s fair.” Jughead waves a fork at him. “Panicking at first sight of Alice Cooper is an understandable and rational reaction.”
Archie rolls his eyes.
“Right. But then she was yelling something about Betty’s diary, and I realized what had happened, and it all kind of-” he throws both hands up in a gesture that apparently is meant to convey pure chaos. “Mrs. Cooper was talking about how I was such a bad kid and she wanted to show Betty what kind of person I was, and then my dad got pissed, and Ms. Grundy was sitting in the corner all quiet, and-”
“Breathe, Arch.” Jughead reminds him. He does.
“And then she said she was going to tell everyone.”
Jughead wrinkles his nose in confusion.
“No, Mrs. Cooper. And Betty kind of came back to life and said that if her mom did that Betty would tell everyone she broke into Ms. Grundy’s car and robbed her, and that she made up the story about me and Geraldine being together, and she…” He breaks off then, looking shamefaced. “She said that everyone would assume she’d snapped. Just like Polly. That what people have been saying about all the Coopers being crazy is true.”
For the first time in maybe his whole life, Jughead suddenly loses his appetite.
“She what?” He asks, mouth dry.
“I know,” Archie says seriously. “Her mom looked like she was going to explode.”
“I bet.” Jughead can picture it perfectly. He has some experience with parents like that. “Man,” he shakes his head. “I don’t know what the hell you did to make Betty love you so much.”
“I don’t either,” he mutters, running his hand through his hair. “I sure don’t deserve it though.”
“That,” Jughead points at him with his knife, “-is very true. Although for some reason she likes you anyways.”
Quiet falls following that, Jughead slowly making progress in his not-so-short-stack of pancakes while Archie finishes his toast. Jughead could take this time to mention that he’s been living in the Drive-In for the past few weeks, and at various intervals before then, since his stepfather kicked him out. But when he opens his mouth to do so, maybe to ask Archie if he could crash at the Andrews’ place for a while since the Twilight is now a demolition zone, nothing comes out.
Archie is too wrapped up in his own post-drama haze to notice Jughead’s preoccupation. So the moment passes, and then it’s time for school, and it feels like a door has closed on him. He has nowhere to stay. Officially homeless. If only to stave off the first curls of fear licking at his heels, he silently repeats the same words he told his father the day before.
I’ll figure it out. I always do.
Jughead isn’t really paying attention to the weather, too busy mentally scrambling for some place, any place he can spend the night. Ever since the Drive-In closed he’s been crashing at the school, having spent almost two weeks successfully sneaking into the student lounge after the campus is closed and sleeping on one of the couches there. But the school janitor, Sven, has apparently realized that the lock on the window to the boys locker room was broken, and now that he’s fixed it, there’s no way for Jughead to get back in.
Betty sits down beside him, boots squelching against the linoleum.
“Wh-“ He glances over at her, heart sinking when he sees the way her soaking hair is hanging across her shoulders.
“It’s pouring,” she exclaims, leaning over to wring her hair out over the floor. “I just went out to make sure Kevin’s bike was covered and I got totally soaked.”
So much for his back up plan of sleeping in the park.
When she sits up straight on her stool, she notices the disappointment on his face.
“I just…I wanted to walk out to Sweetwater to do some research for the paper.” He lies. Those have always come easy to him, though lately lying to Betty has been harder than he remembers.
“Oh.” She shrugs, dropping her biology binder onto the lab table in front of them. They’ve been partners ever since that one week where Veronica got sick, and she ended up teaming up with Archie when she got back. Jughead didn’t complain, having swapped a B- partner for one who consistently gets A’s. Besides he’s on friendlier terms with the blonde than he is with Archie these days anyway. “Well you can just do it another day, can’t you?”
“Yeah,” he says distractedly, staring morosely out the window. “I guess.”
“Apparently the boys still have football practice tonight.” Betty continues, digging through her pencil case for a pen. “Can you imagine being out in this? What a nightmare.”
“No.” He says quietly. Outside the window, rain lashes again the pavement, the sodden grass already beginning to turn to mud. A particularly violent gale of wind shakes the glass in it’s frame, bending one of the trees lining their walkway nearly in half. “I can’t.”
There have been more than a few nights in Jughead’s life that were spent shivering and miserable in a place that was far too cold to entertain even the idea of sleep. Before Tony, it was a toss up as to whether the electricity bill would be paid on any given month, and after Tony, well. Jughead’s squatting stint at the Drive-In this fall wasn’t the first. And that projector’s booth didn’t exactly have good insulation.
But this is a different kind of cold, exposed to the elements, wind blowing rain in and under the tiny plastic roof over the bus bench, pelting his increasingly numb face with drops that feel like little darts of ice. He’s soaked to the skin, all several layers of denim and cotton and flannel completely saturated, sucking up the precipitation like a sponge. His backpack is faring a little better, tucked under his head like a lumpy, and in some places, sharp, excuse for a pillow. As many times as he’s begun a long night with a very sorry, borrowed roof over his head, it’s never left him feeling hopeless. In order to survive, he couldn’t let it.
But it’s creeping in now, like the cold to his bones, a sense that the day might have finally arrived when there’s nothing left for him to hide under. This isn’t a roof, it’s a lean-to, and maybe tomorrow he won’t even have that. With a jolt, he realizes that here in Washington, in the middle of October, there’s a very real possibility he could freeze to death. He thinks of Jason, then, and whether his own death would have nearly the same impact on the town.
Somehow, he doubts it.
He turns his head to look for the source of this new voice, the movement jerky from the stiffness of his frozen joints.
She comes closer, the hood of her canvas jacket pulled tight around her face. It’s not doing much to keep the rain at bay, the material already darkening as it soaks in the water.
“What are you doing? The buses don’t run this late.” Her voice is distorted by the sound of the storm washing between them, making her sound eery and far away.
“I know. I’m fine, Bets. Just go home.” He’s going for reassurance, but the incessant chattering of his teeth undermines the tone of that. But instead of leaving, she places her hands on her hips, her hood blowing back off her face the moment she lets go of it. The wind rushes through her loose blonde hair, whipping it around her head. He thinks she looks a little like some angry Norse goddess, the image only animated more when lightning arcs electric blue across the sky behind her. Her eyes seem to glow the same colour as she looks down at him.
“Jughead Jones.” Her voice is an uncharacteristic steel, sending a chill down his already half-frozen spine. “Neither of us is going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is going on. So either you start talking or both of us will stay out here until we've got hypothermia.”
He stares at her, shocked.
“I…” Like a bandaid, he thinks. “Tony kicked me out. I, uh, didn't have anywhere to go.”
The howling wind drowns out whatever noise she makes in response to that. It's hard to tell, through the curtain of rain between them, but he thinks she's gaping at him. Then, before he can blink, her hand is in a vice grip around his wrist, and she's dragging him along behind her. At first he's so shocked that he lets her, the pair of them halfway to her car before he comes back to himself and digs his heels into the mud, backpack dangling from his other hand.
“Betty, what are you doing?”
He expects her face to be full of pity when she turns back around, or maybe embarrassment, but instead he almost has to take a step back at the intensity of her anger.
“I'm taking you home Jughead.”
He yanks his arm out of her grasp.
“I can't go home. Hence the homeless, sleeping under a bus shelter thing.”
“Not your home, moron, mine.” The insult should sound out of place on her sweet tongue, but it doesn’t.
“Your-“ He shakes his head. “Bets, I can't stay at your place. No way would your mom allow that.”
She just snatches his arm up again, tugging him back in the direction of her green station wagon. He's a little alarmed at how strong she is, especially when she opens the passenger side door and forces him inside.
“Betty.” He says again, even as she starts up the car and guides it back onto the road. His voice feels disproportionally loud now that the noise of the storm is muffled outside the car. “Your mom is definitely not going to be okay with me crashing at your house. At best she’ll drop me back off at my house, which I'm no longer welcome in, and at worst she’ll call the sheriff and put me in foster care or something.”
“Just shut up Jughead.” She replies. He blinks at her with wide eyes, not sure what to make of this suddenly hostile Elizabeth Cooper. She looks mostly the same as regular Betty, but her shoulders are a hard line, and there’s a fire in her eyes that threatens to burn him every time she chances a glance away from the road.
“Why exactly,” he asks incredulously, “-are you so mad at me? Maybe I'm confused, but I was under impression that I was the victim here.”
She makes an angry noise, somewhere between a scoff and growl, and slaps her palms against the steering wheel.
“Jughead why didn't you tell me?”
“I…” he opens his mouth to answer, but can't think of anything that doesn't sound pathetic. “I don't know. It's embarrassing. And I knew you'd get all…Betty about it. Besides, I was doing just fine until the Twilight closed.”
“The-” She frowns. “What does the Drive-In have to do with it?”
“Um, I may have been living there. Temporarily.”
She turns to stare at him, and a few seconds pass before she remembers that she's driving, and hastily snaps her eyes back to the road. When she speaks again her voice is tight.
“Jughead, when did your stepdad kick you out?”
He mumbles into his hand, facing the window.
“I didn't catch that,” she says sarcastically, sounding uncannily like the tired mother of a particularly ill-behaved toddler. He sighs.
“The day we talked to Dilton.”
She misses third gear as he admits that, the car jerking beneath them as she scrambles to shift properly.
“That was a month ago! And the drive in closed almost two weeks ago!”
“Mmm.” He makes a noise of acknowledgment, but doesn’t say anything else. He’s still waiting for the pity to come, the well meaning sad eyes that will only serve to make him feel worse.
“Juggie-” She pulls up in front of her house, eyes scanning the living room window for her mothers hawk-like gaze. With a sigh, she turns to face him. The anger there is warring with something else now, something soft that he's surprised to see isn't pity. “Come on. Let's go inside and get dried off.”
“Is staying in Midvale tonight. So is my dad. Seriously, I'm freezing.” She unbuckles her seatbelt, sliding from the car, and makes a mad dash through the violent wind for the front door. After a moment, he follows suit.
It's quiet inside, and he has to swallow an irrational anxiety that Alice Cooper is hiding somewhere, ready to pounce at him from around the corner. Everything is soft and floral and pastel, just like he remembers. As he ducks into Betty's room behind her, he raises his eyes at the wave of pink that washes over them.
“No jokes about the decor,” she warns him suddenly, head swivelling round to glare at him, as though she can read his thoughts.
“Me? Make fun of you?” He claps a hand over his heart, feigning hurt. “I would never.”
She just rolls her eyes and wanders back into the hallway, reappearing with a stack of towels. He takes one gratefully, pulling his beanie off to scrub at his sopping hair, before pulling off a few rain soaked outer items of clothing.
“Uh,” he frowns down at the bundle of wet denim and flannel is his hands. “What should I do with these?”
“I'll throw them in the wash with some of my stuff,” Betty decides, grabbing them from him and once again disappearing from the room. Jughead takes that opportunity to quickly change into a dry pair of jeans and t-shirt from his backpack, feeling almost like himself again without the wet clothes weighing him down. Thinking he might as well ask Betty to add them to the load of laundry she's already doing, he makes his way down to the basement. It's been years since he was down here, and there's something creepy about it despite the finished walls and soft cream carpet.
He rounds the corner to where he's fairly sure they keep their washing machine; and spots Betty standing a few feet away, dumping the clothes in the top-loading washer. She’s stripped off her wet pink sweater, leaving her in a white tank top that’s gone completely translucent from the rain. It’s sticking to her back, doing nothing to cover the lacy pink bra underneath. Her jeans are gone, presumably already in the wash, and she’s changed into a pair of black leggings.
“Oh.” She jumps a little when he comes up behind her, but makes no indication at being embarrassed at being caught in her current state of undress. He wonders if that’s due to years of Kevin’s constant presence in her bedroom, though he’s not sure he likes what that says about the way Betty thinks of him. “You scared me.”
“Sorry.” He holds up his own wet shirts. “Can I throw these in?”
She nods, stepping back to let him at the machine. The dark material lands with a wet thud on top of her pastels, and his eyebrows go up as he turns to look back at her.
“I’m no laundry expert, but aren’t you supposed to separate lights and darks?”
She strips off her tank top, throwing it too into the machine before pressing the lid closed. He takes a few seconds too long before averting his eyes, knowing the image of her pale skin and soft curves will be stuck in his mind for days. It’s not supposed to be like this with Betty. She’s supposed to be sunny and perfect and a distant, happy relic of his otherwise sketchy childhood. But now she’s standing in front of him, dripping and half naked, and his heart is beating a little faster than is strictly appropriate.
“Not when you have to get laundry done before your crazy mother gets home,” Betty says, pushing a button and prompting the machine to life. She starts up the stairs, and he follows, trying not to let his gaze linger on the sight of her bare back.
“Speaking of that, what exactly is your plan? I’m sensing from the whole rush on the laundry that you’re not going to tell her I’m here.”
“Yeah, no. I don’t think that would go over very well.” They come out on the main landing, and she detours through the kitchen. She grabs him a plate of leftover chicken parm from the fridge, throwing it in the microwave and turning to frown at him. “I think it would be best if we just…kind of…hid you.”
“Hid me?” His eyebrows disappear into his messy black hair. “You do realize I’m a person and not a rabbit. Where exactly am I supposed to hide?”
She catches her bottom lip between her teeth, staring off into space as she thinks.
“I think-you can sleep on my floor, and if you’re quiet she won’t notice, and if she comes in you can hide under my bed, or-“
“Betty.” He sighs. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment, but I’m not sure that’s going to work.”
“Well you can’t sleep in the park, Jughead.” Her soft nervousness is gone, replaced with that same resolve she was wearing earlier, when she found him. “It’s practically a hurricane out there. And I haven’t asked why you’re not staying with Archie, because I’m assuming you have a better reason than ‘because it would be awkward’. But unless you have a better idea, you’re staying here.”
His mind scrambles for something, anything. But she’s right, he can’t go back out into that storm. And he’s not ready to face Archie with this. Not yet.
So he huffs a defeated sigh, and shrugs.
And hopes he’s not murdered in the night by a scandalized Alice Cooper.
Thank you so much for the comments you guys, I love the feedback a lot, and it helps me know what you all are liking about the story. Hopefully this helps tide you over until the next episode!
He groans, rolling over to press his face into his pillow. Dreams of cheeseburgers slowly fade, and he tries to chase them back into sleep, but someone presses a hand to his shoulder, shaking him.
“Jughead!” Betty’s voice comes out a little more urgently this time, and he blinks, her face coming into focus where she hangs over the side of her bed.
“What?” He asks blearily, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“My mom’s home!”
“Um.” Still sleep addled, he struggles to make meaning of her words. “Well, she does live here.”
Betty rolls her eyes, then glances back at the door. He hears it then, the sound of someone coming up the stairs.
“Are you about to ask me to crawl out the window? Because I will, but if any of your neighbours are up-”
“No. Just-sometimes she comes in to check on me. Get under the bed.” She hisses. He stares at her, wide awake now.
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, Jughead-” They both fall sharply silent at the sound of a doorknob turning. He takes one last look at Betty, whose blue eyes are wide in fear, and dives under her bed, dragging his blanket and pillow along with him. Barely a second later, he hears the sound of footsteps on her carpet, and in the dim morning light, he can make out Alice’s scarlet tipped toes at the end of Betty’s bed.
A convincingly sleepy noise sounds from above him, and then he hears “Mom?”
“Sorry to wake you honey. Daddy and I just got home. I was wondering if you wanted a ride to school.”
“Um,” she pauses. “No, that’s okay. I have to stop at the library on the way home, so I’ll drive.”
“Okay. I’ll see you tonight then. Love you.”
“Love you too, Mom.”
The feet retreat back to the door, then disappear as it closes behind them. For a few seconds after that it’s so quiet that Jughead is sure they’re both holding their breath.
“Yeah, Bets?” His voice is muffled into her box spring.
“You can come out now.”
He does, wriggling out from under her bed with much more difficulty than he remembers having on the way in.
“I can’t breathe.”
At first he thinks she’s joking, and he certainly shares in the sentiment, heart hammering against his ribcage as the adrenaline slowly drains from his system. But then he notices the broken gasping coming from on top of the bed, and he sits up with a start.
“Betty?” She’s curled up, hands wrapped around her knees, eyes almost cartoonishly large. She takes another shallow breath, and even he can hear that it’s not enough, and that the next comes far too quickly. “Hey, woah. It’s okay.”
“I know.” She shudders. “But-” she can’t seem to get enough air for a full sentence. “Panic attack.”
“Oh.” For a moment he’s lost, then she turns her frightened gaze on him and he snaps into action. He all but leaps onto the bed, grabbing her by the shoulders. “Bets. Breathe.”
She fixes him with a glare that quite clearly says I’m trying, you moron.
“Ah, right. What do you need me to do?” It shakes him, seeing her like this. Part of him wants to wrap his arms around her and hold her until she stops trembling, but he’s never really been a tactile guy, and he’s not sure if it would help.
“Just distract me.” She manages to bite out, and he notices suddenly how cold her arms are under his touch. He rubs his hands up and down her skin, the friction nearly sparking under his palms, and he just hopes it’s enough to warm her.
“Uh, okay. Well I was thinking about this whole Jason trying to run away thing. Obviously if we could figure out why he felt like he had to leave town we’d have a pretty good lead on who killed him. I was trying to come up with suspects, and so far I’ve got Cheryl, one or more of the parental Blossoms, Ms. Grundy, or-what do you think of Sven?”
Her tremors soften, just a little.
“The janitor?” Her words are stilted by her chattering teeth, but she arches an eyebrow in amusement all the same.
“Just a thought. I think it’s the moustache. Always seemed suspicious to me.”
She laughs, then, visibly loosening under his touch. He finds himself relaxing as she does, not having realized how much it shook him.
“Sven is nice. He made me hot chocolate once when Cheryl locked me in the showers.” Her voice is breathy, tired. Jughead wonders how often she has these panic attacks. With a twisting stomach, he wonders if they started before or after his own falling out with Archie. Is it worse if their tension was a cause of her stress, or if she’d been struggling all along and he never noticed?
He’d always felt the people in his life hadn’t considered him important enough to notice his problems. But maybe they weren’t alone in that. Maybe he was guilty of exactly the same thing.
“When did Cheryl lock you in the showers?” He asks, trying not to picture it. Instead, images of the night before swim in front of his eyes, her wet hair framing her face, tickling bare shoulders. Mentally, his gaze travels down her neck, catching on a drop of water tracing the curve of her breast and disappearing beneath the band of her bra. And then he shakes himself.
This is Betty. She’s just barely his friend again, he can’t afford to let his hormones get that kind of traction. He might not be the sexless eunuch that certain members of the football time have painted him to be, but he’s always prided himself on being better than them, at least, at prioritizing. There aren’t a lot of people he can count on right now. In fact, he’s not sure there are any. But Betty, for whatever reason, seems to want to be one. And as much as he doesn’t know that he’s even capable of that kind of trust anymore, he thinks he owes it to her to at least try and return the favour.
“I don’t know,” it comes out in a heavy sigh. “Freshman year? It was before Polly and Jason, anyway.”
“Right.” He’s barely listening anymore, too lost in thoughts of the rust that’s probably developed on his ‘friend’ skills.
The sound of his name pulls him back, and he blinks. His return to reality comes with the realization that his hands are still grasping her arms, and he drops them.
“I think I figured out a way you won’t have to sleep on the floor again.”
That piques his curiosity.
“Mom won’t even go in Polly’s room anymore, she keeps the door closed. And Dad never went in there to begin with.”
“You think I should sleep in Polly’s room?”
“It’s just a thought. I-” She bites her lip, face falling blank. After a moment, he realizes he’s listening for the sound of her parents. Apparently deciding they’re gone, she climbs off the bed, crawling over to the wall that’s he’s fairly sure she shares with her sister’s room. She presses her fingertips lightly against the wall, where he can see a seam in the moulding. To his, though he’d later deny it, delighted surprise, the bottom two feet of the wall swing away, like a door.
“A secret passage?” He gets down on the floor with her, sticking his head through. The room on the other side is more subdued than Betty’s, all cream and muted colours. The wallpaper features gold and white stripes, a contrast to the pink floral he’s been staring at all night. Grinning, he ducks back into Betty’s room. She’s sitting on her heels, gauging his reaction.
“It must have come with the house. My parents don’t know about it, I don’t think. Polly found it by accident, when she was doing handstands against the wall.”
He can picture it, remembers Polly from all those years before things started to turn bad. He feels a twinge of guilt again, for never thinking of her, never wondering after her. There were moments where he’d reflect on how hard it must be on Betty, but those had more come recently. It wasn’t that he didn’t care, but if the past few years had taught him anything, it’s that there’s a limit on exactly how many crises a person can dwell on at once.
“About Polly. I never said that.” He says, eyes darting away as her lip trembles.
“Thanks.” He doesn’t look back at her, but feels the squeeze on his bicep.
“And about this,” he gestures at the secret door. “This is just temporary. I’m going to find a real place to stay.” He’s not sure why he’s expecting her to fight him on that, but she doesn’t.
“I know. And I’m going to help you. But for now…”
They both glance through the open panel, into the long forgotten bedroom.
“At least it’s not pink,” he says, earning a not-so-gentle smack on the shoulder.
“He asked for a pen?”
“Okay, fine. It’s not really what he said, so much as how he said it, but-” Kevin glances over at Betty, who’s stirring her cherry soda slowly, eyes seemingly lost in a stream of red bubbles. “Hey. Are you even listening to me?” When she doesn’t respond, he reaches out, waving a hand in front of her face.
Jughead finds the movement a little obnoxious, but chooses to ignore it. He’s not even sure how he ended up in this booth with these people, again, but it seems to be becoming a regular occurrence now that Betty has taken it upon herself to make him some sort of personal project. He was doing just fine on his own before. Up until the night of the storm, and the bus shelter incident, maybe. But he was always a solitary entity by choice. And he doesn’t remember making an active decision to extend his social circle to include Kevin Keller and Veronica Lodge. He doesn’t even really remember when he made the choice to let Archie and Betty back into his life.
“Bets.” He nudges her with his shoulder, appreciating the warmth she always seems to give off when they’re sitting close like this. Or standing close when they’re both leaning over a computer in the Blue and Gold office. Or sitting on the floor of her bedroom, huddled together so as not to have to raise their voices and wake her parents. With a start, she turns back to the group, face apologetic.
“You alright, Betty?” Archie asks, brow furrowing in concern.
“Sorry, guys. I was just thinking about the paper.”
“Right.” Kevin rolls his eyes. “Well, as riveting as I’m sure that is, I need your opinion on Moose.”
“Ugh,” from beside him, Veronica makes a dismissive noise. “Just bone him already. It’s obvious he’s into you, and no offence, but you need the action. You’re clearly replacing sex with food,” she nods pointedly at the huge plate of fries in front of him. “And not that you wouldn’t be dashingly handsome at any weight, but there have got to be healthier, and more fun, ways.”
“He’s seriously closeted,” Kevin sighs. “With everything that’s happened lately, I just-I don’t know. I don’t really feel like sneaking around. The novelty of that wore off long before I came out.”
“And eating is fun,” Jughead informs them, deliberately missing the point of the conversation.
“As fun as sex?” Veronica asks, eyebrows raised as she sips coyly at her coke. Jughead feels four pairs of eyes lock onto him, and sighs internally. They wouldn’t outright ask, they’re all too polite for that, but there’s another question under the rhetorical one.
“That-“ He steals a fry from Kevin’s plate. “Entirely depends on the sex. And the food,” he adds as an afterthought. They seem surprised, but Betty jumps in, moving the attention away from him.
“Besides, is there even anyone in Riverdale who’s not in the closet? Or Midvale? Or Greenvale? Other than you, Kev.”
The Sheriff’s son huffs out a long suffering sigh.
“Well, there’s-“ he cuts himself off abruptly, though that only sparks the interest of Betty and Veronica. Archie and himself just share a glance, continuing to steal fries from the distracted Kevin.
“There’s who?” Veronica asks, propping her chin up on her fist, narrowing her eyes at the boy beside her.
“No one. Nevermind.”
For a moment the raven haired girl looks like she’s going to press it, but Archie saves Kevin by getting to his feet.
“I need to get going. Bets, do you want a ride home?”
She didn’t drive today, her father had some business in Greendale and needed their second vehicle. Betty pauses for a second, eyes catching on Jughead’s, and he hears her silent thought.
If I leave with him, how will you get home?
As subtly as he can, he shakes his head.
She seems to get the message, turning back to Archie with a smile.
“Thanks, Archie. That would be great.”
Veronica is staying to get a ride home with her mother at the end of Mrs. Lodge’s shift, and Kevin has his bike. Archie turns to Jughead.
“What about you, Jug? You need a lift?”
He does, but he’s not about to let Archie drop him off in front of his own house.
“Juggie!” Betty slaps a hand against her forehead. “I totally forgot. I told Mr. Weatherbee that we’d have Monday’s copy ready for printing by tomorrow morning, I know it’s last minute but there are only a few things left, so-“
“Do you need me to help?” Normally, he doesn’t help with the editing or the publishing end. That’s on Betty. Jughead has come in a strictly content-providing context. But he suspects she doesn’t actually need his help tonight either.
“If you wouldn’t mind.” She claps her hands together, smiling widely. “You could come over now and help me finish.”
He sighs, knowing at this point that it’s all for show.
“Fine. But you owe me. A burger, and fries.”
“I’ll make it two,” she says, sliding out of the booth behind him and waving goodbye to their other friends.
“So,” Archie says, as they make their way to his truck. “How’s that going?”
Betty seems to be lost in thought again, so Jughead answers.
“The Blue and Gold?”
“Fine, I guess.” Jughead opens the passenger side door, poking Betty when she doesn’t move. “Bets, you in there?”
Again, she seems to shake out of a daydream, sliding wordlessly into the seat. He closes the door behind her and climbs into the back, ignoring the small frown that has appeared on Archie’s face as he watches the exchange.
They’ve done this a hundred times, the three of them, sitting in the car together. It used to be as natural as breathing, being with them. But it’s quiet now, almost like the summer has stolen any common ground from under them, and Archie reaches almost compulsively for the radio.
The rest of the ride stretches on, the music almost muffled by the weight of their silence. And for the first time, with a sharpness that surprises him, Jughead misses his best friend. He’s spent all summer telling himself he doesn’t really need Archie, that their friendship was clearly never that important if they could let it fall apart like this. He won’t back down from the fact that this isn’t his fault, but, finally, it occurs to him that maybe that’s not the most important thing.
They pull up in front of Betty’s house, and she gives the redhead a quick smile as she thanks him for the ride. Then she’s gone, striding up the walk to her front door, and Jughead is still sitting in the car. Archie turns to frown at him, confused.
“Weren’t you gonna help her with the paper?”
“Yeah, I am.” His mouth feels dry, palms moist. “Listen, Arch, I-“
A cellphone rings, the generic tone cutting in, over his words. Archie glances at it, then back at Jughead apologetically.
“Sorry, it’s my dad, I can call him back later.”
But the moment has passed, and with it, his bravery.
“That’s okay.” Jughead waves it off. “It was nothing. I’m gonna go before Betty comes back out to get me. Thanks for the ride, man.”
“Uh,” Archie blinks. “Sure. See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Jughead backs out of the car, raising his hand in farewell. “See ya.”
When he makes it into the house, grateful to see the Coopers are once again both out, he exhales. It’s not a new sensation to him, this yearning for something he’s not sure he can have. But Jughead isn’t sure he has anything without Archie. Their friendship has been his anchor for years, when his parents split up and his father disappeared into a life of crime and his mother’s house turned into something hostile and someone else’s.
He thinks back to the question Betty asked him a few weeks ago.
Can you go back?
He’s not so sure of his answer anymore. But a new one scratches at his mind, his own voice replacing hers.
Do you want to?
“But we know Grundy was giving Jason private lessons-“
“Yeah, private lessons which she also gave Archie. Who’s perfectly fine.”
Betty raises an eyebrow at that, and he sighs.
“Okay, well, he’s alive isn’t he?” They’ve been at this for hours, bickering back and forth as the daylight slowly leeched from the windows outside the Blue and Gold office. She keeps pushing for an investigation into Ms. Grundy (Sarah Gibson, he has to remind himself), and he thinks they’ve hit a dead end with their former music teacher. He moves closer to her, sitting on the corner of her desk. “Look, I’m not saying she’s not-“
“- A predator?”
“I was going to say creepy, but sure. But that doesn’t make her a killer.” He throws her a pointed look. “I get that you don’t like her after what she did to Archie, especially since-” He breaks off, clamming up immediately. One look at Betty tells him she didn’t miss it.
“Especially what, Jughead?” She crosses her arms over her chest, eyes narrowing. “Since I have feelings for Archie?”
“Uh,” he scratches the back of his neck, avoiding her gaze. “Well, yeah.”
“This has nothing to with that. She was taking advantage of him, and he’s my friend.”
“Okay, okay.” He holds up his hands in surrender. “I’m sorry. But I still think we’ve found all we’re going to on her. Jason can’t exactly tell us if she had anything to do with it, and she’s in the wind. That kid she tutored back in Minnesota is fine, all they had to say was that Grundy-Gibson-was a great teacher. So aside from the small matter of statutory rape…”
Betty chews on her thumbnail eyes glazing as she gets lost in thought. He leaves her to it for a moment, but when she doesn’t come back, he taps her on the nose.
She’s been doing this more and more lately, retreating somewhere he can’t follow, sometimes for so long he starts to wonder if she’s actually fallen asleep with her eyes open.
“I-” She shakes her head, like a dog shaking the water from it’s ears. “You’ve never said that to him, have you?”
“Statutory rape. Have you ever called it that in front of Archie?”
Surprised by the question, he leans back slightly.
“No. Why? Have you?”
“No,” she murmurs. “I just-I’m not sure how he thinks about what he had with her, but-”
“You’re afraid to make it worse for him. To change how he remembers it to something…something that happened to him.” He’s had the same thought.
“Yeah. I don’t know if it’s healthy, what he’s doing, I don’t know what the right thing is…” She looks up at him then, electric blue, and he can almost feel it humming under his skin, like a second pulse. “But sometimes all we have is denial. You take that away and-I guess there are doors you can’t close again. Not ever.”
He stares at her. Something in her words rings alarm bells in his head, the cold note running underneath them that suggests she speaks from experience.
He almost asks. Almost.
“So can we take Grundy off the table, just for now? You know what they say about putting all your eggs in one basket anyways.”
She sighs, fingers pressing against her temple.
“Mhmm. Fine. What do you think we should look at then?”
Recognizing this as the opening he’s been waiting for, he leans in, and instantly regrets it as he inhales her scent, sweet, but also-
“Betty?” He blinks, shocked at the acrid note tangled with her usual soft smell. “Have you been smoking?”
Her mouth drops open.
“What? Of course not.”
He raises an eyebrow. It’s not his place to judge, but it’s so unlike her he can’t quite help the curiosity. Under his gaze, she eventually folds, sinking into the chair.
“Alright, maybe. But I just wanted to try it, and I don’t think I’ll do it again.” That, he believes. She looks a little embarrassed, and he doesn’t find it endearing. Not at all.
“Not your thing?”
She makes a face.
“No. And I realized if I want to keep running track-”
“Ah. Yeah, I may have heard rumours that smoking is detrimental to your lung capacity. Not that I would know firsthand, of course.”
“Of course.” She rolls her eyes.
“I could point out the hypocrisy of all the speeches you’ve given me over the past two years on heart health and cancer, and-actually I’m pretty sure you brought up sperm count at some point-“
“Well,” she crosses her arms again, irritated. “I don’t think I have to worry about that last one.”
He grins, can’t help it.
“I’m just going to bask in the fact that you’ve forfeited the right to harass me about smoking ever again.”
“I-” The look on her face tells him she has no intention of being held to that.
“Uh-uh-uh.” He shakes his head. “Nope.”
With a reluctant sigh, she turns back to the computer in front of her.
“So about our next lead-“ The change in topic is obvious, and he gives it to her, despite wanting to tease her about her brief venture into rebellion.
“I was thinking, I know you said you didn’t want me breaking into the Blossom house, but now that we’ve been invited to the Blossom’s funeral…”
“It’s the perfect opportunity. And call me heartless, but the Blossoms will all be too distracted to notice if we slip away with so many people there-”
“Come on, Betty. By now you know I can be stealthy when I have to, we-”
“Juggie, I said fine.”
He blinks, realizing she did, in fact, agree with him. Her tired frown slides into a tentative smile, and he shakes his head.
“I think I’m beginning to be a bad influence on you.”
He couldn’t tell you why the joke prompts a stiffening of her lips, or why her next words are excusing herself to make a call he suspects is entirely fictitious.
But she’s hiding something from him, and he’s going to find out what it is.
You GUYSS. The feedback on this has been amazing! Thank you so much!
And woof, that kiss, that episode, am I right? Anyways, this story will probably start to dramatically veer off from canon in 2 chapters or so, until then it kind of runs roughly parallel to it. Minus the Jughead living at the Cooper's place.
She can feel the hands. They’re cold against her wrists, leaving ice behind, everywhere they touch. And then she’s bound, frozen wrists chafed by rope, the sound of running water a growing roar in her ears.
“No.” Her lips have gone numb from the cold, and the white of her dress tangles at her ankles. She almost stumbles, but those frigid hands steady her from behind, shoving her forward. “No,” she mumbles again, voice lost to the rushing water. The grass is wet, soaking her bare feet, and then, suddenly, it stops. Her toes curl over the edge where the ground gives way to a steep riverbank, the one that Sweetwater is so famous for.
The voice is familiar, but she can’t place it. As her eyes drop to the rapids beneath, her heart pounds.
“No.” She says again. There’s a sound she knows then, an echoing, hollow, click. And the cool pressure of metal against the back of her head. Her eyes flutter closed, adrenaline giving way to a weariness so painfully bone deep that it nearly sends her collapsing over the edge.
Living in the state of Washington, Betty has long since gotten used to the fog. But when she sits bolt upright in bed, chest heaving at the wall of whitewater that comes rushing at her face, she’s unnerved to see a different wall of white outside her bedroom window. It’s just mist, but it hangs in the air like a warning. An omen. And after everything that's happened lately, Betty has enough sense to believe in those. Not that she'd admit it out loud.
She turns, heart still staccato in her chest, and sees Jughead crawling through the little hidden door in her wall. It's such a ridiculous sight, his messy, dark hair emerging from the pink floral wallpaper, that she has to clap a hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh.
“Jughead, what are you doing?” She’s whispering, not sure if her parents have left yet for work.
“You were yelling, I wasn’t sure-” He makes it through the hole, resting on his knees and rubbing the sleep from his own bleary eyes. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” She’s equal parts touched and embarrassed that he felt the need to come check on her. “It was just a dream.”
She blinks, heat rising in her cheeks as she wonders what she’s done the past few nights to give it away. Then she remembers a conversation they had a few weeks ago.
I know it’s childish but it makes me not really want to go to sleep. Every night it’s just like…I know what I’m going to see when I close my eyes and I’d almost rather not sleep at all.
Clearly he remembered as well.
“Yeah,” her gaze falls to her hands, which pick at a seam on her comforter.
“You…” He hesitates, and she feels it, that invisible line between them. It’s always been there, she’s fairly sure, but it never bothered her before. Jughead chose to exist in the world with a wall completely around him, has since they were children. Betty understands it, better than most probably. But lately, whether due to their proximity or the way it feels like she doesn’t really have anyone else, she finds herself wishing he would let it down. He clears his throat. “Do you want to talk about it?”
No, she thinks, then considers the hypocrisy of wanting him to be transparent with her when she can’t do the same.
“It’s okay, thanks Juggie.”
“What time is it?” He’s still sitting on the floor, head resting on the wall. His eyes have drifted closed again, and she wonders if he has them as well. Nightmares. It’s possible the dark circles he’s been sporting under his eyes for weeks have been due to his living situation, but he’s been sleeping in Polly’s bed for three nights now, and Betty can’t help but think he doesn’t look near well-rested.
“Um,” She swipes her phone off the nightstand, lighting up the screen with a tap. “Just after six. You should go back to sleep, we don’t have to be at the funeral until ten.”
He just waves her off.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to fall back asleep either,” she murmurs, reading his silence.
“Well.” He sighs. “I think your mom is still here, so I can’t exactly go anywhere.”
“We…” She wracks her brain for something to do to pass the time. Her lips begin to form Jason’s name, but they’ve been talking about the Blossoms nonstop for days, and she’s a little tired of it. They’ll have more answers after the service, but until then, they’ve exhausted the topic. “We could do homework?”
Jughead grimaces, and she swallows a giggle.
“I…” She glances around her bedroom, and then remembers something she used to do with Polly when there was a storm and neither of them could sleep. Or when their parents fought, a scene that dwindled in frequency as her father’s energy waned against Alice’s. Betty tries not to think about it, the deep lines that have settled on her father’s face so prematurely, the extra beer at dinner that turned to an extra beer in the morning that sometimes turned to him falling asleep in his armchair in front of the TV. Polly’s breakdown was the fingertip pressing lightly on an already cracked pane of glass. Everything shattered under the weight of it, but it might as well have been a feather for all the Coopers really needed to well and truly fall apart. The fault lines were already there, dozens of them, carved in by Alice, and all the secrets they learned to keep from each other, by Hal’s quiet resignation and Betty’s refusal to bend all the way. By the fact that, despite everything they’ve done to each other, there’s still love buried underneath. And that, that last rope of love, has warped them far more than the rest. Because they won’t leave. None of them were willing to be the ones to admit that this family is poisoning itself, all these raw edges scraping against each other, eroding whatever they used to have. The people they used to be.
She blinks, Jughead coming back into focus as her thoughts fade back into white noise. Pain throbs in her palms, and she doesn’t have to look down to know there will be scarlet half-moons dotting the skin there, bleeding.
“We could play cards. Pol and I used to do it when…when we couldn’t sleep.”
Clearly, he was expecting her to explain where her head had gone just then, why it had coiled every muscle in her body like a shiny new spring. But he takes her abrupt change in subject in stride, just nodding slowly as he catches up.
“Okay. What do you want to play? Go fish?”
She snorts quietly, arching her back in a stretch before getting her feet. When her head falls back into it’s resting angle she catches Jughead averting his eyes, like maybe he’s embarrassed to have been caught looking.
“I was thinking more like Five Card Draw, but we can play Go Fish if you want,” she murmurs, padding over to her desk to pull out a worn deck of cards. Settling cross-legged on the floor across from him, she deals.
He picks up his cards when she’s done, and the following chuck has Betty frowning at him over her own hand.
“I just-“ He shakes his head, dimples appearing in a rare show of amusement. “Playing poker with a deck of Barbie cards. It’s so…you.”
She grins back at him.
“I’m going to take that as a compliment.”
As their game progresses, something niggles at the back of her mind. A question that she’s swallowed time and time again, not wanting to strain the fragile peace she’s constructed with the boy sitting across from her.
But there are friends and then there are friends, the kind who will help you whether you want it or not, and Betty is, and has always been, the latter.
“Jughead, what happened with your stepdad?”
He was studying his cards with quiet focus when she asked, but his mouth drops open now, eyes darting up to meet hers. The fact that he doesn’t immediately retreat back into Polly’s room seems to be a good sign, at least.
“I…” The indecision is clear on his face. But Betty knows him well enough to know that if he didn’t want to talk about it he wouldn’t be hesitating at all. So she pushes, lightly, on.
“I haven’t asked because I thought…I don’t know. It’s not my business, I guess. But I want to help you, and I don’t know how to do that if I don’t know what you’re going through.” Her voice is as soft as she can make it, as though he’s a bid that might startle at any moment, disappearing out of reach. The doubt is still obvious in every line of his face, and she can practically hear the warring voices in his head.
I don’t trust anyone.
I want to trust you.
She knows. She feels it every day. Apparently today his more trusting side wins.
“He said, and I quote ‘Fuckhead, you either get out, for good this time, or I’ll kill you right here and now’.” He delivers the line with such a clinical detachment that it shouldn’t sound so bad. But to her, it sounds worse. Like he’s replayed the words in his mind so many times he doesn’t even remember how they’re supposed to sound.
Her stomach turns. Suddenly, she’s struck with such an agonizing need to hold him that she has to sit on her hands in order to keep from touching him. She can read his face, though. He’s desperately afraid she’ll pity him, and though that’s not what she feels, not at all, it’s what he’ll see if she reaches for him.
“That’s not a very original nickname,” she says finally, voice only a little strained. For a moment, there’s silence, just them staring at each other, wanting something and needing something else, and unwilling to give in to either.
Then his lips twitch, the ends curling into a dry smile, one so definitively Jughead that the aching her her chest eases, just a bit.
“Right? Tony never was good with words. Fists, sure. Knees, bottles…” His eyes glaze over a little as he remembers something Betty can’t even imagine, but he’s back as soon as he’s gone, smile a little tighter. “He’s a drunk, and a bully, and I just…it wasn’t worth it to be there anymore. I used to think I was protecting them, but then-I don’t know. It started to feel like I was just making everything worse. Like maybe he’d calm down if I wasn’t around. But I worry about them. What if he-”
She does reach out then, prying the now bent cards from his fingers, and lacing her own between them.
“Jughead,” she says softly. “None of that was your fault. When someone’s bitter like that they…” A lump rises in her throat as her own memories flood in, like blood, thick and dark and staining everything they touch. “They lash out. At whoever will let them.”
Like my mother, she sees it in his eyes, the fear. Like my sister.
“Oh god,” he breathes, horrified. “I’ve just left them there, they-“
“Juggie no,” Betty squeezes his hand tighter, hating herself for bringing this on. All she’s done is made it worse. “You were trying to do the right thing, and maybe you’re right, maybe without you there he’s happier-“
It’s all coming out wrong, her tongue clumsy and heavy in her mouth as she watches the colour drain from his face.
God, Betty. Good job.
“I don’t know how to fix it,” he says desperately, grey eyes wide with pain. “If I’m there I make it worse but if I’m not there’s no one there to protect them.”
“You shouldn’t have to-” Her voice does crack then, like his anguish is leaking through their skin. “Jughead, you have done the best you could-“
“It’s not enough.” He tears his hand away from hers, and she pretends it doesn’t sting. “I, uh, I’m going to grab a shower. I think I heard your mom leave a few minutes ago.”
“Okay,” she says quietly. She lets him go, no longer trusting herself to do anything but make him feel worse. Thoughts of Jellybean invade her mind, the little girl she used to babysit, all grey eyes and dark hair, like a female Jughead in miniature. The idea of a monster like that being near the happy toddler who used to pick daisies for Betty from the grass in the park… “I’m going to run to the school and proof Monday’s paper before the funeral. I’ll meet you at Thornhill,” she says suddenly, listening for Jughead’s response from the other room. He grunts.
She dresses quickly, pulling on a black dress and cardigan, and clipping her hair half back. As an afterthought, she adds a coat of mascara and lipgloss. She doesn’t care about what the Blossom’s think of her, but her mother will be at the service, and if Betty looks anything short of presentable, Alice will be the first to comment on it.
She slips out the door while Jughead is still in the shower, feet carrying her down the road. It’s not the best of ideas, but there are friends and then there are friends, and Betty is the latter.
Gladys Jones stares at Betty with wide eyes, grey ones that match her sons right down the bruise-like shadows dragging nearly down to her cheekbones.
“Hi, Mrs. Jones.” She does her best to muster a smile, though if it looks half as bad as it feels, it comes out more like a wince.
“What are you doing here?” It’s almost rude in it’s bluntness, but it doesn’t matter. Neither woman has the patience for ceremony at this point.
“I wanted to talk to you. About Jughead,” she adds, a little nervously. If her husband is home this is already a mistake.
Mrs. Jones’ face changes instantly, concern replacing surprise.
“You’ve spoken to him?”
“We work on the paper together.” Betty says. “And…he’s staying with me. Since he doesn’t have anywhere else to go.” She doesn’t mean it to be an accusation. But, like many statements, it comes out exactly as she thinks it. For a tense moment, Betty thinks Gladys will slam the door in her face.
Instead, the older woman steps back, opening the door further.
She does, following her host through the house and into the kitchen. It brings back memories of the last time she was here, when Jughead let her stay the day after that awful dance.
And here, they’ve come full circle.
They sit at the table, no drinks, no pretence, and Jughead’s mother leans forward, eyes searching Betty’s face.
“How is he?”
“He’s…holding up.” Something occurs to her. “Have you not spoken to him at all?” She had assumed that Jughead had at least been keeping in touch with his mother, whether through phone calls or text messages, but from the way the woman is looking at her now, it seems like she was wrong.
Gladys looks down at her hands, folded on top of the table.
“No. At first I thought this would all blow over, like it usually does, and Forsythe is so proud-”
“Wait,” Betty interrupts her. “What do you mean like it usually does?”
Gladys blinks, the corners of her mouth turning down defensively.
“The boys get like this sometimes, Tony has such a temper, and for whatever reason my son seems to set him off every other day. But he usually comes home after a day or two, he’s never been gone so long-”
Betty makes an involuntary noise of indignance.
“This happens a lot? Your husband just kicking Jughead out for a night? Or two?”
“He needs time to cool down, they’re both so hotheaded-“
“It’s been a month.” Her incredulity leaks into her words, because she can’t believe the woman she remembers, the one who would drive her home after babysitting Jellybean and pay her extra and make sure Betty got inside safe, that woman turned into this husk of a mother. “He said Tony threatened to kill him!”
Gladys purses her lips, looking Betty over again, this time with irritation.
“He didn’t mean it, he would never hurt-“ she pauses, “-really hurt my son.”
“What about you?” This conversation isn’t going the way she wanted, this isn’t what she came here to find out, so she steers them back to that. “Would he ever hurt you? Or Jellybean?”
“He’s never laid a hand on Jellybean.” Gladys snaps. Betty raises her eyebrows. “And he-he wouldn’t hit me either.”
Betty frowns at the older woman, studying her face for clues that she’s lying. But there’s a hint of guilt in her voice, just enough that suggests what she’s saying is true. It’s Jughead. Just Jughead.
“He’s worried about you. And his sister.”
The mask of annoyance slides off his mother’s face, and for the first time, Betty sees the pain underneath. The shame.
“He always did.” Her voice shakes. “I used to worry he’d be like his father, but he-he’s better than both of us.”
“Yeah,” Betty gives Gladys a tired smile. “He’s better than most.”
It’s something, a bridge between the women. A love, shared.
But it’s not quite enough for her.
“He was sleeping under a bus shelter when I found him. You remember that horrible storm a few days ago?”
Gladys’ breath catches.
“Yes,” she whispers. “He was-oh god.”
“He can’t stay with me forever,” Betty adds. “My mother doesn’t know he’s there at all.” There’s no reason to be worried Gladys would betray their secret, not now that she knows her son is safe.
“I would…I’d love to have him here,” Gladys says, hands so tightly clasped together that they’re beginning to turn white. “But I’m not sure that’s what’s best for him anymore.”
“He doesn’t have anywhere else to go!”
“I’m not sure he’s safe here.” The words are weak, as though they’d been dragged unwillingly off Gladys’ tongue, and Betty can see how much they cost her.
It does nothing to stop the wave of anger rising in her chest. It spews like venom from her mouth, burning.
“And he’s safer on the streets? This is his home, you’re his mother! You’re supposed to protect him, and make him feel safe, and you’ve taken his home and turned it into a nightmare! Why can’t you just be there for him?” She gets roughly to her feet, chest heaving. “Why can’t you choose him?”
“Tony is my husband-”
“And Jughead is your son!”
“Without Tony both of my children will be on the street.” Gladys stands then too, meeting Betty’s glare head on. “How is that any better?”
Because you’d have tried. Because you’d be with them, and you would figure it out, together, she thinks. But her words would be wasted, she knows. Gladys is so deep in denial that no one can reach her.
“I have to go to a funeral.” She says, voice even. She’s halfway to the door before Gladys stops her.
“Will you tell him you were here?”
She turns back, sighing.
“I don’t know yet.”
Gladys opens her mouth to say something else, but she’s cut off by a new voice from the top of the stairs.
They both look up, spotting Jellybean standing on the second floor, staring through the railing at Betty with a wide grin.
“Jellybean.” Her smile is genuine this time. The four-year old clambers as quickly as she can down the stairs, throwing her arms around Betty’s legs. She reaches down, picking the curly haired girl up and resting her on her hip. “Wow, you’ve gotten so big!”
“I’m four now!” She says proudly, her greatest accomplishment. She’s grown so much since Betty last saw her, looks so like her brother that it hurts a little to think of them separated. He’s never talked about it, but he must miss her.
“Four?” Betty widens her eyes, matching Jellybean’s excitement. “You’re almost as old as me!”
“No I’m not.” Her tiny face changes suddenly, and her head swivels, scanning the hallway. “Is Jughead here?” There’s so much hope there that it breaks Betty’s heart, winding her.
“No,” she shakes her head slowly. “He had to do something else. But he misses you. He said to tell you he loves you.”
He hadn’t, but he would have, if he’d known.
“Is he coming home soon?”
The remaining pieces of her heart crumble to dust.
“He…he’ll see you soon.”
Gladys is approaching them now, and Betty puts Jellybean down, ignoring the cold air that wraps around her arms with the little girl’s warmth gone.
“I should go,” she says finally, suddenly overcome with the need for air.
“She started Tee-ball last week. She has a game tomorrow, at four.”
It takes a moment for Betty to process the words.
“At the diamond?”
Mrs. Jones hesitates.
“He won’t be there. He never goes.”
“Alright.” Betty nods. She doesn’t have it in her to smile again, not here. “Take care.” Her words are heavy with implication, and it’s not lost on the other woman.
With that, Betty goes, the door closing quietly behind her. She almost lingers, taking a moment to catch her breath.
But she has a funeral to go to.
Omg okay, this has been a week. Phew. Midterms and essays and presentations oh my! Here's an update my friends, also, did you hear? Riverdale got picked up for a second season! Let's celebrate with some good old fashioned angst and pain!
She’s almost late. She takes a cab to Thornhill, knowing parking will be impossible due to the sheer scale of Jason’s memorial. The Blossom’s have never been a family for subtlety, and this-
This is for the public. They’ve already said their goodbyes, burying their son weeks ago when the autopsy was finished. This is simply for show. To suggest that it’s so the rest of them can pay their respects would be too generous.
Her legs are burning as she half jogs up the gated driveway, and she’s out of breath by the time she gets inside, eyes scanning the milling crowd for that familiar beanie. She spots him at the same time that he sees her, and they both have to shoulder through the crowd a bit to meet in the middle.
“Hi,” she says, suddenly breathless for a whole new reason. Despite the beanie, he’s dressed for the occasion, in a plain black suit with a matching tie. And as he turns toward her, she spies a pair of suspenders underneath, the ones that are usually hanging off the back of his jeans. He looks good. Not just ‘good for Jughead’, as Betty has spent most of her life thinking of him, but…sexy. His pale skin is emphasized by all the black, but it only makes his eyes pop more. The cut of the jacket
When did Jughead get so attractive?
“Hey, I was worried you’d stand me up.”
“Never.” She smiles, looping her arm through his. He even smells good, like cedar and newsprint and, faintly, cigarettes. “Have you been here long?”
He shakes his head.
“About five minutes. I thought I’d scope out the second level but…”
“Too many people.” She finishes his thought. “We’ll have to sneak out while everyone else is in the solarium.”
He hums his agreement. They make their way in with everyone else, sliding into a pair of seats behind Kevin and Veronica. They make idle conversation for a few moments, before Betty spots a dark mark on Kevin’s neck, half hidden under his folded collar.
“Nice hickey, Kev.” She grins. “I guess you finally changed your mind about Moose.”
Her friend flushes, nodding a little too quickly. Veronica must have seen it too, because she leans in, smiling in that feline way that Betty is sure she couldn’t pull off even if she practiced in the mirror.
“Unless it wasn’t Moose.” The ex-heiress says with relish. “Who’s the lucky guy?”
“No one.” Kevin mutters turning his eyes forward. But both girls lean in this time, flanking him.
“Oh come on, Kev. You’ve been complaining for ages that there are no nice gay boys at school, or in Riverdale for that matter.” Betty pokes his hickey lightly. Then her smile drops. “Unless he’s not out?”
“It’s not that, he just-look I know you’re all going to judge me and I don’t feel like dealing with it today, okay?”
Veronica blinks, the teasing mood broken by the irritation in his voice.
“Okay,” she says, sitting back in her chair.
“Sorry,” Betty echoes, patting him gently on the shoulder to let him know that she was just joking.
Penelope Blossom steps up to the podium then, clearing her throat.
“If everyone would please take your seats…” There’s a rustling as those who were standing shuffle to find a seat. After it quiets, she continues. “First, I’d like to thank you all for coming. It means so much to us to have you here, to have your support…and we know Jason would have been touched as well. We-”
She stops mid sentence, eyes widening and fixing on something behind the audience. Chairs creak in unison as everyone turns to see what she’s looking at, and gasps follow as they take in the sight of Cheryl Blossom, clad in the white dress so many remember from that day, the one at Sweetwater when half the town gathered on it’s banks to watch the beginning of this tragedy unfold. She glides down the aisle between chairs, her mother still struck silent, and nudges Penelope away from the podium.
It’s so shocking, every eye on her, that Betty turns to Jughead. He looks up when she nudges him, nodding in understanding. They still out, unnoticed from their seats near the back of the room.
“God,” Betty pauses at the bottom of the stairs. She can’t get the image of Cheryl’s eyes out of her mind. They were so broken. There has never been any love lost between the two of them, but to lose a sibling like that…
“Are you okay?” Jughead’s hushed voice comes from right beside her, and she jumps a little.
“Yeah,” she turns back to the stairs. “I’m fine, come on.”
It’s not difficult to find Jason’s room, despite the cavernous nature of Thornhill Mansion. She’s been here before, in what feels like another life, with Polly.
Jughead sets his sights on Jason’s desk, and Betty tugs open the drawer of his nightstand. It feels wrong, violating.
We’re trying to find out what happened to you, she says in her head, we’re just trying to help.
Not that she really believes he can hear her.
They’ve barely been looking for a few moments Jughead makes an aha noise and turns toward her, hand raised.
He’s holding a small leather diary, the rich, glossy kind that only the insanely rich or insanely pretentious would ever own.
Her heart sinks. As much as she knows it’s a wealth of information, possibly the best thing they could have hoped to find, it’s also the most private. Just a few weeks ago, it had been her diary, her private thoughts that had been rifled through by scarlet tipped talons, and it had nearly ended in ruin for Archie.
“Oh hello dear!”
Stifling a scream, Betty jumps nearly two feet backward, hands slapping instinctively against her chest. Another set of hands grips her arms from behind, and she realizes Jughead has moved closer, pressing against her back, face half hidden in her hair. They both stare in horror at the grey haired woman rolling toward them in a spindly black wheelchair.
“H-Hi.” Betty stammers. Jughead’s grip on her tightens.
“Well, come closer, so I can see you.”
“No,” Jughead whispers in her ear. He’s in front of her then, moving so quickly she doesn’t realize what he’s doing until he’s done it.
“Who are you?” The woman blinks at him. “What are you doing in my grandson’s room, with his fiancee?”
“Fi-“ He turns back to frown at Betty. But something clicks for her, and she pushes him gently out of the way, leaning down toward the elderly woman.
“Hi, Nana Blossom.”
She smiles, and it’s terrifying, but it seems to be genuine.
“Polly, dear! I haven’t seen you in so long.”
Betty smiles back, chest constricting.
“I know, it’s good to see again. Although I wish it was under different circumstances.”
The woman clucks her tongue, apparently agreeing. Suddenly, she grabs at Betty’s left hand, lifting it to her cloudy eyes.
“You’re not wearing it. Well, of course you’re not wearing it. Bless.”
“Wearing what?” Betty asks, doing her best to hide how unsettled she is.
“The ring, Polly! That ring has been in the Blossom family for generations. Don’t tell Penelope though, she’s never liked you. I think she hopes that Jason will stay at home with her forever.”
Cold washes over her, as though a bucket of ice water has been poured across her head.
“We should go,” Jughead says suddenly. “I hear someone.”
He leads her out of the room by her shoulders, and when she can finally speak they’re already outside the house, walking down the long driveway.
“Jughead,” she whispers. It’s all she can manage.
“I know.” He stops when they reach the road, turns to face her. His eyes search her face, concern apparent. “Bets, are you alright? That was…it’s a lot.”
“Engaged,” she whispers. “They were engaged. And now he’s dead, and she’s…broken. Oh, god, Jughead.” It’s all spinning in her head, the tragic waste of Jason’s death, the devastation on his sister’s face, the devastation of her own sister. It was sad before, when she viewed it with all the attachment of a journalist.
But it’s personal now.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and he means it. Neither of them know what he’s sorry for, though.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter.
It takes her all afternoon to gather the courage to confront her father. It’s not that she’s afraid of him, not him, all soft hugs and warm smiles and quiet words. But Polly’s name is a lit fuse in their house, and there’s no telling anymore what speaking it will bring.
It’s dark when she finds him in the garage, head buried in the engine of the old Mustang they’ve been working on for the past two years. He looks up when he hears her come in, shoots her a greeting smile.
“Hey, you wanna grab a wrench and tighten this hose for me?”
She does, falling into the old routine easily. But her palm is slick with sweat when she sets the wrench down, knowing what comes next.
“Dad…I know we don’t talk about it, but…I need to talk about it. What happened to Polly? What did Jason do to make you hate him so much. Where is she?” Her voice breaks on the last question, and his hand stills, withdrawing from the engine.
He fixes her with a troubled frown, wiping the grease away from his fingers with a rag.
“I’m old enough to understand. I just want to to know what happened to her. She’s my sister.”
Hal sighs. All at once he looks ancient to her, hair streaked with grey, deep lines carved on his face, back hunched as he leans against the bumper of the car. It hurts, like she’s finally realizing what little is left of him. Of them.
“Polly and Jason had a fight. I don’t know what it was about, but…she was pretty upset.” He sets the rag down, crossing his arms over his chest. “She said she was going to take a shower, and she went upstairs. But after a while, when the water was still running, I went up to check on her. She didn’t answer, so I kicked the door in. And she was…she was trying to hurt herself. That’s why we sent her away. So she wouldn’t try to kill herself again.”
Betty stares at him, things shattering inside her, like lightbulbs blowing out, glass and ash and blood. She’d never known. Her sister, the one who protected her, who made her laugh when their mother made her cry, who played cards with her when the storm kept them up, who-
Who tried to kill herself.
She wants to curl in on herself, to fall to the ground right there and cry for Polly and Jason and herself, for everything they’ve lost.
She wants to see her sister.
“Where is she, Dad?” Her mouth is so dry the words are barely audible, but he shakes his head.
“I can’t tell you that Betty. She’s not in a good place now, not since Jason died.”
“I want to see her. I want to help-”
“I said no.” Hal says, so sharply that she falls silent and gapes at him. He’s never spoken to her like that, never.
“Did you know they were engaged?” She asks, face numb.
He purses his lips, but it’s answer enough for her.
“What are you so afraid of me finding out?” She whispers. “What good has keeping me out of it done?”
“You don’t-” he pinches the bridge of his nose. “This isn’t about you, Betty. It’s about what’s best for Polly.”
“Or is it about what Mom wants?”
He stares at her, warning flashing in his eyes, but then it’s gone. All the fight leeches out of him, shoulders slumping.
“You should go to bed, it’s getting late.”
“Fine.” She spins on her heel, hating him. Hating him for keeping her from Polly, for not telling her the truth all this time, for never, never, protecting them from Alice.
She hates him for being weak.
And then she hates herself for hating him.
She gets back to her bedroom before she breaks.
Before the guilt gets her.
She manages to climb onto the bed, curling into a ball as the sobs come. She misses her sister. She aches for Polly, and everything she’s gone through, alone. Her father doesn’t know how to be there for anyone, and all her mother knows how to do is make things worse.
Betty could have helped. Instead, she left Polly to rot.
She doesn’t hear the panel on her wall swing open, or the footsteps as Jughead makes his way over to her.
She doesn’t even feel the bed dip under him as he climbs up beside her.
“Betty…” He’s worried about her. She can hear it.
“I’m okay,” she says weakly. She’s not, but-
She’s not not-okay.
“You seem like it,” he says drily. She opens her eyes, wincing when they stick a little with running mascara. He’s leaning over her, brow drawn.
“It’s just Polly,” she says quietly. “She…I guess she tried to kill herself. That’s why they sent her away.” She dissolves into tears again, and Jughead only hesitates for a moment before wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She rolls into him almost instinctively, burying her face in the flannel he changed into after the memorial. Her hands fist in the soft material, a grounding point as her whole body shakes with each sob.
“I’m sorry.” He says it into her hair, and she just cries harder. He feels surprising solid around her, and for once, she’s glad for his wall. It wraps around both of them now, like a blanket, shielding her from the world. She breathes him in, that increasingly familiar smell, as he lets her cry herself out.
It doesn’t take long.
“I’m sorry,” she says, when her breathing evens out. “I got makeup on your shirt.”
“I’m not too worried about it.”
Somewhere along the way his hand started tracing circles across her shoulder.
Slowly, head spinning a little, she sits up. His arms fall away, and she’s sure she looks like some sort of swamp monster, face mottled red and streaked with black. It doesn’t seem to concern it.
“I have to tell you something.” She’s not sure she wants to, is suddenly terrified that he’ll hate her, that he’ll take off running into the night and leave whatever fledgling friendship they’ve planted behind. And right now he is, quite literally, the only thing she has to hold onto.
“Okay.” He’s wary now, face impassive.
“I wasn’t at the school today, before the memorial.”
“Oh?” He raises his eyebrows. “So where were you?”
“I…” Resisting the urge to look away, she forces the words out. “I went to your house.”
He stiffens immediately.
“I knew you were worried, and…I got a little worried too.” The thoughts had clambered in with the rest that she can’t afford to have, Jellybean’s precious smile being knocked aside by the back of a hand. “I talked to your mom. She seemed okay. She said she was. She said…that they’re both safe.”
His stare is boring through her skull now, like lasers, not angry just…intense.
“And you believe her?” He’s asking, but he’s also accusing, and she can’t really blame him for that.
“I do. I saw Jellybean. She seemed happy enough.”
His eyes darken at the mention of his sister, and despite her better judgment Betty reaches down, taking his hand.
“She misses you, it’s…I do think she’s okay, Jughead. I wouldn’t lie to you about that.”
“The same way you wouldn’t lie to me about where you were all day?” He shoves to his feet, pacing at the foot of the bed.
“I thought…I wanted to be able to reassure you. I didn’t know if your stepdad was going to be there, and I knew if I told you where I was going you’d want to come, and that could have ended so badly-”
“Was he?” Jughead’s head snaps up, eyes narrowing. “Was Tony there?”
“No,” she admits softly. “He wasn’t.” She’s not sure what she’d have done if he was. It’s not as though she could have had that conversation with Gladys while he was liable to come bursting into the kitchen at any moment.
“God,” he turns abruptly on his heel, toward the wall panel they use as a door when her parents are home. “It-that was none of your business, Betty. I didn’t tell you that so you could go there and just-“
“Jughead,” she says pleadingly, “I’m sorry, I-”
“I need some air.” Instead of crouching to crawl through the secret door, he strides over to her window, throwing it open. She watches silently as he swings his legs through it, one at a time, and disappears.
She’s still sitting there when he comes back hours later, lips blue from the frigid night air drafting in through her open window.
He hasn’t spoken to her since last night.
Once, that wouldn’t have mattered. Once, they’d go weeks without exchanging so much as a hello, and neither would think twice about it.
Now, his absence is every bit the punishment she thinks he intends it to be. She doesn’t sleep at all, even after he closes her window on the way in, not even sparing her a glance before crawling through the wall back into Polly’s room.
She tosses and turns, wonders if he can hear her mattress squeaking through the wall, wonders where he went just then, wonders if he’s going to forgive her or if she’s ruined the only thing in her life with potential to be something good.
It’s not strictly true, she supposes, that she doesn’t have any friends. She has Veronica, and Kevin. But she’s been neglecting those relationships lately. So when the sun rises high enough that it’s not an absolute darkness that cloaks the street, she throws on a pair of shorts, and hesitates over the worn Pacman t-shirt, before throwing on one of her old track shirts.
She’s been neglecting this too, her routine. As though chastising her for it, her legs burn under her as she pushes down the sidewalk, chest aching. It hurts, not the good kind that comes with being in perfect shape, but the punishing kind that serves as a reminder of the fact that you’ve let yourself down. In her current mood, it feels appropriate.
Despite the pain, she continues on past her usual turning back point, running without thought. Her feet pound the asphalt, and the asphalt gives way to gravel, and a while after that she comes to a jarring halt as Sweetwater river materializes in front of her.
She stares at it, the roar of the river combining with the pounding of blood in her ears. It’s nearly eight miles to Sweetwater from her house. She must have been running for over an hour, though in her haze it seemed like minutes.
It used to be beautiful to her, the rushing water carving a grey path between those walls of thick green. But now all she can picture is Jason, the way his corpse looked as they dredged it up the bank. Now it’s something else.
“What happened here?” She asks aloud. Her voice is all but drowned out by the water. She closes her eyes, and a dream comes back to her, something about cold hands and white cloth, and-
A crow caws from directly above her, startling her into a stumble. She was close enough to the edge that when her hands come down they do it in water. It’s cold, colder than she thinks it should be, as though it will turn to her ice around her wrists at any moment, trapping her there. She scrambles to her feet, tripping again in her haste to get back on the bank, out of the river.
On the damp sand, she gasps, clasping a muddy hand to her chest. She can feel her heart there, thundering under her palm from a mix of adrenaline and fear.
“Get it together,” she murmurs to herself. “You’re fine.”
She’s not fine, not really, but she’s not dead, or homeless, or locked in a mental ward somewhere far away from all the people who love her, so that’s going to have to be enough.
Her phone, tucked inside the arm band she always wears when she runs, vibrates. She wipes her wet hands on her shorts before tugging it out and checking the message there.
Have u already gone to school?
It’s from her father. She shoots off a reply, then turns back toward the trail. Getting back to the house in time to shower before school will be a miracle at this point, but she pushes into a painful sprint anyways. Something about having the river at her back unsettles her, raising the hair on the back of her neck.
As she tears down the trail back to the road, she notes that the blessed oblivion of her run out to the river is gone, replaced by a tension that itches along her spine like a warning. It doesn’t feel like a light morning jog anymore.
It feels like being chased.
School is a misery.
Betty hadn’t realized how quickly her days had come to attach to Jughead’s, and now she feels his absence like an emptiness against her shoulder.
He sits next to her in Biology but doesn’t say a word. It’s ridiculous, but she has to fight back tears when he stands abruptly at the bell, hurrying from the classroom before she can muster the courage to say something. Veronica is the first to notice the tension.
“What’s going on with and beanie boy?”
They’re sitting at their usual table on the lawn, Archie hunched over his songbook, Kevin craning his neck to watch the soccer team’s midday practice. Betty frowns at her plate, pushing a lump of meatloaf in circles.
“He’s mad at me.”
That prompts an eyebrow from the brunette, and Kevin apparently decides that this gossip is more interesting than the boys running suicides a few yards away, turning his attention back to her.
“Mad at you? Why?”
She sighs. They don’t know about Jughead’s living situation, and despite her tendency to put her foot in her mouth, that’s one secret she’s determined to keep.
“I think I tried to help him with something that he didn’t actually want help with” She chooses her words carefully, hoping her friends won’t press too hard for details. But Kevin is Kevin, and he leans forward, propping his chin on his elbow, an intrigued glint in his eye.
“Like what? Because if this is about his wardrobe, I am one hundred percent with you.”
“His-“ She frowns. “No, what’s wrong with his wardrobe?”
“Nothing,” he backpedals, shrugging. “If you like this whole 90’s grunge thing he’s going for lately.”
“I think it suits him,” she murmurs, thinking of how soft that flannel is, the way his jackets smell. “It’s kind of hard to imagine him wearing anything else, anyway.”
“Betty’s right,” Veronica chimes in. “He pulls off the whole Kurt Cobain thing. What do you think, Archiekins?”
Archie, who clearly hasn’t been listening to a word of their conversation, looks up from his book.
“Do you think Jughead needs a new look?” Kevin prompts him. The redheaded boy frowns.
“Why? What’s wrong with his current look?”
Clearly outnumbered, Kevin throws his hands in the air with a heavy sigh. For the first time, Archie notices the absence at their table.
“Wait, where is Jughead anyway?”
“Him and Betty are fighting,” Veronica chirps, and Betty throws her an irritated glance.
“We’re not fighting,” she protests. “He’s just…mad at me.”
“How is that different than fighting?” Kevin wants to know.
“Why is he mad at you?” Archie asks, apparently invested in the topic now.
“It’s nothing,” Betty says, suddenly uncomfortable. If they keep asking, she’ll have to lie. And she’s getting tired of lies. Her attempt at deflection only piques the interest of her friends.
“Oh, you know something.” Ronnie shifts in her seat, turning to face Betty head on. “Girl, spill.”
Three sets of eyes burn into her forehead as she ducks her head to buy a minute to think.
“It’s…it’s just a thing for the Blue and Gold. I was trying to help him with his story but he feels like I’m taking over.” The lie is heavy, sticking to her tongue. She’s so sick of all the secrecy covering Riverdale like a fog that never fully lifts. Polly and Jason, her parents and Polly, her and Jughead, Archie and Grundy. It’s beginning to feel like she’s never really known any of them. As though they’re all just the masks they wear, smiling and curtsying and bumping up against each other. “Speaking of the Blue and Gold, I have to finish the final layout so it can go to press on Monday. I’ll talk to you guys later.”
They wave goodbye as she gathers her bag and her plate, dumping her untouched lunch in the trash on her way to the Blue and Gold’s office.
She doesn’t really need to work on the layout, it’s been done since Wednesday, but she didn’t feel like sitting at that table and basking in her lie either. So she settles behind the ancient computer, wishing she’d brought her laptop, and begins to scroll through their notes for next week’s issue. Eventually her sleepless night catches up to her though, and she puts her head down on the desk, eyes heavy.
Heyyy so it's March. AKA the month from actual hell in which I forego sleeping and eating and yes, recreational writing, in order to not flunk out of University. I'm still going to update, but it's possible it will only be once a week for a while. Bear with me. (Bare with me? I can never remember which is which. I think it's the first.)
Anyways, here's a long chapter to make up for that. I'd love to hear what you think! Hopefully this helps get us all through the hiatus. I'm loving the feedback so much, you guys are amazing <3
The next thing she knows, someone is shaking her awake.
“Are you okay?”
She blinks, gasping at the change in light coming through the windows. The late morning light is gone, replaced by the deep gold of afternoon. Jughead is standing in front of her, arms crossed. She’d almost say he looks worried about her, if she didn’t know better.
“I’m fine.” Her fist rubs at her eyes, still burning a little, like they’ve just gotten a taste of sleep and it wasn’t enough. “What time is it?”
His eyes flit to the clock on the wall above her head.
“It’s quarter after three. You weren’t in Spanish, and Archie said the last he’d talked to you, you were coming here, so…”
She stares at him.
“You were looking for me?”
The mask of indifference on his face falters.
“I..” His gaze falls down to his boots, then flits back up. “Did she say anything about me?”
“She asked if you were there, I guess she thought I might have come with you. She asked if you’d be coming home soon.” If the words had broken her heart, they pierce him like a jagged blade, every muscle snapping taut with the pain of it. She wants to wrap her arms around him and squeeze until he softens but she’s not sure he’d let her. She doesn’t know where they stand anymore. “I told her you miss her and that…that you love her,” she adds quietly.
He takes a shaky step forward, and it’s all the opening she needs. Her own feet are steady under her, despite the brutal exertion of her run that morning, and she winds her arms around his neck, pulling him into her.
He folds into it, boneless, one hand reaching up to tangle in her hair, the other curling at the small of her back, fingers catching the material of her sweater. When his breath hitches she just holds tighter.
I’m not going anywhere, she tries to say in the way she clings to him. Not even if you want me to.
It’s him who pulls away, and she has no sense of how long they’ve been standing like that but she presses a hand to his cheek, thumb tracing the sharp line of his cheekbone.
He’s kind of beautiful, she thinks, for the second time in as many days.
“I’m sorry,” he says after a few seconds go by.
The shadows in his eyes lessen a little at that, and she gives him a tentative smile. Then she remembers something else.
“Oh!” She grabs her book bag off the back of her chair, catching his hand in hers. “We’re going to be late!”
He lets her drag him out into the hallway, then out onto the sidewalk flanking the main road. They’re nearly half a block gone by the time he finally gives in to his curiosity.
“Um, late for what, exactly?”
“You’ll see.” She could tell him, but part of her wants to see his face when he catches sight of his sister. She misses his smile.
They round the corner to the baseball diamond just before four, in time to see a gaggle of cap-clad four year olds spread out by the cage. Jughead takes the scene in with confusion, raising an eyebrow as Betty continues to tow him toward the field.
“Is the Blue and Gold’s sports columns covering tee-ball now?” He wonders, clearly amused.
“Not exactly, I-“
One of the tiny players has broken off from the rest with a screech, careening toward them with all the determined grace of a bumblebee.
Jellybean leaps into a shocked Jughead’s arms, but he catches her automatically, tipping the brim of her cap up so he can better see her face.
She beams at him, practically vibrating with excitement. It hurts Betty’s chest to watch, in a good way for once.
“Are you here to watch my game?”
“Your…” He still looks a little shellshocked, mouth hanging open. With a small smile, Betty reaches over, pushing his mouth closed with her finger. His eyes drift over to her, questioning.
“You wouldn’t miss Jellybean’s first tee-ball game, right Jughead?” She throws him a wink over his sister’s head, and he finally catches on, his own face breaking into a wide grin.
“Of course not! Are you going to get a home run?”
“There are no home runs in tee-ball, silly.”
“Ah,” He scrunches up his nose. In a whisper, he adds, “That’s just what they tell you. Because the other kids aren’t as good as you.”
The little girl grins again, burying her head in her older brother’s neck. He cradles the back of her head with his hand, and Betty pretends not to notice when his eyes mist over.
“Jones! Where’d you go?” A stout woman in khaki pants marches toward them. Jughead sets Jellybean down, lost in thought as they both watch her run back over to the rest of her team. Betty pulls him toward the bleachers, where the rest of the parents are sitting. Gladys is there, near the top, a blue fleece draped across her lap. Jughead stops short when he sees her. When she sees him, she stands, the blanket fluttering to the ground.
His hand has tensed around hers, and Betty sighs. As much as she can’t forgive his mother for letting Jughead fall through the cracks so easily, she doesn’t want him to lose the only parent he has left. She’s beginning to understand what that feels like, and he deserves better, if anyone does.
“I’ll give you a minute.” She slides her hand out of his, wandering over to the edge of the field to watch one of Jellybean’s teammates stepping up to bat. Her team is clad in bright orange, the opposing team in blue polyester, and it brings back memories from softball that make Betty smile. She gets lost in the game, despite its ambling pace, cheering for Jellybean when she manages to knock the ball off the tee, sending it rolling toward first base.
“I didn’t know you were such a tee-ball fan.” Jughead’s voice from behind her makes her jump.
“God,” she swivels to face him. “I really should put a bell on you or something.”
“It’s not my fault you’ve got your head in the clouds,” he says with a shrug, but there’s a fond smile on his face as he says it.
She rolls her eyes. When quiet settles between them, broken only by the sound of bats on balls and the excited squeals of four year olds, she lets it. If he wants to tell her, he will. She's done shouldering her way into his life uninvited.
“Thank you.” He doesn't look at her as he says it, eyes tracking the movement of his younger sister, spinning in dreamy circles at second base.
She doesn't look at him, either.
In the past few days, Betty has come to know the various voices of Forsythe P. Jones almost alarmingly well. There’s his happy voice, his bashful voice, his ‘I relate to the world through sardonic humour’ voice. There’s an entire spectrum of voices for when he’s angry, or irritated. She’s been familiar with his ‘hungry’ voice for years, given that he’s hungry nearly all the time, and recently she’s discovered that she likes the slightly raspy voice that greets her when she wakes him up in the mornings more than she should.
But this is his ‘I have bad news’ voice. And she doesn’t like this one so much.
“What?” She asks warily, spinning on her heel from her spot over by the murder board to fix the back of his head with a nervous stare. He’s frowning at his laptop screen, but she can’t read the page he has open from here.
“D’you-uh, can you come here for a sec?”
She does, the feeling of dread that now lives permanently in her stomach pulsing to life. When she comes up behind him, the title of the webpage he’s on slips unconsciously off her lips.
“Sisters of Quiet Mercy? What’s this?”
“It’s-“ He turns to face her, elbow propped awkwardly on the desk. “Okay, don’t be mad.”
“Why would I be mad?” She asks slowly, scanning the website instead of looking at his face. “Wait, home for troubled youths…Jughead…” Her heart skips once in her chest, then takes off, fluttering like a hummingbird against her ribcage.
“I heard your mom take a phone call the other night while you were in the shower. She mentioned Polly’s name and something about having the next payment in by Monday so…when everyone was asleep I snuck down and looked at her chequebook.” He looks caught out, like she’ll chastise him for invading her mother’s privacy. Instead, she waits, not breathing. “There were these payments, one a month for the past five months. Dating back to June.”
“June.” Betty inhales sharply. “When Polly-”
“You…” She stares at him. His grey eyes, usually cast down at his feet, shuttered in sleep, or narrowed in deep skepticism, are wide and soft now. There’s a little fear there too. Fear that she’ll be angry, maybe. That he’s overstepped his boundaries. “You found her?” Her voice cracks, and then he’s on his feet, hands on her shoulders.
Steadying her. He’s been doing that a lot, lately.
“Yeah.” His voice is gentle, his everything is gentle, even the soft way his fingers curl around her arms, thumbs moving slowly back and forth over her cardigan. “Are you-”
But he doesn’t get a chance to finish his words, startled out of them when she throws her arms around him, squeezing hard enough to crush the air from his lungs.
“Thank you.” Her words are buried in his neck, but his arms wind around her, and his answering sigh is relieved. After a moment he pulls back, brushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear. She’s been wearing it down more lately. Just one of many attempts to change something, to be someone other than the person her mother has molded. The movement is surprisingly tender on Jughead, and she has to look away to keep from blushing. Not that it means anything. They’re just better friends than they used to be, that’s all.
“Do you want to see her? We can just catch the bus out to Avarice and visiting hours aren’t over until five.”
They’d have to skip class again, but that barely registers in the hurricane of emotion whirling through her head.
“Yes.” Her hands curl into the denim of his jacket. “Please.”
He reaches up, working her fingers loose from his jacket and wrapping them in his instead.
“Alright,” he gives her a quick, reassuring smile. “Let’s go.”
It’s grey, and grim, wrapped in shadows and a dampness that gives the illusion of being perpetual despite the fact that the rain started just a few seconds after they stepped off of the bus.
It’s awful, Sisters of Quiet Mercy, like a great stone fortress, a long lost relic of some depressing Catholic ghost story. Betty’s eyes fill with tears as they look up at the building, turning her head quickly to the side to hide it from Jughead. It’s just a building. It’s not worth crying over, except-
Except they haven’t even set foot inside yet and Betty kind of wants to kill herself. And Polly has been here for months.
“Hey.” Jughead has turned to look at her, clearly unsettled by her silence. “I know it’s a little more Hunchback of Notre Dame than we were expecting, but maybe it’s not so bad inside?”
“My mother put her here as punishment for embarrassing us,” Betty mumbles, eyes flitting to him for a brief second before being pulled back to the ominous stone entryway in front of them. He’s right, though, all that’s missing are the gargoyles. “I’m sure it will be worse.”
With that, she starts forward, hurrying to get inside before the last of her courage can abandon her outside with the waning dregs of sunlight. His footsteps echo dully behind her, and they push inside the heavy wooden doors to find that the inside looks more like a mental hospital than a house of God. There’s a small reception area surrounded by glass, a rounded window cut into the front for the woman sitting behind it to speak through.
Betty tries to muster a smile as she approaches her.
“Hi. My name is Elizabeth Cooper. I’m here to see my sister, Polly Cooper.”
The nun in the booth, middle aged and sour faced, squints at Betty.
“Do you have ID?”
“Uh, yeah.” Betty digs through her purse, producing a school ID and her drivers licence. Both get a thorough inspection before being handed back, and the receptionist glances at Jughead for a moment before passing Betty a clipboard through the small window.
“Sign in here. He’ll have to wait outside.”
Betty looks at him, chewing her lip. She gets the sense there’s no use arguing about it, it’s probably policy, but he’s gotten her this far. It’s strange, suddenly, to think about doing this without him. It’s beginning to feel strange to do anything without him.
Studiously ignoring what significance that might have, Betty signs the paper in front of her and pushes it back across the counter. Apparently satisfied, the receptionist stands, exiting the enclosed booth through a small side door.
“Alright, this way.”
Betty once again turns to Jughead, eyes searching his face, though she’s not sure what for. He grins, that lopsided smirk that used to fool her, the one that always seemed so supremely unconcerned with the world. But she knows him better now. There’s a crease in his forehead that gives him away. He’s worried about her.
And that alone makes her feel just the tiny bit better.
She turns and follows the nun down a dim hallway, passing several doors that she assumes are closets until she notices the tiny port-hole style windows in them, no bigger than a softball. Her gut constricts.
It’s like prison, she thinks desperately. And what was Polly’s crime?
“This is her room, but she usually spends her free hours in the garden.”
Betty swallows the urge to ask what exactly this woman means by free hours, and follows the hallway she gestured toward out into a large back garden. It’s mostly empty, but there’s a blonde girl in a grey cardigan facing away from Betty a few yards away, most of her body hidden by a rose bush.
Her feet move before her brain does, flying across the grass.
The blonde turns, her sister’s face lighting up as she sees Betty hurtling toward her. The collision isn’t entirely soft, but it’s warm, and a little teary, and they cling to each other in that way that family does, joyful and broken at the same time.
“Betty!” Polly pulls away. “You’re here!”
“I’m-” she’s about to apologize, but her eyes fall on Polly’s stomach. There’s a prominent bump under her dress, emphasized by the ribbon tied just under her bust. “Oh my god. You’re-“ She puts a hand on the bump, tears springing to her eyes again. “It’s Jason’s?”
Polly nods, a gentle smile tugging across her face. She looks pale, the rosiness Betty remembers in her cheeks faded to an ashy grey.
“I’m so sorry,” Betty says, choking on her apology as guilt climbs hot and prickly up her throat. “I should have come, I didn’t know, I should have been here-”
“It’s okay.” Polly takes her hand, leading her to a bench a few feet away. It’s a little damp, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. Betty wonders if she’s just gotten used to it, everything seems to be damp here. “I figured they would lie to keep you from coming to see me. They told me you didn’t want to visit me.” Betty opens her mouth in horror, but Polly quickly adds “I knew it wasn’t true.”
“They told me you were sick,” Betty admits. “That you…you’d gone crazy. That you tried to hurt yourself.”
Polly’s hand drifts down to her stomach, like she can protect it from the very idea of hurting the life now tied to hers.
“I shouldn’t have believed them,” She’s sick with it now, drowning in guilt. “I’m so sorry Pol.”
Polly reaches out, grabbing Betty’s hand.
“It’s okay. I know how Mom can be, trust me. When she found out I was pregnant…we were going to run away, me and Jason. He’d sold some of his stuff to raise the money, and we knew we needed to get away from our parents, but Mom caught me. She had these…men drag me into a van and-” Her voice shakes, and Betty squeezes her hand. “I just want to get out of here. I want to be with Jason, to start our family. Where does he think I am?”
Betty’s veins ice over, blood freezing her from the inside out. She can’t…they can’t have kept it from her for all this time, even her mother wouldn’t do something like that, surely. But the soft concern in Polly’s eyes, the hope still burning there, it’s-
“Polly,” Betty says quietly. Her sister stiffens immediately at the sound of her voice.
“What?” She asks sharply. “What is it?”
“Jason, he-“ It never occurred to her, when she thought about coming here, all the times she thought about reuniting with her sister. She never thought she’d have to be the one to rip her life to shreds, especially not all these months later. “He…” She can’t make the words come out. Something she said to Jughead a few days ago comes back to her.
Sometimes all we have is denial. You take that away and-I guess there are doors you can’t close again. Not ever.
“Did something happen to him?” Polly’s hand tightens painfully around Betty’s, panic swirling behind her eyes. Say no, they beg. Say he’s alright.
But she can’t.
“He died, Polly. In July. I’m-I’m so sorry.”
For a moment the words just hang between them, a guillotine above her head, and then-
Polly wrenches her hand away, jerking to her feet.
“No, he’s not-he-we’re-we were going to be a family, he promised!”
“I know.” Fighting tears of her own, Betty stands slowly, trying not to upset Polly even more. “I’m so sorry, Polly, but he’s gone.”
It almost breaks her, her older sister looking at her like that, like she’s taking everything from her. But if ever in her life she needed to be strong, it’s now. For Polly.
“He’s gone, Pol,” she says again, more softly.
“No.” Polly says, but it lacks any real conviction this time. Betty sees it barely a second before it happens, leaping forward to catch her sister in her arms as she collapses. They sink onto the grass together, Polly letting out one sob, and then another, the pair of them shaking in unison as she cries.
That dampness sets in again, from the grass and the tears, and Betty just holds Polly until her legs are soaked and freezing.
“We should get you inside,” she murmurs, aching for her. “It’s cold, and it can’t be good for the baby.”
Jason’s baby. That sends a fresh wave of grief rolling through her, but she ignores it.
Polly lets her help her up, and they limp slowly toward the door. It’s beginning to fall dark around them, and Betty wonders what time it is. As if on cue, a nun appears, different from the one earlier. She takes one look at Polly, and her face draws in outrage.
“What have you done, girl?” Her question is directed at Betty.
“I had some bad news,” Betty says, exhausted. She pushes past the nun to bring Polly inside. It’s hardly warmer there, and feels just as damp. “I think she needs a shower to warm up, we got a little wet.”
She helps Polly into her room, setting her down on the bed.
“Visiting hours are over. I’ll see to it that she gets a shower.”
Betty blanches at that.
“I can’t leave her,” she says, indignant. Both of them cast a glance at the sodden pregnant woman on the bed, silent, eyes glazed.
“You can’t stay. She’ll be fine here.”
“She needs me!”
“She needs rest! And quiet! All you’ve done is upset her!”
Betty gapes at that, at the nerve-
“All I did was tell her the truth! Which might not have been so bad if she didn’t also have to find out that everyone has been lying to her for months!”
The nun bristles, her pouchy brown eyes narrowing in annoyance.
“I won’t be spoken to like that-“
“I’m not leaving my sister!”
For a brief moment, the nun looks as though she might shout back. Instead, she sweeps from the room, leaving Betty with her chest heaving.
Remembering Polly, Betty turns to her, heart breaking all over again at the picture of her sister sitting lost on the small bed.
“I think…part of me knew.”
Betty sits down beside her, the ancient bed squeaking under her weight.
“What do you mean?”
Polly stares at the wall, unblinking, fingers tangling in the bedspread.
“I never really believed Jason would let our parents keep him away from me for this long, I…I just didn’t want to think…”
“Shh.” Betty wraps her arms around Polly, stroking her hair. Despite her pregnant belly, she feels thin and frail against the gentle pressure of the embrace, and Betty has to stop herself from squeezing harder. “What do you say we get you a nice hot shower?”
She gets a small nod in response.
“The bathroom is down the hall, I can go by myself.”
“Polly-” Betty protests, but her sister gets to her feet, backing slowly away from the bed.
“I need a minute to just-to just be by myself, Betty. Please.” It strikes Betty then, how sharp her cheekbones have become, the dark circles dragging under her eyes, the ghostly pallor of her face. Her features are shadowed in grief now, eyes looking anywhere but Betty.
“Okay,” Betty says softly. “I’ll be here when you get out.”
Polly nods, bundling a towel and a dressing gown in her arms before shuffling from the room. Deciding that at least gives her a few minutes to see if Jughead is still here, Betty walks back to the reception area, eyes scanning for anyone else that might be looking to drag her bodily from the building as she goes.
He’s still there. She sags in relief at the sight of him. He’s sitting on the floor, back against the wall, beanie pulled down over his eyes.
“Juggie?” She crouches next to him, tugging his beanie up to see if he’s asleep. He isn’t.
“Betty? Did you see her? What happened?”
She collapses onto the floor next to him, head dropping onto his shoulder.
If the way he tenses under her is any indication, that was not what he expected her to say.
Betty nods against his collarbone.
“Yeah. Jughead, she didn’t know. My parents didn’t tell her.” Quiet rage simmers under her skin as her thoughts circle back to that fact, to the hope still shining in her sister’s eyes when she asked about her fiance.
“Fuck. That’s…cruel. Even for Alice.”
“I know.” Her eyes drift shut, and she sighs with the realization that Polly’s face will be tattooed on the inside of her eyelids now, the betrayal on her features as it all comes crashing down. “I’m going to stay with her tonight, you should go home.”
He moves, jostling her, and when she looks up he’s frowning at her.
“Is that allowed?”
“No.” Her face tells him all he needs to know, apparently, and he smiles despite the heavy mood.
“It would be weird to be there without you, I-”
They jump, Betty landing on her feet, Jughead landing in a heap on the floor, both staring up at the approaching Alice Cooper in horror.
“Mom! What are you-”
“I pay the Sisters good money,” Alice hisses, hand snaking out to wrap around Betty’s wrist. “You think they wouldn’t tell me if my daughter gets a visitor?”
Her grip is bruising, bony fingers digging into Betty’s skin, but she can barely feel it. What she can feel is the shock of anger, sharp and searing as it surges through her veins. She can taste it, on the tip of her tongue, like blood and electricity. She’s never been this angry, she recognizes vaguely, somewhere in the back of her mind where all logical thought has taken up hiding.
“Let go of me.” She tears her arm from her mother’s grasp, so violently it leaves trails of red where Alice’s nails drag across her skin.
“We are leaving,” Alice says under her breath. She’s angry too, and it’s obvious that she expects that to be enough. It usually is. But her anger can’t compete with her daughter’s, not this time.
“I’m not going anywhere. Polly needs me. She needs a lot of things, since you dragged her here and locked her up. You lied to her, and to me, and you-how could you not tell her?” The words fall between them, dripping from her lips like acid, corroding what’s left of the pretence of their family.
“I don’t how to have to explain myself to you.” Alice glances around, wary of a scene. That Jughead is there, watching the whole thing with hate-curled lips, doesn’t even seem to register. His opinion doesn’t matter, obviously. “I’m your mother, and I am telling you that we’re leaving.”
Betty digs her heels in, already anticipating the claw that comes out to wrap around her arm, squeezing an already bruising wrist.
“I’m not,” she says simply. She’s afraid to say more, afraid of what might come out. That their family is dysfunctional goes without saying. But all this time she’s forgiven her parents for locking Polly up, believing that it was for her own protection. Her own good. Because she was sick.
And that was a lie. All of it.
Everything is lies.
“Elizabeth,” Alice says again, a warning. Her eyes narrow in threat, of what’s waiting for her at home. Not violence, never that, despite the red tracks and purple ring under her fingers now. But Alice Cooper has a tongue like a carving knife, razor sharp and wielded like the weapon she’s spent so many years honing it to be.
“I’m not leaving her. She’s devastated,” Betty spits the last word, wanting to brand it there, somewhere on her mothers skin. “She just found out that her fiancé, the father of her baby, has been dead for months. And unlike you, I want to make sure she’s going to be okay. So no, Mom, I’m not leaving.”
Jughead’s shoulder brushes hers then, and she blinks. She’s not sure when he got so close, doesn’t even remember him getting to his feet, but he feels like an army beside her. Alice opens her mouth, to insist again that they leave, probably, but another voice rings out instead.
Three heads whip around, finding Polly standing in the hallway, her strawberry blonde hair hanging nearly to her waist, dripping on the floor. She’s changed into a long nightgown, her robe tied over top, and she’s staring at Alice as though she’s never seen her before.
“How could you?!” This, Betty realizes, she should have seen coming. Polly launches herself at Alice, a blur of blonde hair and water and splintered, anguished rage. Jughead reacts before she can, jumping between them and catching Polly as gently as he can by the waist. She’s the picture of everything she’s supposed to be then, writhing and screaming and all but climbing over him an effort to get to the woman who put her here.
Like magic, two broad men in white uniforms appear, jerking her like a rag doll from Jughead’s grasp and towing her back down the hallway.
“No!” She shrieks. “Betty!”
“Polly,” Alice just makes a broken noise, clapping a hand to her mouth. Betty leaps after them, wrapping her arms around Polly’s neck with as much force as she dares.
“I’m going to get you out of here,” She promises. “I swear to god, Pol.”
And then Polly’s gone, dragged so suddenly from Betty’s embrace that she falls face first onto the cold tile floor.
He’s not quick enough to catch her this time, but Jughead helps her up, inspecting the marks on her wrist with disgust in his eyes.
“Are you alright?” His voice is so soft after all the screaming that she almost cries.
“I’m fine.” She pulls her hand away, letting the sleeve of her jacket fall to cover the bruises he won’t stop staring at.
They both look over at Alice, Jughead taking the tiniest step in front of Betty. She could hide behind him, she thinks he’d let her, and oh there’s a part of her that wants to. But-
“It’s over, Juggie.”
He stares at her, incredulous.
“For now, it’s over.” In a voice too low for her mother to hear, she adds, “We need a real plan. We can…we’ll talk about it at home.”
His eyes search her face, for…a sign that she’s given up, maybe? For something else? She’s not sure, but he seems satisfied after a moment, nodding.
“Okay.” His fingers brush her chin, and it’s such a small thing, but it grounds her.
And then he’s gone too, presumably to huddle under the uncovered bus stop and wait for the next 97B line back into Riverdale.
It’s not a big space, this front room.
And yet, the distance between Betty and Alice as they take each other in, in the wake of something that feels unrepairable, is unending.
Wordlessly, Betty traces Jughead’s path out, back prickling with the sensation that her mother is there, following.
The car ride home is just as silent. It’s not that Betty doesn’t have anything to say, but there are lines you can’t come back from, and the words barely clinging to the tip of her tongue are ones she doesn’t want to have in common with her mother.
She doesn’t want to be like her.
So she sits in the passenger’s seat, watching the deep green of the forest darken as it’s overtaken by shadows in the twilight, and finally admits that she knows what it’s like to truly hate the person who brought her into this world.
So, since I know we're all missing Riverdale this week, how about a new chapter of Gun Song to tide you over? I know it's not the same but...it's something. I hope you all are having a lovely day and a good week and staying hydrated.
It’s been a long time since Jughead has felt so utterly disappointed in the universe. He learned, long ago, that there is a wisdom in expectations that drag on the ground and a secure box in the back of your mind where all things you need and want can be stuffed and left to suffocate.
He was disappointed when his father fell in with the Serpents. It puts a roof over your head, son, don’t be ungrateful.
He was disappointed when his mother and father separated, but he was relieved too, tired of worrying about Jellybean and the way her mouth would tightly set, even as a newborn, like she was already prepared to spend the rest of her life with a stiff upper lip and her older brother’s cynicism.
He wasn’t disappointed when his mother married Tony. Or when Archie let a fifteen year friendship wither and die, or when Jason Blossom was murdered.
He just exists in it, now, that state of detached observation, like the world can’t quite reach him where he sits now, on some metaphorical brick wall, legs swinging as he watches the rest of the town scramble in terror beneath him. He sits, and he notices, and he writes.
But he’s given up on being disappointed.
That is, until Betty. Until she let him pretend that there was something he could offer her that night at Pop’s, like it might actually comfort her to be near him. Until she talked him onto the Blue and Gold, as though she knew he was losing his last memories of what human interaction really feels like and she was throwing him a lifeline. Until she found him, soaking wet, in the middle of a hurricane, and dragged him unrelentingly into a warm bed and a murder investigation and a partnership that hardly makes any sense at all in its sudden and overwhelming centrality in his life.
Now, as he rounds the corner to her street, he feels a wave of disappointment, of indignance so acute it nearly knocks him off his feet.
How is it possible that life has treated Elizabeth Cooper so unkind?
He replays the scene from the group home over in his head, Polly’s screaming and Betty’s soft, lethal words, and the way Alice’s hand curled like a shackle around her daughter’s wrist. She’d left marks there, bruises and tiny red crescent moons from where her fingernails dug in, he’d seen them.
It’s not right. No, more than that, it’s unacceptable.
And it’s been a long time since Jughead has found anything unacceptable.
He’s gotten good at scaling the side of her house. It’s a wonder, really, that Archie hasn’t caught sight of him hanging from the Cooper’s drainpipe at some point. But then, observation has never really been his strong suit.
She left her window unlocked, like she always does, and it’s just now occurring to him that maybe she shouldn’t be doing that while Jason’s killer is still roaming free on the streets of Riverdale somewhere. He’s grateful for it now, though, as he slides it open, crawling through to find her splayed limp across her mattress.
“Hey, Juliet.” She doesn’t answer. “Betty?”
He tiptoes toward the bed, unsure if she’s asleep. Her big blue eyes flit toward him, and she scoots over to make room.
“They’re crazy,” she sighs. He’s certainly not going to argue with that.
“They’re parents,” he points out, sinking onto the mattress beside her. “They’re all crazy.”
“What if I’m crazy too?”
He’s not sure she meant to say that out loud, but decides to respond to it anyways.
“Then you’re crazy.” He rolls onto his side, scrutinizing her face to get a better sense of her mood. “Want to know a secret?”
She nods at the ceiling.
“I’m crazy too,” he whispers. When the corners of her mouth turn up, just the slightest bit, he sends back a relieved smile of his own. “We’re all crazy,” he adds.
Small towns surely more than most.
“I can’t let them keep Polly in that place.”
“I know.” It seemed like purgatory to him, and he never even got past the receptionist. He waits, wondering if a plan will follow. It doesn’t, and he rolls onto his back. Her ceiling isn’t nearly as interesting as she’s currently making it seem. Eventually, she’s the one to break the silence.
“If I’m Juliet, does that make you Romeo?”
His heart stutters, and he has no idea why.
“I hope not.” He folds his hands behind his head. “Romeo dies.”
“So does Juliet,” she reminds him.
“Oh,” he remembers, throat suddenly dry. “Right.”
“I’ve been thinking.”
“A dangerous pastime.” He doesn’t even look up from his laptop as he replies, fingers closing around one of her fries and snaking it off her plate. He doesn’t need to be able to see her to know that she rolls her eyes at that.
“I think you need to tell Archie.”
This time, he does look up at her, frowning.
“Tell him what?”
That earns him a confused tut.
“About your…living situation.”
“Oh.” He was halfway toward stealing another fry, but his appetite suddenly dries up. “You finally sick of me?”
“What?” That seems to surprise her. “No, it’s-I just don’t know how long I’m even going to be able to stay at my house after…you know.” Her eyes drop to the table.
“Ah.” He finally realizes what this is about.
“And I know you and Archie are in a weird place right now, but-we both know he’d want to know you were alright. I want to know that you’re alright.”
“I’m fine, Betty.”
“I meant that I want to make sure you won’t be sleeping at the bus stop again if I-if we have to leave.”
He hadn’t really considered this, if he’s being honest. His arrangement with Betty had always been temporary, sure, but it’s not him that he’s worried about now. If she leaves her parents’ house, voluntarily or not, where will she go?
“Okay…” He says thoughtfully, knowing she won’t let it drop until he agrees anyways. “But what about you?”
“What about me?” It doesn’t seem like she even means to be flippant, her gaze now lost somewhere outside the window of their booth. He can’t help an exasperated sigh at that.
“I don’t blame you for wanting to get away from your parents,” he says, waiting until her gaze drifts back toward him to continue. “In fact, I encourage it. But where exactly would you go? Archie might be happy to let you crash, too, but I’m not sure how many strays Fred can fit in the basement.”
“He’s not going to put you in the basement,” Betty murmurs, her lips twitching. “And I dunno. It seems like anything would be better than having to stay there…looking at them and knowing everything they’ve done to Polly. I can’t believe anything they say anymore.”
He raises his eyebrows.
“Do I need to be worried about you sleeping at a bus stop? That doesn’t exactly sound like a plan.”
Betty makes a noise of frustration, dropping her chin into her hands.
“I don’t know, Juggie. Once I get Polly out of that group home she can’t exactly go back to living with my parents either.”
“And then there’s the baby,” he adds, his appetite reappearing as he steals another handful of fries. Her mouth drops open.
“Oh, god. I completely forgot about the baby. Where are they going to live? What are we going to do?”
“Hey.” He reaches out, hand settling reassuringly on her arm. “We’re going to figure it out, okay? I promise.”
She looks up at him through her lashes, which, god those are long, how has he never noticed that before?
“People are always saying that,” she murmurs. “‘We’re going to figure it out, it’s going to be okay’. But sometimes it’s not. I feel…I feel like maybe this time it’s not.”
She sounds so hopeless, then. And he-he can’t allow that.
“This time it will.” He doesn’t mean it to come out quite so intensely, and her eyes widen a little in surprise. His hand slides up her arm to cup her cheek, and to his surprise she tilts her head, leaning into his touch.
There’s been this…something, there, in the back of his mind for the past few weeks. At first it was just a draw to her, like a moon in orbit, this unquenchable desire to be near her. He chalked it up to her sunny disposition, figured maybe someone like him needed someone light like her to even him out.
But lately…lately it’s been more. The need to be near her has grown into this strange need to touch her, to sit close enough that their legs brush, to lean over her shoulder and let their arms press together. It’s new for him, and he’d almost wonder why he’s fighting so hard to keep those feelings at bay.
But he doesn’t have to dig deep to answer that. It’s not a mystery.
Betty loves Archie. That fact is one of the few constants of the universe, like gravity, and the way you’re never quite going to feel like you got enough sleep on a Monday.
And Archie loves Betty, too.
Jughead wasn’t sure of that, before. He can’t really be sure of it now either, but after their moment over breakfast he has his suspicions.
Besides, how could he not? The sweet, beautiful, fiercely loyal girl who’s too good for all of them, too good for her life.
He has no illusions. The cheerleader and the heartthrob football player end up together. He knows that. The faux-edgy, homeless outcast isn’t even in the picture.
So why does that glimmer of something contrary, that tiny but persistent flame in the deep dark of his chest, refuse to go out?
He’s smarter than that.
Or, at least, he used to be.
They’re eating lunch when she kicks his foot under the table.
“I’m going to get another coke,” she announces, sending him a pointed look. “V, you want one?”
She probably doesn’t, but she’s nothing if not observant, so she stands and follows the blonde in a straight line back towards the cafeteria. Archie isn’t so observant, and takes another bite out of his apple, eyes trained on the marching band practicing on the field.
It’s not that Jughead is afraid to tell him. He’s just not looking forward to the pitying stare, or explaining that he’s been living at Betty’s, or asking for a favour in general. But this is Archie, and as much space may have grown between them this past year, he was still Jughead’s best friend once. Might even still be, somewhere underneath all the rubble of the summer.
The redhead looks back at him, still chewing. He makes a munching noise in response.
“I, uh-” He can feel the flush crawling up his neck, the heat of it licking at his jaw. Betty would tell him not to be embarrassed, but-
Betty tells him a lot of things. She has expectations. Something no one has had, not of him, not in a long time. And it’s been even longer since he’s felt remotely like living up to them.
“I was wondering if I could crash at your place for a while.” There. It’s out. He can’t take it back, not even if a loud and squirming piece of him wants to.
Archie blinks at him, taking the time to swallow. And process.
“Yeah, Jug, of course. Why…what’s going on?” His ginger brow draws down, that rare crease of real concern forming on his forehead. He’s an easy guy, Archie Andrews. Give him a football, or a pretty girl, a guitar. He’s happy. Pushing aside the emotional trauma he’s still burying from his relationship with Grundy, anyway. Jughead picks at the remnants of Betty’s chicken fingers, trying to come up with the least pathetic sounding version of this story. He should have done this ahead of time, he just…he was putting it off. Trying not think about it.
But he’s been putting it off so successfully that now he has to start from near the beginning. The whole sordid tale in one go, and it’s just-well. All there is to do is start.
“Tony kind of kicked me out.” Seems as good a place as any, though it’s an understatement. “He, uh, did the usual fit of apoplectic rage over nothing, and told me to get lost. My mom tried to talk to him but-it was just better if I left. He seems to get more worked up when I’m there, and with Jellybean getting older I just..I don’t want her to remember that, you know?”
Archie is staring at him with wide eyes now, like he’s realizing that this is more significant than one of the countless weekends when Jughead just needed a few days away from his parents’ yelling, from his father’s drinking. It’s permanent.
“Just,” Jughead holds up a hand. He has to get through this in one go, or he’ll lose his nerve. And, honestly, once he’s told the story to Archie he’d rather not talk about it again. “There’s something else. My dad…he’s not good either. He fell off the wagon after Mom married Tony and never really got back on. It’s not even worth it to tell him, he’d probably end up at the house starting something with Tony and getting himself arrested. Anyways,” he pauses to take a breath. “I was living at the Twilight, but it, you know.”
“The Twilight closed over a month ago, Jughead.” Archie looks alarmed now, as he processes all this, and that’s an expression that’s positively foreign on his chiseled features, causing Jughead’s stomach to flip uncomfortably.
The admission that he’s been sleeping a wall away from Betty for the past couple weeks sticks like a thistle in his throat. The hard part was supposed to be admitting that his family has fallen to pieces, that he’s essentially homeless. That he’s been living at the Cooper’s shouldn’t feel like something illicit. Like he’s done something wrong.
“Where have you been living, man? At the school?”
“For a while I did,” he says, nodding. “And then Sven found the window I’d been sneaking in through and fixed the lock. So, uh…I’ve been staying at Betty’s since then.”
Archie’s face twists in confusion.
“Betty’s? But…I mean her mom-“
“Doesn’t know.” Jughead’s own face tugs into a bitter smile. “Yeah, she would freak out if she found out. Which is kind of why it’s not a great long-term option.”
“Well you can definitely stay with us. I’ll talk to my dad after school, but I know he won’t mind.” Archie assures him. And it’s done, just like that. All that build-up, all that worry, for nothing. Maybe Archie has been feeling it too, this guilt, like they owe it to their decade long friendship to fix things. They were like brothers once. Jughead isn’t sure they can ever get that back, but ever since Betty brought it up that night he can’t stop thinking that he wants to try.
“Thanks man.” Jughead blows out a breath. He pulls his phone from his jean pocket, and answers Archie’s raised eyebrow with- “Might as well text Betty and tell her it’s safe to come back. She’s been wanting me to tell you for ages.”
A shadow flickers across Archie’s face at that, but it’s gone so quickly Jughead’s not sure if he imagined it.
“Has that been weird? I mean staying with her. You two were never that close.” Archie asks. It's innocent, or it should be, and Jughead isn't at all sure why it sends a flash of irritation crawling up his spine.
“Not really.” He says. “We’re…it's fine. It's Betty, you know how she is. She found me sleeping at a bus stop and-” he waves a hand vaguely. “Here we are.”
“Yeah.” Archie takes another bite of his apple. “Jug?”
“Mmm.” His own mouth is full of chicken fingers when he hums in response. They've had a lot of conversations over the years that involved him eating through some monologue of Archie’s, whether about a girl, or football, or any of the various everyday dramas that seem to flock to his friend like moths to a porch light. Apparently this isn’t one of those times, though, if the next thing out of Archie’s mouth is any indication.
“Why didn't you tell me?”
He feels a little like a deer in headlights, then, blinking at his former best friend. There’s real hurt on Archie’s features, and it surprises Jughead that that feels shitty. He clears his throat.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t going to tell anyone. It was just kind of a fluke that Betty saw me.”
The other boy looks skeptical.
“Look, man, if it was about this summer-“
“It wasn’t,” he says, although he’s not entirely sure that’s true.
“I never actually said that,” Archie adds. And it’s sincere, as most things he says are. “But I am. And I, uh, I miss being friends.”
It’s a little sappy, for them, but maybe they were so overdue for a little affection that it was inevitable. The apology hangs there, for a moment, while Jughead thinks.
“We are friends,” he says, not unkindly.
“Not really,” Archie quirks an eyebrow at him. “Not like we were.”
“No,” Jughead sighs, slumping in his seat. Maybe it’s time to stop fighting this. To stop fighting absolutely every person who tries to pry their way into his life. “Not like we were. And I’m sorry too.” He is. He has been. It’s just never been relevant before now.
“Friends?” Archie offers.
“Roomies,” Jughead counters, wiggling his eyebrows. Archie grins back at him, and it feels a little like before. It feels good.
When Betty and Veronica reappear, bringing soda and tales of Kevin locked in the midst of some explosive catfight with Cheryl, the blonde sits next to him, fixing him with a questioning glare.
“I’m fine,” he says, a whisper in her ear as he leans so close he can smell her strawberry shampoo and that faint scent of vanilla and motor oil that clings to her though he still hasn’t figured out where it comes from. “We’re good.”
She pulls back with a smile, bright and toothy and happy, and it almost knocks the air from his chest.
As the lunch hour wears on, he decides it’s a good thing his time in the Cooper house is coming to an end. Because Betty is the only thing in his life that’s actually steady right now, though she’s pushed him to repair his relationship with Archie and he’s finally beginning to be grateful for that.
And this growing need to touch her, these decidedly unsteady feelings that have started appearing whenever she's near him, they threaten that. Threaten what they have now. Something he's not prepared to lose.
All he can hope for now is that a little distance will be enough to shake those unwanted feelings loose.
“What's weird?” He wonders, throwing his last t-shirt into his backpack and zipping it shut. Betty had insisted on washing his clothes before sending him off to the Andrews’, because it's a house full of men and who knows if they even know how to do laundry. He'd pointed out that Mary had been gone for years, and neither Archie nor Fred seem to be lacking for clean clothes, but she'd waved him off. He knows by now that the best thing to do when she gets like this is just to go along with it.
“I mean, it's going to be weird. Not having you here.”
He stops, straightening up to fix her with a quizzical look.
“I'll be right across the street. Besides, I'm sure you're sick of having me around all the time anyway. You'll finally have some time to yourself with me lurking in the corner.” He's only half joking. It's been gnawing at him, the idea that she's too nice to say anything and this whole plan to get him to reconcile with Archie was just a ploy to get away from him. She doesn't seem to resent his presence in her house, but then, she's Betty. She's too polite for that.
“You don't lurk,” she sighs, flopping down on her bed. He's been keeping most of his clothes and stuff in her room, figuring it would be easier to explain their presence in Betty's room than Polly’s if Alice were to find them. “And I'm not sick of you, Juggie. I'm actually going to miss you.”
Her confession tugs dangerously at his chest, and he forces his answering smile not to be too wide.
“Going soft on me, Cooper?”
She wrinkles her nose, then laughs.
“Maybe a little.”
“I won’t miss your snoring,” he says, because it’s not like he can say what he’s really thinking. She gasps in outrage, sitting bolt upright on the bed.
“I do not snore!”
“Oh? How would you know? You sleep through it.”
“Forsythe Pendleton Jones III!” She gets to her feet, shoving a pink painted fingertip into his chest. “You take that back.”
His hand snakes out to catch her finger, and without meaning to, the rest of their fingers lace together.
“I will not. It’s true. Like a lawnmower.” He’s looking slightly down at her, like he can whenever she’s in bare feet. Her lashes are darkened with whatever unnecessary makeup she always puts on for school, a few freckles still dotting her nose from her deep tan still lingering from the summer. Her electric blue eyes have always been just on the right side of abnormally large, like permanent doe-eyes. It works to her advantage, he knows. She can get a lot of people to do a lot of things just by batting them a few times. He’s certainly turned out to be one of them. Her pink lips curve, almost unwillingly, and he knows she’s trying to fight the smile.
She’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.
He steps away like he’s been burned. They’re so close to getting back to normal, to him moving in with Archie and putting some much needed distance between them. He can’t afford to slide any deeper down this path before then.
She blinks at his sudden movement, the budding smile turning downwards.
“I should get going, before your parents get home.”
“Um,” she bites her lip. “Okay.”
“Thanks,” he adds. “You didn’t-I really appreciate you letting me stay here. It was a lot nicer than the bus stop would have been.”
Instead of laughing, she winces.
“Of course, Juggie. I just…I wish you would have felt like you could come to me. I know you have your pride, we all do, but I-” she breaks off, like whatever she was going to say, she’s thought better of it. “I’m here for you. I care about you. You know that, right?”
It’s his turn to stare at her, dumbfounded.
“I-“ he thinks back to when she’d asked him whether they could ever go back to how they were before. The surprise he’d felt at knowing she valued their friendship that much. It hits him again, that warm feeling, so unfamiliar. “Yeah, Bets. I do.”
He wants to say it back. But he’s not sure that’s what will come out if he opens his mouth just now.
“I’ll see you at school tomorrow,” he manages instead, hiking his backpack a little higher on his shoulder. She doesn’t look disappointed. If she is, she hides it well. Absently, he thinks that they’ve both gotten pretty good at that.
“Okay,” she says again, softly. “Bye Jug.”
“Bye,” he mumbles, turning for the stairs.
She doesn’t walk him out.
It’s not that he was expecting Fred to turn him away. Archie’s father has always been good to him, better to him, certainly, than his own. But when he steps through the Andrews’ front door to see Fred hauling an air mattress down the hallway, he stares.
“Hey, Jug,” Fred says. “The guest room is full of stuff for the company right now, but we’ll get it cleaned out this weekend. Until then you’re bunking with Archie.”
“Okay.” Jughead says, following him down the hall into Archie’s bedroom. When Fred moves to connect the pump to the mattress, Jughead stops him. “I can do that.”
“Oh.” Fred blinks. “Sure.”
“And, uh,” Jughead licks his lips, mouth dry. “Thanks, Mr. Andrews.”
“You’re always welcome here.” Fred claps a hand on his shoulder, and it’s something FP has done a million times, but for the first time, it actually feels steadying like it’s meant to. “I mean it, Jughead. I don’t know what’s going on with your stepdad, Archie only told me a little. But you can stay here as long as you want.”
“Thanks,” his voice cracks on the word, but Fred is kind enough to pretend not to notice.
“Dinner’s in half an hour.” Fred turns toward the door. “Archie’s in the garage.”
And that’s that.
Jughead was lying when he said Betty snores. Archie, on the other hand, actually does.
He sighs, rolling over to catch the first few meagre rays of sun filtering through the window as the redhead on the bed beside him lets out a particularly loud snort. It doesn’t usually bother him, but he woke up a few minutes ago with an unsettled feeling and no recollection of his dream, and now he can’t get back to sleep. Archie sawing logs a foot away from him isn’t exactly helping.
He grabs his phone from where it was charging on the ground, and groans at the time. Its just past six. Too early to be awake, but…he doubts he’ll fall back asleep before his alarm goes off. Rubbing his face to try and shake the last dregs of sleep, he gets to his feet. If he were home, he’d make himself an early breakfast. But he doesn’t yet feel comfortable waltzing into the Andrews’ kitchen and helping himself, so instead he swipes a pack of Newports from his backpack, stuffing them into his back jeans pocket as he pulls them on. It looks cold enough out, with the mist swirling to cut up the dark, that he grabs his denim jacket too.
It might have been a while since he slept here, but he remembers that the third stair from the top creaks, and to jump over the hollow spot as he walks through the hallway to the front door. He remembers a lot of things about this house, having spent half his tumultuous childhood hiding out while Fred pretended not to be concerned every time Jughead was called home.
The cold air hits him like a punch as he steps outside, but it feels good, waking him up. He pulls out a cigarette, and barely has it lit when he spots a familiar blonde ponytail swinging toward him.
“Betty?” The little white stick wobbles on his word, and she looks up from the ground in surprise. As she gets closer he can hear her panting, and from the way a few loose curls are sticking to her neck, he surmises she’s just getting back from a run.
“Juggie? What are you doing?” Her cheeks are red, whether from the cold or exertion he can’t be sure, and it just makes the blue of her eyes stand out all the more as they narrow in confusion.
“Couldn’t sleep.” He catches the cigarette between his fingers, tugging it from his lips. “Are you getting back from a run already? What time did you get up?”
He knows she’s usually in the shower by the time he’d get up in the morning, but he hadn’t realized she had usually already gone for a run and come back, too.
“Uh, I don’t know. I didn’t look.” She shifts on her feet, eyes not meeting his. She’s lying.
“Uh-huh.” He won’t push it, though his curiosity is certainly piqued. As his eyes drift downward, he realizes she’s wearing that damn Pacman shirt again.
“So,” she’s still a little breathless. “How’s Archie’s?”
“It’s fine. He snores louder than you do, though.” He takes a long drag, noting the way her eyes follow the movement to his lips. Betty rolls her eyes.
“I don’t snore,” she mutters. “And when are you going to give those up?”
She gestures at the smoke in his hand. He raises an eyebrow.
“I thought we decided you were going to lay off the lectures,” he says tiredly, taking another long drag just to annoy her. It works, her delicate brows furrowing.
“But if you get cancer and die who’ll work on the Blue and Gold with me?” She replies, though it’s only half hearted. Her mind has wandered on him again, he can tell.
“I don’t think it works that fast,” he points out. “I’m sure we’ll be well into our thirties before the cancer gets me, don’t worry. You’ll be president or something by then, you won’t miss me.”
It’s a joke, but her bottom lip juts out, and she catches it between her teeth. For a second, he imagines catching it between his teeth instead, thinks she probably tastes like vanilla and sin, then slams a mental wall down on that line of thought. He can’t go there. Betty is in love with Archie, and all that will bring him is pain when Archie finally pulls his head out of his ass to realize he returns the feeling.
“Oh? You wouldn’t be my Vice?”
He shakes his head, blowing a stream of smoke behind him to keep it out of her face.
“I think Veronica would be better suited to that. I’m more like…the guy who creeps around and digs up dirt on the opposition. Or the custodial staff.”
She rolls her eyes, then claps her hands suddenly, eyes bright again.
“You could be my speechwriter!”
And, okay, that actually would probably work. Except that-
“You know it's not real, right Bets?”
She waves that off, a mere technicality. He just raises his cigarette back to his mouth, inhaling and relishing the acrid burn down his throat. It always feels a little like punishing himself, which is one of the reasons he started. Now he's just too tired to deal with the unpleasantness of quitting. Besides, it feeds his reputation for being moody and unapproachable.
“I started reading Jason's journal.”
He blinks at her sudden change in topic, then frowns.
“I thought you were morally opposed to that.” She’d made a big production of that fact when he'd tried to convince her to let him read it, reminding him of how violated she felt when her mother read hers, and the chaos that followed. It's their only lead, has stayed their only lead for over a week, but he couldn't bring himself to force her hand.
Apparently he didn't need to.
“I was.” She sighs. “But ever since Polly…I've been thinking about how my nephew will never get to meet his father. And right now that journal could be the only lead we have,” she adds, parroting his thoughts. “I owe it to them, both of them, to find out what happened to him. I think he'd understand.”
He's not sure if she's right, had never really had any interest in getting to know Jason Blossom that well when he was alive, but he'll take any reason if it means they can move forward with the investigation.
“So?” He prompts. “What does it say?” He's itching to get his own hands on it, but this is more personal for her. Now more than ever.
“Not a lot,” The tips of her ears are beginning to turn red, and he realizes she's probably starting to cool down from her run. “So far it’s just been about Polly and how frustrated he is with his parents for constantly trying to break them up. But I only got about halfway through.”
“Okay.” He gestures toward the house with his shoulder. “You wanna come in? It’s kind of cold out here and I was going to make some coffee.”
She glances at the house, but shakes her head.
“That’s okay, I’ve got to shower before school anyways.”
“Okay,” he says again. It hasn’t even been a day and it already feels strange to be spending his morning apart from her. But then, that’s just a reminder of why he needs to do exactly that. He’s getting too close, too comfortable.
“I’ll see you at school, Jughead.”
He nods, watching her jog up the walk and disappear inside. As he strains to make her out through the mist, he realizes how thick it’s suddenly gotten. Like a layer of cloud has seeped into the town, blinding them.
It doesn’t feel right. And even as he walks back inside the house, slumping against the countertop as the smell of coffee fills the kitchen, he can’t quite shake the sense that while he can’t remember much of his nightmare, he’s certain there was fog there too.
Hello friends! Here's another chapter (this one is Betty again)! I know I originally said this fic was going to be predominantly from Juggie's point of view, but it seems to be coming out fairly even. There are just certain scenes which are more meaningful from one particular point of view, so I've had to keep that in mind while writing. This may change later, who knows? Not me, that's for sure.
Anyways, hope you like it!
P.S. Is it confusing switching back and forth? Would you guys prefer I started just adding whose perspective each chapter is from at the beginning? Let me know.
P.P.S. Your comments and feedback are amazing, you're amazing, love you all.
She can’t stop going back to the river.
What started as an accident has become something of an obsession. Every morning, rain or…fog, she gets up early and runs out to Sweetwater. There hasn’t been a sunny morning yet.
It’s like a magnetic pull, a siren song in the water, even as she stands on the shore and stares out at the churning water she can’t help the way all her weight rocks onto her toes. There’s something out there. She doesn’t know how she knows, but she does. She can feel it.
But the current whips around the bend, smashing waves against rock, and she’s not brave or stupid enough to wade out into it. Not yet, anyway.
Frustrated, she turns back for home. She’s barely been sleeping since the visit to Sisters of Quiet Mercy, and it’s only gotten worse in the weeks since Jughead moved into Archie’s. October is slowly fading into November, the already icy winds cutting at her skin as she jogs back along the gravel road.
She’s starting to crawl out of her skin with impatience. No matter how she angles it, her mother has legal authority over whether or not Polly stays in that home. Unbeknownst to both of them, Alice had filed to have Polly declared mentally incompetent, and now she holds the right to keep Polly locked up for as long as she wants. And if that revelation hadn’t made Betty’s face turn red with rage (it had), the next bomb Jughead dropped would certainly have done the job.
“She can take the baby, Bets. Legally…this sets Polly up to be an unfit guardian automatically. Your mom could take the baby and give it away.”
He’d been careful with his words, knowing how delicate all this was, but she’d just stared at the documents on his screen, scanned into some administrative health network somewhere that she’s sure he didn’t exactly access legally.
The baby. This is all…it’s not possible her mother hadn’t known what she was doing all along. She must have known Polly would do anything to keep the baby, and instead of fighting fair…
Just thinking about it makes her blood pressure spike, already elevated from the strain of her running, and she begins to feel a little light headed. They can’t just check Polly out, which leaves them only one option. They have to break her out. And that-
It brings its own complications. They have no money, they have nowhere to send her. She can’t stay in town, not when Alice will come looking for her. Even if they could somehow find the funds to smuggle her out, somewhere far away, she’d be completely on her own. And raising a baby at eighteen is hard enough without having to do it alone in a town where you have no friends, no family. She’d be a fugitive, essentially. Is that any way to live? Is it any way to raise a child?
Her thoughts carry her all the way back to her driveway, and she starts when she sees Jughead at the end of it. She hasn’t seen him up this early since that first day, nearly two weeks ago. He raises his eyebrows in greeting as she jogs over to him, fiddling with the lid on his pack of Newports.
She gives him a hard time about it, the smoking. But the truth is as hard as she tries to condition herself to hate it, to know it’s slowly killing him, she can’t deny he looks good like this. Maybe it’s just the rebel in her, knowing how much her mother hates smoking but not being willing to take up the habit herself. But his grey eyes smile at her now, and the cigarette hangs out of the corner of his mouth, and after spending so much time together that smell is so familiar it feels a little like home.
She shouldn’t find it sexy, so she tells herself she doesn’t.
“It’s nice that we’re both so health conscious,” she says, giving him a stern look. His face lights up in a grin, and it makes her stomach flip in a way that used to be reserved for Archie.
“Oh here we go.” He tries to look irritated, and fails. “Running again?”
She nods, trying to catch her breath.
“I wake up thinking about Polly,” she admits, although she’s pretty sure he knows this already. “And I just…I don’t know what to do. The running doesn’t help, but.” She shrugs. “It gives me something to do.”
Concern settles sharply over his features.
“I’ve been thinking about that, too.” He murmurs. “Do you remember my Aunt Eloise?”
She wracks her brain for a moment, coming up with a hazy image of a shy, dark haired woman who looked vaguely like Jughead’s mother.
“Sort of. She moved to Cedar Rapids didn’t she?”
He shakes his head.
“Grand Forks.” So, North Dakota. “Yeah she got so tired of trying to convince my mom to leave my dad that they got into a huge fight over it. My Grandma used to live in Grand Forks, so Aunt Eloise moved back East to live with her before she died.”
“Right,” Betty’s brows draw together in confusion. She hadn’t know Jughead’s grandmother had died, doesn’t remember him ever even mentioning his family outside of the ones in Riverdale. “What about her?”
“Well, we’ve kept in touch. Sort of. I think she worries about Jellybean, so she calls every once in a while to check up on us.”
“Oh.” Betty’s beginning to feel like he hasn’t had many people in his life to check up on him, and she feels an instant swell of gratitude to this woman she hardly remembers.
“And I was thinking…I think she’d be willing to help Polly. To help take care of the baby and let them live with her. She never had kids and I think she always wanted them, and she’s a good person.” He seems almost wistful, and Betty wonders if he misses her. “Plus, she understands crazy families. She’d be willing to keep it quiet.”
She stares at him, processing all that.
“Grand Forks,” she murmurs, turning the idea over in her mind. “God, that’s so far.”
“I know. But just think, that means she’s farther away from your mother, too.”
It hurts to think about. She just got Polly back, and now…her sister would be on the other side of the country. So would her nephew. Selfishly, she hates the idea. But what matters is that they’re safe, and away from Alice.
“You really think she’d be willing to help? She doesn’t even know me, or Polly.”
“She would if I asked her to.”
“And you’d do that for me?” He’s been so unshakable in his support that she knows she takes it for granted. It’s novel for her to have someone so steady like this, someone willing to commit a felony for her. She has no idea what she’s done to deserve him. And lately…lately that gratitude has shifted into something messier. Something hot and breathless and needy. It’s not just that she sees him differently now, the sharp planes of his face, the clear grey of his eyes, the subtle line of lithe muscle under his flannels from…well she’s not totally sure what those are from. And sometimes, when they touch, whether accidentally or in some friendly display of affection, she leans into it, addicted to the quick flash of electricity that always jumps against her skin, and the slow burn that follows.
But more than anything, what’s changed is her. If she’s not thinking about Polly, she’s thinking about Jughead. In the big moments, like when she has an idea about Jason’s case or when she worries about him or when she wakes up in the morning drenched in sweat and suffocating under the weight of her own anxiety. But in the little moments too. Like when she orders a burger with extra fries and realizes he isn’t there to eat off her plate. Or when Psycho is on late at night and she falls asleep in front of the TV by herself.
She’s not as good at being alone as she was before him. And he’s been pulling away the past few weeks, obviously settling back into his friendship with Archie.
He doesn’t need her anymore. They still have what they built, but…he has his best friend back. And it’s not her.
She sometimes has a hard time reminding herself that it never was.
And she has Veronica, and Kevin, and she loves them, loves that Veronica fills a void Betty never knew existed in her life. It’s nice to have a girl to talk to, and their friendship has cemented surprisingly quickly into something fiercely protective and loyal.
But…there are parts of Betty’s life that feel dark enough to stain, and she keeps them as far away from her friends as possible. It just so happens that Jughead has found himself at the centre of all of it, and so he’s the only one that knows. He’s the only one who understands.
And so she needs him, but she’s not sure he needs her anymore, and that suddenly hurts in a pathetic way that she hates.
“Of course,” he gives her a strange look, answering her question, and all at once it’s just too much.
“Thank you,” she manages. “I’ll think about it.” She leans in, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek. And then she runs. She’s getting very good at that.
“Girl, you need to stop pining.”
Betty’s head jerks up so suddenly that her neck makes an audible crack.
“What?” She can’t have been that obvious. Because if Veronica knows, then Jughead knows. And if Jughead knows-
“Look, I know you’ve been in love with Archie, like, forever.” Veronica says gently, and Betty relaxes in her seat. They’re sprawled over the couch in the Lodge’s apartment, a bowl of popcorn on the table in front of her along with a few bottles of sparkling water.
Right, Archie. She’s been so focused on everything else going on that she almost forgot about the redhead. She sees him every day, but lately she’s been distracted by the presence of the dark haired boy by his side.
“I wouldn’t say-” she starts, but the brunette cuts her off with the wave of a perfectly manicured hand.
“It’s fine, B. I get it. He’s delicious. But you are too, and you are far too fine to be wasting yourself on a boy who doesn’t like you back.”
Betty feels a flush climb her neck. She’s never been great at accepting compliments, thanks to her mother.
“I’m not pining,” she replies with a sigh. “Honestly, V, I’ve been kind of busy with the whole murder investigation and crazy sister thing lately.”
The others don’t know about Polly, not yet. It’s not that Betty doesn’t trust them, but until she and Jughead can get their plan in action, it’s just safer if nobody knows.
Veronica narrows her eyes skeptically.
“You say that, but I’ve noticed how you get every time Archie comes around. You’re still into him.” She takes a prim sip from her Topo Chico. “I think it’s time for an intervention. You know what they say, the best way to get over someone is to get under someo-“
“Veronica,” Betty sighs tiredly. “I don’t think I even have the energy to date right now. Honestly, it’s probably for the best that Archie…that he doesn’t feel the same way.” And she’s not at all picturing herself getting under a certain beanie clad someone as she says that.
Well, maybe a little. This crush, or whatever it is, is starting to get out of control.
“I’m not saying you have to ask a boy to go steady, Betty,” she says, emphasizing the rhyme. “But I think you really need a good night out. Some boy to take your mind off things.”
“I thought that’s what you were for,” Betty murmurs, sitting back against the couch and closing her eyes. She’s starting to get a headache.
“Just…think about it,” Ronnie says. “Find a guy, go on a date. If you’re not ready it was just a date, and if you are…maybe it will be fun.”
“Alright, I’ll think about it.”
And, surprisingly, as she walks home later that night she’s still thinking about it. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all.
“No, Kev. I already told your dad-”
Betty’s words come to an abrupt halt when someone walks straight into her, knocking the books from her arms. She makes a startled noise in the back of her throat, rearing back.
“Shit!” A pair of wide brown eyes blink down at her, and Betty claps a hand to her chest. “Betty, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”
She blows out a shaky breath, but shoots Adam a reassuring smile.
“I’m fine, Adam.” They bend down to pick up her scattered books at the same time, Kevin standing off to the side and watching with a thoughtful expression. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages, where have you been?”
“Yeah, I know.” He hands her the small stack of notebooks in his hands, then helps her up. “I’ve got that work experience thing this term, so I haven’t been at school much.”
He’s taller than she remembers, his wavy brown hair falling around his face as he looks down at her. He’s cuter than she remembers too.
“Oh.” She’d forgotten that some of the seniors were doing that this year, taking their fall term off to work. The school does it every year, offering credits to the students for finding a work placement and getting practical experience. She’d considered doing it herself, but Alice wouldn’t have it.
“So, what’s new?”
Her eyebrows go up, thinking of the only piece of news regarding her family that’s been circulating recently and he flushes.
“Uh, sorry. I just meant-what are you up to these days?”
“Working on the Blue and Gold, mostly. Oh, and I’m a River Vixen now.” She shakes an imaginary pompom in the air, and he grins.
“Finally got Cheryl to admit you’ve got moves?” He asks, teasing. She’d forgotten that they used to be pretty good friends, before everything.
“Uh, Betty? I said I’d meet Veronica at Pop’s at three-thirty, so-” From beside them, Kevin shifts uncomfortably on his feet.
“Okay,” She motions for Kevin to go. “I’ll text you later.”
He waves, then sets off briskly down the hall. When it’s just the two of them, they fall into step together, walking toward the parking lot.
“So, how have you been?”
She shrugs. It’s an impossible question to answer these days without lying.
“Fine, I guess. All things considered. How about you? How’s your mom?”
She’d fallen sick a few years ago, with Multiple Sclerosis. It’s been hard on their family, according to Alice. Adam had never really talked about it with Betty, but she wonders now if there’s a reason that he’s working this semester beyond just wanting to get the experience.
“She’s doing better.” He ducks his head as he says it, and Betty thinks that it takes a liar to know a liar, and neither of them should have bothered. “Uh, and…how’s Polly?” he asks, like he’s not sure if he should.
“She’s…I think she’s getting better too.” She’s not, but she will be soon. They come up on a green jeep she recognizes as his, and he stops, turning to look at her.
She freezes at the suddenly nervous look on his face.
“Do you-would you like to go out with me some time?”
“Oh.” Her mouth falls open in surprise. She’s known Adam for years, had never really thought about dating him because she was so enamoured with Archie. But…he’s nice, and he’s handsome, and Veronica’s words are ringing in her ears. “I-Sure. Yeah.”
He blinks, clearly surprised that she’s agreeing.
Her lips curve.
“Were you wanting a different answer?” She wonders. “I could always-“
“Ah, no,” he says hastily. “I just-great. What about…this Friday?”
“Sure,” she says again. It’ll be the day before Halloween, before Cheryl’s famous Halloween party, and it will be good to have something to take her mind off of the last time they were at Thornhill.
“Great.” He smiles this time, brown eyes crinkling. “I’ll pick you up at seven? We could go to the Arch?”
“Yeah, sounds good. I guess I’ll see you then. Unless,” she frowns. “Are you coming back to school tomorrow?”
He shakes his head.
“No, I was just here today to drop off some paperwork, my time sheets and stuff. So, I’ll see you Friday.”
“See you Friday,” she echoes, smiling at him before turning for her own station wagon.
It should be something to look forward to, a date with a cute boy. But Betty can’t help but feel like it’s a test, looming at the end of the week.
And as she spots Jughead and Archie crossing the parking lot and climbing into his red Mustang, she has a terrible feeling that she’ll fail.
“We need to get together and coordinate costumes. Friday? It doesn’t leave us a lot of time but I wasn’t sure we’d all be invited to Cheryl’s party until today, so.” Veronica sits back on their usual picnic table outside in the quad, tapping her nails against the stone table.
“I can’t Friday,” Betty says. “What about Thursday, after cheer practice?”
“Busy Friday?” Veronica sits up straight, raising an eyebrow. “Doing what?”
“Uh,” Betty glances across the table at Archie and Jughead, who are lost in some discussion about air mattresses and snoring. “I have a date she says quietly.”
“A date?” Kevin crows, leaning around Veronica to gape at her. “With who?” He turns to Archie. “It’s not with you, is it?”
“What’s not with me?” Archie asks, turning away from Jughead to frown at Kevin.
“Betty’s date.” Veronica supplies, biting off the consonant at the end of the word for emphasis.
“Betty’s-“ He turns to stare at her. “You’ve got a date? With who?”
“Well, now, Archiekins, that’s what we were trying to figure out,” Veronica purrs. They all turn to stare at her now, even Jughead, who’s been unusually quiet watching the whole exchange.
“Um,” she clears her throat. “Adam.”
“Chisholm?” Kevin grins. “Oh my god I can’t believe he finally asked you out.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Betty frowns at her friend.
“He’s been into you for ages,” Kevin says, shaking his head. “Moose owes me ten bucks.”
“Moose-you were betting on m-” Betty begins heatedly, but Veronica cuts her off.
“Who is Adam Chisholm?”
“He’s this guy we’ve gone to school with since like the third grade. Kind of a farm boy, but hot. Nice.” The last word sounds like safe when Kevin says it, which annoys her for some reason.
“He is nice,” she mutters. “And you’re the one who told me I needed to date,” she adds, glaring at Veronica for bringing it up.
“You did?” Archie asks, head swivelling to stare accusingly at Veronica.
“Yes I did,” She tosses her short black hair over her shoulder. “And I’m glad you took my advice. Where are you going?”
“The Arch. It’s one of the only nice restaurants in town.” Betty is tired of this conversation already. “Enough about my date. What are we doing for costumes?”
The chatter turns to Cheryl’s party and potential costumes, but Betty can’t shake the feeling of Jughead’s eyes on her for the rest of the afternoon.
“Elizabeth Marie Cooper you are not going out dressed like that.”
Betty turns with a start, spotting her mother standing in the kitchen doorway, hands on her hips.
“What?” She looks down at her outfit. It’s a lilac dress with a knee-length A-line skirt and a scoop neck. It shows a little more cleavage than she usually does, but that’s mostly a result of the fact that her bustline was significantly smaller when she bought it. And besides, she’s already pulled a grey wool coat on over top. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
“What kind of message does it send? Boys only have one thing on their mind, your sister is evidence of that.”
“Mom!” Betty snaps, appalled. Alice just waves a hand dismissively.
“I’m sorry Honey, but that’s the truth. Now why don’t you go upstairs and change before your date gets here.”
Seething, Betty stomps up the stairs. She tears the door to her closet open, blinking away the hot tears that prick at her eyes.
It shouldn’t matter, what she wears. Compared the hell of trying to break Polly out of the group home and smuggle her across the country, and trying to solve the murder of her sister’s fiancé, it’s hardly important.
But she’s so tired of her mother’s bitterness, the sharp, acidic words and the slow erosion of anything resembling warmth in their home. She’s taken everything from them, their confidence, their trust, and now Polly’s baby. It’s not really about the dress.
She swipes agitatedly through the hangers, growing increasingly angrier at every garment she discards. Why is everything she owns pastel? It’s all pink, or cream, these soft cardigans and demure sweaters and it has never really occurred to her before that she doesn’t even know if she likes a single item of clothing in her closet. Her mother has bought nearly all of it, and Betty is so used to it that she never really stopped to consider whether the style she’d been handed was one that really fit. And now, looking at the closet stuffed overfull with soft, modestly feminine skirts and sweaters, she kind of hates it all.
She stops when she spots a black dress she bought as part of a dance costume the year before. She’d worn it over leggings, and with a cowl neck sweater over the top, knowing Alice wouldn’t let her out of the house in it otherwise. It clings tight to her thighs, stopping far before the knee, and the deep vee of the neckline leaves little to the imagination. She’s not sure it’s any more her than the rest of the now offensive clothing in her wardrobe, but it will certainly do the job of pissing off her mother.
She steps out of the lilac dress, shimming into the black one with a bit of maneuvering. Going to the mirror to make sure it hasn’t messed up her hair, she blinks at the image that meets her. She looks…different. Her jaw is set in anger, posture a little tighter than usual, and the dress hugs her like a second skin, highlighting curves she’s been ignoring ever since they appeared.
She looks good, there’s no doubt about that. And Alice is going to throw a fit.
Dating, Betty is beginning to remember, is overrated.
It’s awkward, and stressful, and she’s starving because she forgot that you never really feel like you can eat on a date. Even though they’re sitting in a restaurant, a plate of food in front of each of them. Adam got a clubhouse sandwich. Betty got salad.
“So, you uh…” He seems to lose his train of thought, eyes trailing back down to her chest for the third time in the past ten minutes. “Sorry, what was I saying?”
“I don’t know,” Betty replies with a sigh. “You didn’t get very far.”
“I’m sorry.” He does, at least, look genuinely apologetic. “You just look really, really good tonight. Have I said that yet?”
“A few times,” Betty says, pressing her lips together to keep from smiling. It’s flattering at least, though it hasn’t made for great conversation so far.
“Well you do. And I guess I’m kind of nervous. I’ve wanted to ask you out for a while.”
“Kevin may have mentioned something like that,” she admits, taking a sip of her diet coke. “Was I that unapproachable?”
“No, not at all.” He seems uncomfortable now, like he’s sorry he brought it up. “I just, um, I didn’t think you were interested in guys.”
“You-” she blinks. “Wait, you thought I was gay?”
“No!” He practically shouts it this time, looking even more embarrassed. “I just meant, I didn’t think you were interested in other guys. Or, like, any guys other than-“
“Archie,” Betty realizes with a sigh. “Oh.”
“Yeah.” He stares down at his sandwich, picking distractedly at the crust.
“God,” she groans. “Was I that obvious? Did everyone know?”
“Well… I don’t think Archie did,” he offers unhelpfully. Betty shoots him an exasperated look.
“Great. That’s not humiliating at all.”
“Well, that’s over now. Right?” There’s a note of uncertainty in his voice that softens her.
“Right.” She says it, and is instantly shocked at the fact that she means it. Her feelings for Archie, something so intrinsic to her that she’s carried them around for years, are gone.
Or not gone, so much as changed, but that slightly painful longing for something more has faded into…contentment. Her and Archie are friends, and that’s enough for her. She doesn’t need more anymore.
Not from him.
“That’s good to hear,” Adam’s relieved smile is so endearing that she sends one back. “So, have you thought about what you’re going to do next year yet?”
She takes a bite of her salad, fighting to keep her thoughts from wandering to the sharp tongued boy with the suspenders.
As the night goes on, it becomes harder to ignore that if this were a test she’d have failed in the first ten minutes.
He kisses her goodnight. It’s so forward that she doesn’t expect it, and just stands there for a few seconds before her brain catches up.
“Mmph.” She pushes him away a little harder than she’d meant to, sending him stumbling a few steps back. “What are you doing?”
His eyes are wide, stricken.
“Shit, Betty, I’m sorry, I thought-”
“It’s-it’s okay,” she touches a hand to her lips, resisting the urge to wipe the feeling of him away. “I’m sorry Adam. I had a nice night, and you’re a nice guy, but-“
“But you’re not into me that way.” He finishes for her. His shoulders slump, face falling. “It’s fine, I get it. I probably should have figured that if you hadn’t been into me before, you weren’t going to start now.”
“I-” She thinks of another boy she’s known for years, one she never thought of as anything other than a friend until recently. “I’m sorry,” she says again, lamely.
He shakes his head.
“You don’t have to be sorry. It’s just how it is, right?”
It is, but she feels bad anyway.
“Um, goodnight.” He half raises a hand in farewell.
“Goodnight,” she says faintly, watching him go.
She slips inside the house silently, sighing.
Is there a grade worse than a fail?
I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry, I'll try to be better. To those of you still with me, I love you <3 (also that finale killed me, be prepared for some dark bughead in this fic cause I am LIVING for it)
Jughead has never considered himself a jealous man.
He figures that if you’re interested in someone, and they’re interested i someone else, there’s not really any point in resenting it. People can’t change the way they feel. God knows he’s been trying to lately.
So when he thinks about Archie and Betty and his stomach twists painfully, it’s not jealousy. It’s just-
Hell, he doesn’t know. But it’s not jealousy.
Coveting is just as bad, he’s pretty sure. There’s something about it in the Book of Revelations, he thinks, not that he’s read it. Wanting something that’s not yours, that can never be yours, it’s a sin, or at the very least a waste of time and energy. And while he tends to live his life as a proud and consecutive series of sins, this one is kind of painful. It kicks him in his sleep, with dreams of blonde hair and blue eyes and soft hands in his. It haunts him during the day, too, being so close to her, wanting to drag her off into a corner somewhere and kiss her until her lips are swollen and her eyes are glazed and trying to discretely shift the semi he gets every time she leans over him or presses her lips to his cheek.
He knows what they say about teenage boys and hormones, but. It’s never been out of control like this for him. Absently, he wonders if this is what it’s like to be Archie.
And then there was last night.
The one he absolutely, positively would never have spied on through the window in Archie’s living room.
Except maybe he did, a little. And maybe he’d been waiting in the living room, working on his novel when the headlights from Adam’s jeep pulled up, and maybe he’d craned his neck to be able to see the brown haired boy walk up and ring Betty’s doorbell.
And then the door had opened, and-
That was the end of his train of thought for at least a couple seconds. She was wearing a black dress he’s sure he’s never seen before, because he would remember a dress like that. It stuck to her body like she was wearing nothing, exposing the long, lean length of her legs and a startling amount of cleavage. He’d gotten a pretty good look that day when they’d been caught in the storm and she’d stripped down to throw their clothes in the wash, but he’d been trying very hard not to look then.
They’d gone out, leaving Jughead an agonizing two hours in which to wonder what the hell it meant that she’d dressed up like that for Adam, is she over Archie? Is she trying to be?
And then they’d come home, and he’d thought-maybe Adam would go in for the hug, the whole school knows she’s still in love with Archie after all, but he’d miscalculated.
His brain didn’t realize what was happening until Adam had covered Betty’s face with his. And she didn’t push him away.
There’s something about watching the girl you’re trying desperately not to be in love with get kissed by another guy that feels remarkably like being punched in the gut. And Jughead would know. He’d looked away and retreated numbly to the guest room that had finally been cleaned out enough to fit a bed, and just sat there, in the dark.
He’s not sure why it was different when Betty was in love with Archie. Maybe she still is, he doesn’t know. They don’t talk about it. But now that she’s moving on, dating Adam…
Moving on. That’s what it is. He’s always known that Betty was in love with Archie, accepted it before because he’d had no real interest in that kind of love, from her or anyone. And then, once the idea crept into his mind like a whisper, a persistent and masochistic kind of yearning, he’d been able to tell himself Archie would be better for her.
His best friend is oblivious, and a little self-absorbed, but he doesn’t have half the baggage Jughead does. He doesn’t stain everything he touches with the ashes of a childhood that burned to the ground before it ever really got started. He’s still whole. And Betty deserves that.
But mostly, Jughead could never compete with the idea of Archie and Betty that lives in her head. There’s a weight to love that’s been growing for years and he knows without a shadow of a doubt that he could never hope to move it. That it will always be there, whether it’s returned or not. He knows because there’s a weight to his own feelings, the ones he buries every morning, a reminder that they’re there for good, even if all they’ll ever do is wait. Another girl? She’d never have a chance.
And now…he can’t help but wonder if he was wrong. Who is Adam to come in like this and find a place so easily in Betty’s heart?
Maybe it wasn’t that she was in love with Archie.
Maybe it was just that she was never going to be in love with him.
“This is stupid,” Jughead says morosely, staring at his reflection in the mirror. “I feel like Reggie.”
“You look fine, Jug. Reggie’s probably going to go as one of those strippers, with the bowties, what are they called?”
“Chippendales,” Jughead replies, a little annoyed that he even knows that. “Yeah, I guess. And at least you look more ridiculous more than me.” He turns to raise an eyebrow at the redheaded boy, a smirk tugging at his lips at the sight of his friend’s costume.
He’s clad in, well, not much. The gold silk shorts hang low on his hips, flat leather boots laced up to mid calf. The only thing covering his chest is a pair of red boxing gloves, tied together and hanging from either side of his neck like a scarf. His muscles, built up over the summer working construction, are therefore on full display.
“You know,” Jughead adds, “the only thing really missing now is some baby oil. Get you all glistening.”
Archie throws a sock at him.
“Yeah?” He counters. “You gonna oil me up, Jughead?”
Jughead makes a face.
“I think not. Are we ready to go? We’re supposed to pick the girls up at eight.”
Archie does a last glance around the room, grabbing a mouthguard off the dresser.
“Yeah, I think so.”
They bid goodnight to Fred, who plans on being in bed long before they return form the party, and head across the lawn to pick up the girls from Betty’s house.
Jughead picks at the buckle of his suspenders. He never wears them like this, actually up over his shoulders. Except for that one time at Jason's funeral. He’s thrown a brown leather jacket on over his otherwise bare chest, resenting Archie for talking him into this stupid costume.
As they stand on the landing outside Betty's front door, he can't help but think of Adam in his place the night before. The thought has him scowling when she swings the red door open. But his scowl is quickly replaced by an unsubtle gape when he sees Betty's costume.
She’s in a tight white nurse’s outfit, clearly not standard issue judging by the way it barely hits mid-thigh and only buttons to-well, he can’t see her bra but that’s about all he can’t see. Instead of tights she’s wearing white stockings, held in place with matching garters, and she’s probably an inch taller than him in a pair of sky-high red mary janes. Her hair is down and wavy, head topped with a white nurse’s cap, and her lips are painted scarlet.
She looks sinful. Which is kind of appropriate considering his mental narrative as of late.
Beside him, Archie whistles.
She holds up a little white eyepatch with a red cross on it, and corrects him at the same time that Jughead does.
She blinks at him, then grins. Tearing his eyes away from her, he glances at his shirtless friend, who still looks confused.
“From Kill Bill?” He reminds him. “I made you watch it like three times in junior high, man.” A light bulb finally seems to go off, and Archie nods.
“Ah, right. You look great, Bets.” And she does, though Jughead finds himself a little annoyed that he didn’t think to say so first. “You two ready to to go?”
It isn’t until then that Jughead even realizes they’re missing one of their four. Kevin is meeting them at Thornhill.
“Um,” She glances behind her into the house, then back at them. “I think V needs a few more minutes, why don’t you guys come in?”
They do, stepping past her into the house, and Jughead is immediately grateful for the warmth. It’s getting a little late in the year to be outside at night without a shirt on. As he slides past her, Betty’s eyes drift to his bare chest. When they come back up to meet his, he could swear her cheeks redden just a little.
Not that it means anything. Betty has Archie and Adam for eye candy, why would she even look twice at him?
He blinks, not registering at first that she’s talking to him.
“Oh, yeah.” He tips his hat at her, and she grins.
“I remember him having a shirt,” she mutters, turning to grab her jacket off the coat rack. He snorts.
“Yeah? Well I don’t remember Elle having that much cleavage.”
This time she definitely blushes.
“It was the only nurse costume I could find on such short notice. It was ‘Slutty Nurse’ or Zombie Nurse and this one seemed less confusing.”
He reaches out, straightening her hat.
“I was just kidding. You look great.” His voice is softer than he intended, and her expression changes to match.
“You, too.” As though suddenly remembering they aren’t alone, she turns back to Archie. “And you look very…muscly.”
Jughead fights the urge to roll his eyes.
“Thanks Betty. What’s Ronn-” But Archie doesn’t get a chance to ask the question before the girl in question appears, bouncing down the stairs. She’s clad in black leather pants and a black bra, a gold-embroidered leather jacket thrown over top.
“Hello boys. Ready to go?” The dark haired girl grins up at them. Archie’s brow furrows.
“What-who are you?”
She makes an offended noise, then rotates her leather-clad hips. Still, he looks confused.
“She’s Selena,” Jughead says, with a sigh. “We really need to get you up to date on pop culture references.”
The redhead screws up his face in thought for a moment, then nods.
“Wasn’t there a J-Lo movie about her?”
Veronica is looking more scandalized by the moment, so Jughead just throws a glance at Betty trying to communicate that they should all get going before this turns into an argument.
“Um, why don’t we get going? We’ve already left Kev alone at Cheryl’s long enough.” She tugs at Veronica’s elbow, and the four of them move back toward the door.
Ronnie is still muttering something about J-Lo? Really? when they all pile into Archie’s Mustang, Ronnie in the front seat and Betty and Jughead in the back, but the closer they get to Thornhill, the discussion turns to the party.
Betty’s already fiddling with her eyepatch as they pull in to the manor’s long driveway.
“I think I’m starting to go cross-eyed.”
“You are not,” Jughead says with a sigh, leaning over to inspect her eyes. He immediately regrets it, her wide blue gaze hitting him like a shot of whiskey, going straight to his head. “Your eyes are fine. If it’s bugging you just take it off.”
How does she smell so good?
“If I take it off no-one will know who I am!”
“I hate to burst your bubble but I kind of doubt most of Riverdale High has seen Kill Bill.”
She pouts, and it’s embarrassingly effective.
“Oh!” Veronica points. “There’s Kev!”
Archie pulls the car around to where everyone else has parked, and they all climb out of the car.
“Here goes nothing,” Betty says, so quietly Jughead decides she probably didn’t mean anyone to hear. It seems a little dramatic, given that it’s just a party. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t keeping an eye on the Blossoms, or he wouldn’t anyway, but it’s still just a bunch of teenagers getting drunk and making bad choices.
It doesn’t occur to him that by the end of the night he’ll be one of them.
It’s very him, Jughead thinks, to be perched on the roof of Thornhill Manor all by himself, smoking, while nearly a hundred of his classmates are partying beneath him. Maybe almost embarrassingly predictable, like he’s some kind of cliche, a James Dean wannabe.
Hmm. Maybe that’s who he should have dressed up as, instead of Indiana Jones.
From inside, a cheer erupts, floating out into the night where he’s hiding. He takes another long drag of his cigarette, washes it down with a swig of beer. Someone pressed the bottle on him as he made his way through the crowd, and he’d forgotten it was in his hand until he’d already crawled out the window of the guest bedroom onto the overhanging roof. Figured he might as well drink it.
It was getting to be exhausting inside, constantly battling to keep his eyes from following Betty around the room. God, she looks good. She always does, but there’s something else tonight too. And it’s not just the costume, though the fact that she chose a character from one of his favourite movies and the inherent sex appeal of her outfit don’t exactly hurt. She’s holding herself differently. Less…apologetic.
He’s not sure if the change thrills him or scares him. Probably both, if he took the time to analyze it.
The sound of someone sliding the window open behind him startles him into spinning around. Betty looks up at him, eyes bright, and as she crawls onto the roof beside him he notices the bottle in her hand. His eyebrows go up, even as he reaches out to help her through the window.
“Hey Indy.” She says with a smirk, and he grins back.
“Elle. Fancy meeting you here.”
She rolls her eyes.
“What are you doing out here, Jughead?”
“Getting some fresh air.” He doesn’t break eye contact as he raises his hand to his lips, taking another long drag. Her scarlet mouth curls, not gently like it usually does, but into something feline and unfamiliar. Again, his gaze drifts to the bottle in her hand, and he wonders how much she’s had.
“You didn’t last long in there,” she observes, though for once it doesn’t sound like an accusation. He shrugs.
“You’re too smart to be surprised by that.” And maybe he’s a little bitter, but he hopes she’s too drunk to notice.
No such luck.
“Are you alright, Jug?”
When he turns back to her, her almost can’t breathe. She’s so close, and the open air of the night surrounding them makes it feel intimate somehow, and he wants to lean in and kiss her so badly he nearly groans with the ache.
“Sure,” he says. Her eyes narrow.
“I thought we were past that,” she accuses. So bright, his Betty. He usually loves it about her, but tonight he thinks it’s not doing him any favours.
“I just don’t like parties,” he mutters. It’s not a lie, it’s just not the whole truth. “I talked to Eloise. She said she’d be happy to help.” Though they’re on the roof and this house is far too big for anyone to overhear, he doesn’t say any names. Doesn’t mention the baby. It seems like asking for trouble, talking about it here.
“Oh.” She catches her bottom lip between her teeth, and after a few seconds he thinks her lipstick has rubbed off on the white of them. Then he realizes she’s drawing blood.
“Hey.” He reaches out, thumb strumming her bottom lip. She lets it go, the red tooth marks visible as it springs free. “It’s our best option right now, but we can find something else if-”
“No.” She draws her knees to her chest, shivering, and he realizes how little she’s wearing. The entirety of her legs are on display when she sits like that, including the red flash of her underwear. Trying not to linger on that, he tugs off his leather jacket, draping it over her shoulders. It leaves him shirtless, save for the suspenders, but he’s been much, much colder. “It’s what’s best for them. I’ll talk to her but…if she wants to go, she should.”
“They’d be safe,” he says, as though it’s any real consolation.
“I know,” she stares out at the near black that’s the maple forest at the back of the Blossom Estate, but he imagines she’s seeing something else entirely. “And I keep telling myself that’s what’s important, but I don’t-I don’t want to be alone here.”
You’re not, he wants to say. But he knows sometimes there are different ways to be alone, and he can’t fill the hole her sister will leave behind. It’s not about him.
“I’m sorry,” he says instead. She leans into him, raising the bottle to her lips, and for the clarity of the liquid and the thirsty way she drinks it he could almost be fooled that it’s water.
Despite the 40%abv label scrawled across the front.
His eyebrows draw together and he has to remind himself that she’s allowed a bad habit or two. God knows he has enough of his own.
“So why aren’t you inside?” He belongs out here, but she’s good with people, actually likes them. He guesses that she might just not be in a party mood, but it feels like there’s something else too.
She looks at him, confused.
“I was looking for you.” She says it like it’s obvious. “Did you-do you want to be alone?” She sounds so unsure, and the idea that he might not want her around has his lips curving in mirth.
He certainly doesn’t want to be inside with their classmates. Apparently taking that as permission to stay, Betty leans into him. The leather should feel cool against his shoulder but her hair brushes over his skin and the night is suddenly not cold enough to be comfortable.
“How are things with Archie?”
Her words take a minute to make sense, and he turns them over in his head.
“Uh, fine, I guess. How was your date?” He doesn’t want to know, but he needs something to satisfy the screaming speculation in his head.
She’s quiet for just a moment too long.
“Fine, I guess,” she parrots his words. “Adam’s nice.”
“But?” He asks, hoping the hesitance he’s hearing in her voice isn’t just wishful thinking on his end. Sort of hating himself for it. He should want her to be happy. They are friends after all.
Her hand curls around the inside of his bicep, pale fingers glowing nearly white in the moonlight.
“I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere. I like him as a friend. He’s just not…” She trails off, probably trying to think of something nice to say. As though even though he can’t hear her she owes him that.
“Archie?” Jughead asks, unable to help himself. His best friend’s name tastes like tequila on his tongue. He wishes it were, and plucks the bottle from her hand to take a swig. He suddenly has a sneaking suspicion the beer he accidentally picked up isn’t going to cut it.
Her sigh is heavy, and laced with something he doesn’t recognize.
“No, that’s not it. I can’t explain it. Ugh,” she groans, letting go of his arm to flop back against the slope of the roof. “What’s wrong with me? He’s cute, and nice, and actually interested in me. But no, I guess I’m only into guys who I have no chance with.”
He snorts, and when she glares at him reproachfully he can’t really say that he’s laughing at how pathetically he relates to her sentiment, so he just shrugs apologetically.
“There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s human nature, I guess. The grass is always greener, and all that.”
She hums, holding out a hand without sitting up, and he places the bottle back in it.
“We should go back inside,” she says, after enough time has passed that the stars have moved a little, wiping the back of her hand across her painted lips to catch the few drops of vodka left behind. The rest is gone, split nearly evenly between the two of them as they passed it back and forth in silence. He’s slightly amazed that the movement doesn’t leave a smear of red across her jaw, but that’s the magic of modern makeup, he supposes.
“We can if you want.” He means it. He’d go to hell and war for her. Going back into the party seems like a mix between the two, but Betty belongs there, not out here in the cold and the toxic morbidity that follows him around like a cloud of cigarette smoke.
She turns just her head, and he’ll never be able to explain why but he can suddenly taste sparks on his tongue and just like that, he’s ruined.
He loves her. He’s in love with her and it hurts and it fills him and empties him out all at once. He can never be with her, not when it would leave dark smears like bruises all over her skin until the black eclipses her light entirely. But it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change a thing. He’s in love with Betty Cooper and he will be until he dies and it’s much too heavy of a revelation for the rooftop of Thornhill manor when they’ve both had too much to drink and she’s in love with his best friend and he’s just told her that they’re sending her only sane family to the other side of the country.
It’s too much.
“Let’s go back in.”
He moves for the window so suddenly that she startles, losing her purchase on the shingles. Her dress rucks up around her waist as she starts to slide, letting out a gasped curse.
Automatically, his arm darts out, snaring her around the waist. Her fingers catch his bare arm in a vice grip, and he notices the near total black of her eyes as she stares at him, panting.
A filthy thought comes unbidden to his mind, and he struggles to tamp it down as he carefully drags Betty back to safety, using his other hand to shove the window open and gently swing her through.
Her legs unfold unsteadily beneath her as he sets her down on the hallway floor inside, then crawls in after her.
“Are you okay?”
She’s still staring at him, wide-eyed and chest heaving and it’s still too much too much but he can’t help it as his hands run over her, checking for injuries.
“I’m fine,” and she doesn’t sound it, but he thinks that might be from the alcohol as much as the whole almost falling off a roof thing. She shakes her head gently, like trying to shake loose the coherent thoughts. When she looks back up at him she seems a little more herself, a ring of blue once again appearing in her eyes. “I’m fine,” she says again.
He lets his hands fall to his sides.
“We should get back to the party.” Five minutes ago that was the last thing he wanted. Now it ranks second. If he has to stand here for another second he’s either going to kiss her or crawl back out onto the roof and fling himself off of it. The latter sounds slightly less insane, but he walks around her without a word instead, following the sounds of the party down the stairs.
Somewhere along the way, he finds his fingers wrapped around the neck of a bottle of whisky. Despite the way the room is already spinning a little, he raises it to his lips.
He doesn’t check to see if Betty follows him.
Hey I know this is really short chapter but I've been feeling guilty about not updating so consider it something to tide you over. I've basically been working 12 hours a day (which is all writing) and then doing schoolwork on top of that so it's really tough to sit down and write fic at the end of the day. I'm sorry guys. I'm really trying.
Betty knows about bad habits. Everyone has at least one. Her mother with her lying, her father with his drinking, Jughead with his smoking. Veronica’s scheming and Kevin’s gossiping.
Even perfect Betty Cooper has bad habits. Hers used to be Archie, but the more time passes the less she feels that familiar tug toward the redhead. She’ll always feel something for him, there’s too much history there for it to go away completely, but it’s different now.
Everything is different now.
She stares out at the rushing water, the ice of it seeping through the toes of her runners. She should move.
She should stop coming here.
She should she should she should.
But she won’t. She’s done doing what she should. She’s done being the perfect girl next door, the obedient daughter, the pining best friend.
The problem is that she has no idea who she’s going to be now.
She doesn’t realize she’s waded in until the frigid water soaks the hem of her shorts. It hits her thighs and startles her out of her thoughts with a pained gasp. The water pushes and tugs around her legs, deep enough to threaten the tentative grip her running shoes have on the rocky bottom.
For a second, she thinks she’s going to fall.
Then her feet dig into the sand and rocks, the lurching movement of her waist spraying freezing water across her front. Her breath, stolen for a moment, comes back to her in a punch.
That was close. Too close. She can’t afford to have these moments anymore. Her father used to joke that Betty had her head in the clouds, but this…she’s not a kid anymore. She needs to get all this under control.
Everything is different now.
They send Polly away.
Betty will never, ever admit that it is the worst day of her life. The thought is selfish and childish and repeats like a drumbeat in her head as Jughead distracts the Sisters while she sneaks her own sister out of the building and into the truck he borrowed from Fred. Not that Fred knows what he needed it for.
They put Polly on a bus. Polly, whose hair no longer matches Betty’s, now cropped short and black in a way that reminds Betty uncomfortably of a wig she herself once wore. They wave goodbye, and as they stand there, in the now empty bus depot, her hand finds another all on it’s own.
His fingers lace between hers, squeezing, and it takes everything, everything in her not to fall apart right then and there. Her other hand curls into a fist at her side.
“I’m sorry,” Jughead says, and she knows he means it. He doesn’t often do sincere, but it suits him surprisingly well, and her heart constricts in her chest as she looks over and meets his eyes. Grey and so, so clear today.
“You shouldn’t be sorry,” she manages, voice rough. “You saved them.” Above them, the sky has turned red. It’s just sunset, she knows, but god it feels ominous. It feels like a sign.
She can’t help thinking of what the colour means in this town. Who owns it. Whether her niece or nephew will be born crowned with it.
“I wish it didn’t have to be like this,” he says, so quietly that for a moment she thinks she’s misheard him. He never wishes for anything. It’s one of the things she finds so heartbreaking and admirable about him.
“I don’t want to go home,” she says. She can’t-can’t be there after this, having to see her parents and knowing that they did this, they built a home that was all brick and shadows and Polly is gone because of them.
She can feel his eyes on her again, looks away so he won’t see the tears pooling at her lashes.
“Okay. Come on.”
They jump back in the truck, it’s old enough to have one of those bench seats, and she almost doesn’t notice when he throws one arm up behind her shoulders.
They pull into the Andrews’ driveway, and he shuts the truck off. It suits him more than he’d like, she’s sure, the whole old truck one hand on the steering wheel thing.
He turns to look at here.
“Do you want to stay here tonight? I’m sure Fred wouldn’t mind.”
She bites her lip. She shouldn’t.
Her thoughts from earlier come back to her.
She’s done doing what she should.
“Okay,” she says softly. He reaches out, tugging gently on her ponytail. She only wears her hair up when she runs now, but she’d been too distracted this morning to do anything else with it. She gives him a weak smile.
“I-” Love you. The words are right there, on the tip of her tongue, and she physically clamps her mouth shut to catch them. She what? She does not love Jughead.
The idea is ridiculous.
The first guy to be nice to her, the one who picked up the slack where Archie left off and she just-
She falls for him.
Struggling to find anything else to say, something to distract him from what she almost said, Betty blurts the next thing that comes to her mind.
He blinks at her.
“For…” He says slowly, brows drawing together in confusion.
“If this is what it was like for you,” she clarifies, the words surprising her almost as much as him. She hadn’t realized she’d been thinking it all day, just under her own pain. “When your mom…just not having your family there. I’m sorry if this is what it’s like.”
He stares, every plane of his face sharpening in understanding.
When grief flashes behind his eyes she wishes she’d never brought it up.
“I didn’t mean-”
“No,” he says, and his voice is rough and it reminds her of the way he sounds first thing in the morning. The memory flares something hot and completely inappropriate in her stomach. “I know. Thanks. I’m, uh, I’m sorry too.”
“We’re a sorry pair, I guess.”
His lips twitch, some of the darkness in his eyes ebbing away.
“Well, at least we have each other,” he murmurs, and she’s sure it’s a joke but he doesn’t know that that fact is the only thing keeping her standing these days.
“Yeah.” When her eyes flit upwards as she replies, it feels a little too much like a prayer. “At least we have each other.”
I’m sorry if this is what it was like.
He can’t stop replaying her words over in his head. He’s always hated it when people feel sorry for him. It’s one of the reasons he’s always isolated himself from the others. He was tired of the pity, whether it was due to his father’s recent antics or his mother’s failures or that one time Tony gave him a black eye.
But this was different.
Why was this different? Because it’s Betty? Because he’s in love with her?
Or because he suspects she might be the only one who actually knows him? The only one who gets it. Archie thinks he understands, compares his situation with Mary to Jughead’s. But it’s not the same. He has Fred, has always had Fred. FP is…he’s been there for Jughead only enough that the occasions can be counted on one hand. And even then…his best efforts fell flat. That’s their always. FP will always let Jughead down.
He rolls over on the couch.
He’d offered Betty his bed, since he was the one to invite her. Archie put up a valiant argument, but in the end, Jughead is used to sleeping on couches. He’s used to sleeping in far less comfortable places than couches.
He falls asleep surprisingly quickly, and dreams of blonde hair and rushing water and someone calling his name.
Okay I know this is a really, really short chapter but I've felt so bad about having writers block for the past few months and this is all I could get out for now. I hope a short update is better than no update? I love you guys so much, you're the best.
When he wakes up, she’s gone. Not that he goes to check on her or anything. He figures she’s gone on a run, something he knows she does almost every morning, having met her in the yard while he’s having a pre-breakfast cigarette more than once.
Something about his dream is eating at him. He can’t remember more than snippets of it, and he’s not sure if the blonde hair being swept under the white water was supposed to be Betty or Polly or someone else entirely, but he can feel Sweetwater calling to him. It’s like a siren song, and the voice in his head is smokey and feminine and vaguely familiar.
He takes the truck again, Fred having offered it and already left for work in the company van earlier that day. He shouldn’t know the way so easily, but as his mind wanders his hands glide over the steering wheel almost of their own accord. Before he knows it, he’s pulling up to the rocky bank that Jason was dragged from all those months ago.
A flash of bright blue catches his eye.
With a jolt, he realizes that flash was the movement of Betty’s top in the early morning sunlight. The jolt turns into a knife of panic as he finally spots her, waist deep in the water. Her hands sit on the choppy surface, the waves spraying up between her fingers and her back is to him so he can’t see her face. He calls her name, but she doesn’t respond, doesn’t even turn.
For a moment he’s so sure he’s still dreaming that he just stares.
Then she takes another step forward, the river rising around her waist as her feet find the deeper slope, and he’s running before the thought fully forms in his mind.
The water is icy, it soaks his jeans immediately. The cold is a hundred needles piercing his skin, and he wonders how she can bear it. Her shoulders move as she takes another step forward, and he’s there, he’s almost there.
And then she’s gone.
One moment the peaking morning sun is bouncing off her ponytail, and the next he’s reaching out and grasping at empty space. The ice breaks his skin, clawing at his chest, this time from the inside.
And there, just for a second, he sees a flash of gold under the blue and he won’t let her slip through his fingers again. He dives.
Jughead has never been much of a swimmer but he’s barely even aware of the water as he kicks through it, off the sandy bank and into the deeper current. It only takes a few seconds to reach her, his eyes making out no more than a dark shape in the murky silt, and his arm loops around her waist, dragging her up until they both break the choppy surface.
It’s not until he reaches the shore that he realizes how loud his breathing is.
And that he can’t hear hers at all.
“Betty.” He hauls her onto the shore, both spent and electrically charged, notes the blue of her lips and how her skin is so pale he can almost see through it. She doesn’t move, doesn’t breathe. “Betty.” His fingers tangle in her hair as he tilts her head up, heart beat a deafening roar in his ears. “Fuck.”
He has had very few things to thank his father for, but as he lays Betty flat on the sand tilts her chin toward him, he thanks God and FP for the practice with CPR.
He’s spent a lot of time wondering what she tastes like, but he can’t taste anything but the metallic tinge of his own fear as he presses his lips to hers.
Breathe, he thinks. Prays. Says harshly out loud, though he knows she can’t hear him. Breathe, breathe-
And then she coughs.
He doesn’t hear it so much as he feels her body convulse beneath him and he turns her on her side immediately. Water bubbles out from beneath her lips, a little, and then a lot, and then she opens her eyes with a gasp so deep it almost hurts him.
“Betty,” he says, a little sickened at the realization that he almost never saw that bright blue again. “Can you hear me?”
“Yeah,” she rasps. But she’s still not there. Her eyes are staring straight through him, like he’s not even there, like she’s talking straight to the sky, and he has to quell the urge to shake her again.
“Betty,” he says again. The rough sand is digging into his knees through his jeans and he’s fucking freezing and he needs her to look at him and be there, needs this to be a nightmare, just wants to hear her voice. His fingers curl around the base of her neck and it takes a moment to realize the wetness there is warm. His hand comes away red. “Jesus christ. You’re bleeding.”
Head wounds bleed a lot. He read that somewhere. So when he very, very gingerly sits her up so he can get a better look at it, he’s actually relieved to see that there’s a fairly minimal amount of blood, gritty with sand, right at the nape of her neck. It seems like a shallow cut, probably scraped on a rock when she went under. His finger sweeps a little of her hair aside to get a better look, and that’s when he hears it.
It’s faint, even though she’s now sitting on his thighs, but it sounds a hell of a lot more like Betty than it did a few seconds ago.
Jughead lets the curtain of her dripping ponytail fall back down, and twists her in his lap so he can see her face.
“Betty? Are you okay?”
She blinks, and he can finally see her in there, confused and a little afraid, but alive. The vice in his chest lets up a little.
“Um,” she shakes her head slowly, then winces. “I think so.”
With the fear ebbing away, a new emotion roils in to heat his blood, burning even in the numb tips of his fingers.
“What the fuck were you doing?” He doesn’t need to shout, given their proximity, but he really can’t help himself. He’s raw and painfully wired and completely out of control. “You scared the shit out of me. You almost drowned!”
The tiny bit of colour that’s begun to return to her cheeks disappears.
“I don’t know,” she whispers. Her eyes are huge now, and he feels like he’s drowning this time, in a blue much deeper than the one sweeping along beside them. He’s never seen her look so scared.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” He’s still mad. He’s not sure he’ll ever stop being angry, because the alternative seems to be that guttural fear still ghosting in his insides, and that’s something that would drive a man insane, he suspects, pretty quickly.
She’s shaking now, because she’s cold, of course she is, he is too but he’s so fucking distracted-
“I didn’t mean to, Jughead. It was like I was dreaming, and I couldn’t stop, and there was something-” She breaks off suddenly, eyes dropping to her closed fist. When her fingers uncurl, slowly, like they’ve forgotten how to work in the cold, he sees a pink rock resting on her palm, stark against the white of her skin and the silver of her scars.
“I don’t know,” she says again, but there’s a note in her voice, tinged with frustration, that suggests maybe she thinks she should.
“You risked your life,” Jughead says hoarsely, feeling fairly confident that he is in no way exaggerating, “-for a pink rock?”
She turns it over in her hand, thumb rubbing against it, eyebrows furrowing in concentration. He can almost hear her brain whirring, the voice in her head saying remember, remember.
If it were anyone else, he’d think she was crazy. If it were anyone else, when she looked up at him with those big blue eyes and said “I don’t know where, but I’ve seen this before”, he’d placate her and try to distract her and leave the talking of sense to after he’s had someone look at her injury.
But it’s her, and he’s so fucked in the head when it comes to Elizabeth Cooper that he just sighs, and pulls them both gently to their feet.
“Let’s get you warmed up. I didn’t go diving into Sweetwater just so you could die of hypothermia.”
Her lavender lips turn up, a hint of a smile, but when he lets go of her to dig for the keys to the truck in his pocket, she wobbles.
“Woah.” His hands are back on her in an instant. “Okay, hold on.”
He sweeps her up in his arms, a proper bridal carry, and walks her over to the truck. She pulls the door open without prompting, and he sets her inside, grabbing a blanket from the box Fred keeps under the bench to throw over her. She’s shaking almost violently now, hand still clenched around that rock, and Jughead’s own hands are unsteady when he finally sparks the ignition and starts the drive back to the Andrews’.
“I don’t even know where to start,” he says eventually, because he kind of just wants her to say something. “What were you doing at Sweetwater in the first place?”
“I run there, in the mornings.” Her voice is broken by the staccato chattering of her teeth. “I ended up there by accident once and I just…kept going back. It felt like there was something there, something important.”
His knuckles turn white over the steering wheel.
“How long have you-”
“A few weeks.” She doesn’t sound even a little apologetic. Just tired. “Jughead, I think I’m losing my mind.”
The truck swerves a little, and he glances over at her then, at the way she’s pulled her legs up on the seat, holding them to her as she shakes and chatters and she really does look broken then. He thinks about the panic attack she had after her mom almost caught them, how the feeling of not knowing how to fix it had been suffocating.
“You’re not.” He says. He’s sure of it. Maybe because he needs her, and so he needs to believe that, but he is sure. Her gaze slides over to him, and the tears clinging to her bottom lashes refuse to fall.
“Do you promise?” She asks.
“I promise.” He’s promising a lot more than that, the words weigh a million pounds on his tongue, but it’s still somehow effortless.
He is so fucked in the head when it comes to Elizabeth Cooper.