“What do you care, Andrews?” Reggie spits at him.
“Nothing, just leave him alone.”
Archie doesn’t know why he’s doing this; it’s not like him to be confrontational, to get in someone’s face like this. Hell, he doesn’t even like standing this close to people (football is an exception, he’s accepted that contact is part of the sport). The fact that his and Reggie’s chest are almost touching makes Archie feel like he could vomit.
He’s never been a very tactile person. His parents use to tell him stories about how when he was a baby, even more once he got closer to toddlers age, he’d cry and scream his head off any time someone tried to hold him. His parents didn’t pick him up much after he turned two. Even now, his Dad doesn’t hug him unless Archie initiates it.
But Reggie went after Jughead, his best friend. He couldn’t just stand by and do nothing, he couldn’t just watch this happen. Even if it made him uncomfortable.
“Holy crap. Did you and Donnie Darko kill him together? Was it some sort of pervy… blood brother thing?”
A rush of anger floods Archie’s senses; he swears that for a moment he sees red. He doesn’t stop himself from shoving at Reggie’s chest. Reggie throws him against the vending machine in an act of retaliation.
The next thing he knows, Archie is on the ground, Reggie’s fist headed straight for his face.
He knows that he blacked out for at least a minute because when he opens his eyes his vision is foggy and the lounge is nearly empty. Just as well, it takes him about two seconds too long to realize that more than one person is touching him.
In less than a second, Archie is scrambling backward as best as he can with his newfound headache. The hands don’t let up; A friendly, yet threatening voice cuts through the white noise like static running through his brain.
“Kev, Betty, get off of him- he hates it!” Jughead snaps.
When he finally looks up, he sees all four of his friends standing over him with worried faces, both Kevin and Betty pulling their arms away from him. Jughead stays kneeling at Archie’s side a few feet away as he sits up; Archie rubs at his eye only to find that the area is already tender, he winces a little.
“You guys can go,” Jughead states. “I got it from here.”
“Jug-.” Betty tries.
“Don’t, just- look I got it from here, alright? We’ll be fine.”
Jughead doesn’t stop glaring at them until Kevin, Betty, and Veronica have left the student lounge. Then, he turns back to Archie, a sympathetic look on his face.
“How do you wanna do this? Nurses office or bathroom?”
“Bathroom.” Archie grunts as he pushes himself to his feet.
The two of them make their way down the hall; Archie keeps his head down while Jughead trails behind, staying close while giving Archie the space that he wants.
Once inside the bathroom, Jughead checks to make sure that it’s empty. Then, Archie braces himself against one of the sinks with his hands, letting his eyes close and his forehead rest against the mirror. He hears water running in the sink next to him; he cracks open one eye just enough to see Jughead wetting some paper towels in the faucet.
Jughead gestures to Archie’s neck.
“Some of the glass from the vending machine scratched your neck… can I?”
Archie considers it for a moment before nodding, allowing Jughead to places the cool, wet paper towels on the back of his neck. He sighs in relief at the sensation; he gives it a minute before he pulls the paper towels off his neck and holding them against his eye.
“Does it hurt?”
“Just a little,” Archie replies. “But I’ve gotten hurt worse in football.”
There’s a pregnant pause before Jughead speaks up again.
“You didn’t have to do that.” He mumbles. “You didn’t have to stand up for me.”
“Yeah, I did. Reggie shouldn’t talk to people like that, especially not my fr-.”
He stops himself before he lets the word friends slip out. Jughead had made it very clear the night before while confronting him about Grundy that he and Archie were not friends anymore. As much as it pained him, Archie couldn’t say that he disagreed. The two of them hadn’t acted like friends in months. Other than seeing one another at Pop’s after the back to school dance, they’ve barely acknowledge one another.
Archie won’t say it out loud, but he hates this distance between the two of them. He hates himself a little bit knowing that he’s the cause of it. He’d bailed on the road trip just to spend time with Grundy. To be honest, he hated every second of it. Miss Grundy was clingy, always wanted to touch him in some way, sexual or not. It made Archie want to crawl out of his skin every time she laid a hand on him, but for some reason he couldn’t bring himself to say no, to push her away.
Now, he can’t even hardly look Jughead in the eye for more than a second. He misses his friend, and he can’t seem to figure out how to fix it.
“People shouldn’t talk to you like that, Jug.” Archie mutters, keeping his eyes downcast.
Jughead scoffs, moving towards the door. “Try telling that to Reggie and the rest of his sports ball friends. I’ll be fine, I don’t need you to look out for me, I can take care of myself.”
Jughead stills for a moment, his hand hovering over the door handle. He spares Archie a quick glance before pulling the door open.
“I’ll see you around, Arch.”
Archie sighs as the heavy door eases itself shut behind Jughead.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Archie and Jughead were never supposed to be the type of friends that walked on egg shells around each other. They used to be better than this, before everything went down this summer they used to be brothers. Now it’s like they don’t even know each other. He wants to fix things… but he doesn’t know how to do that without losing everything again.
Archie splashes some water on his face; as he stands there looking at himself in the mirror, he knows what he has to do.
I have to do it. I have to tell someone what I heard on fourth of July… even if it hurts me.
Archie knows that he has to do it, he doesn’t know how much longer he can hold this secret in. Maybe things won’t go as bad as he’s imagining they well, maybe Jughead will forgive him if he does this. Either way he, he decides to tell Sheriff Keller and Mr. Weatherbee first thing that next morning.
He gives himself on last look in the mirror before exiting the bathroom. Archie nods at himself as if to reassure himself that this is a good idea. He tells himself:
This plan will work, it has to. No one else should get hurt because of me.