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The back alley behind the drive-in is a more convenient meeting place than it should be, what with his bedroom being literally right around the corner. It’s dark out, the only light coming in is from the moon overhead, partially obscured by swirling gray clouds.

He wonders what Riverdale would look like from so far away, if it would make a difference somehow.

This is quite possibly the stupidest, most reckless thing he’s ever done. He’s had enough chaos and unpredictability to last him a lifetime, has learned to seek out the stability and comfort he so desperately craves, from his friends, from Archie—

He pauses, lets that train of thought come to a screeching halt. He swallows tightly, trying to wash it all down like a bad taste in his mouth.

“Do you have what I want or not?” he huffs impatiently, his breath coming out in small bursts of cold.

“Patience, Jones,” Jason drawls, sticking his hand into the pocket of his precious letterman jacket. Why he’d choose to wear such an obvious indicator of his identity to a drug deal is beyond Jughead. “What’s got you so riled up?”

Jughead takes the small plastic bag in his grip and narrows his eyes. “I had no idea making small talk with your dealer was part of the protocol.”

Jason just smirks at him, the edges of his lips curling upwards slightly. “I’m flattered you think I care.” Jughead wants to punch him, wants to knock all his teeth out and watch his nose bleed red. “I couldn’t care less about what you do, Jones. But if you get fucked on stuff you got from me, then it becomes my problem.”

“Your reputation as the Golden Boy of Riverdale High is safe with me,” Jughead answers back, rolling his eyes. He lowers his voice. “Between you and me, though, the whole quarterback-turned-drug-dealer schtick is getting old. I suggest finding something else that’ll cement your life as the John Carpenter movie it is.”

To his surprise, Jason snorts, genuine amusement flashing briefly across his face. “I prefer Ridley Scott,” he says, and before Jughead can so much as blink, Jason’s walking back the way he came. Jughead looks down at his empty palm in surprise.

“On me, Jones,” Jason calls out over his shoulder, holding the plastic bag between his thumb and forefinger. He dangles it in the air, almost like a challenge. “I’ve got more in my car.”

Jughead freezes, imagines the backseat of Jason Blossom’s Range Rover, thinks about the flickering of a flame, how the smell will float through the air and seep into the interior.

“Wait.” Jason stops but doesn’t turn around. “I know where we can go.”

Jason’s gaze is critical but not condescending as he takes in the projection room’s dusty shelves and dim lighting, the cot tucked away in the corner, old sheets and worn blankets piled on top of it. There’s a faded Scarface poster tacked to the wall, its corners creased.

“Not a word,” Jughead warns him, and Jason smirks some more before handing him a lit joint.

They sit back and smoke in silence for what feels like forever, and it’s only around the third joint that it hits him that he’s actually hanging out with Jason fucking Blossom of all people.

Naturally, he finds the whole thing hilarious for some reason.

“Jesus Christ, Jones.” Jason brings the joint back up to his mouth, lips parting as he blows out another smoky cloud. He looks bored. “Here I was thinking you and Andrews did this kind of shit all the time.”

Jughead leans back against the wall, struggling for air. “No, no, Archie’s—” He wheezes, rests his arm across his stomach. “Archie’s too perfect for that.” He sounds wistful, defeated.

“Too perfect for you, maybe,” Jason comments casually, and Jughead flinches.

He has no idea what Jason sees in his expression, if he picks up on the panic and hurt rolling through him, emotions not even the strongest of drugs would be able to erase. He wishes to God they could, wishes with everything he’s got left that he could take his feelings back.

“Holy shit,” Jason says quietly, slowly, dangerously. “You want him.”

Denial immediately rises up within him and bubbles in his throat, trying to claw its way out. But sitting here now, in a small and cramped space, with Jason Blossom by his side, Jughead thinks he doesn’t want to hide. There’s no need to.

“Yeah, I—” he starts, and it comes out as a sigh. “Yeah, I do.”

“You want him,” Jason says again, and he’s suddenly much too close, his breath fanning across Jughead’s face. His eyes sweep closed as he thinks, If only you knew. “I could be him.”

Jughead doesn’t push Jason away, doesn’t say, You could never be him.

He doesn’t tilt his head back and blink up at the ceiling, doesn’t inhale until his lungs are bursting, doesn’t say, This can’t end well for either of us.

He doesn’t shove Jason onto the cot, doesn’t pin his shoulders down and say, What game are you playing, Blossom?

Instead, Jughead opens his eyes just a fraction, just enough for him to think that in this light, with his gaze obscured and his brain clouded over, that Jason’s hair could be a different shade, that he could be a different redhead.

Jughead leans forward, exhales against Jason’s lips, softly, warmly, says, “Okay,” and invites him in.

When they’re in eighth grade, Archie finally kisses Jenny Holt, the girl he’s been obsessing over for the last three weeks. He tells Jughead about it later, all bright smiles and wild enthusiasm, and Jughead is less than impressed.

Archie is still too short and too skinny and too small for his clothes, but he already sits too close and nudges Jughead too hard and makes too loud comments during math class, Jughead clapping a hand over his mouth before they both get into more trouble.

Jughead would follow Archie anywhere. He knows it, has known it since—it doesn’t even matter, all that matters is that he knows, that he feels it, willingly and all the way down to his bones, like a constant hum.

“What’s it like, Arch?” Jughead bounces a little on Archie’s bed, his legs crossed on top of the blanket. Mr. Andrews doesn’t mind shoes on the striped sheets. He’s always too preoccupied with Mrs. Andrews to notice.

“It’s—it’s pretty great, Jug,” Archie says, peering out the window with the same starry-eyed glance Jughead is going to be seeing more and more over the years. His stomach hurts. “I hope you get to kiss somebody you like one day.”

Jughead doesn’t laugh hollowly, doesn’t push himself to his feet and say, Wanna hear something funny, Arch? What if I told you I wanted to kiss you?

He doesn’t reach out and grab onto Archie like a lifeline, doesn’t tug his sweater by the sleeve and pull them closer together, doesn’t say, Wouldn’t that be nice?

He doesn’t move over and look Archie dead in the eye, doesn’t will him to see what’s staring him right in the face, doesn’t say, There’s no one like you. It’s always been you.

Instead, Jughead rolls over and stretches out onto his back, turning towards the wall. He pretends he doesn’t notice the bed dip when Archie jumps on it, doesn’t act like he can feel every inch of space between them.

“I hope so, too,” Jughead says.

“Reggie called me the Corpse Bride today,” Jughead says conversationally. “I think he’s been brushing up on his pop culture.”

Jason sits back on his heels and looks up at Jughead, carefully assessing. His hair is mussed and his gaze is hooded. “Mantle’s full of shit,” he replies dismissively. “He wouldn’t know a Tim Burton film if it bit him on the ass.”

“That’s an oddly specific image,” Jughead notes dryly, the drugs making his head spin. “Is it true what they say about boys’ locker rooms? Or am I just your dirty little secret?” he adds, waiting for Jason to take the bait, to tear him down, something.

Jason moves forward until he’s kneeling between Jughead’s legs, and his eyes flash dangerously. He bends down, his cheek pressed against Jughead’s.

“I’m not scared, Jones,” he whispers in his ear. “That’s just you.” Jughead tells himself that it’s Jason’s proximity that makes him feel as if all the blood in his veins has turned to ice.

“I’m gonna go down on you now,” Jason says without warning. “That cool?”

Jughead shuts his eyes and pretends he’s threading his fingers through a different head of hair.

Jughead’s always been fascinated by black and white films, likes the class in them, the timelessness. He sticks to this when it comes to his wardrobe, dressing in muted hues and subtle shades, colors that will render him invisible, one of the background characters.

Archie is the opposite, always has been. Archie is red and blue and gold, full of life and brilliance, and when he enters a room, he holds everyone’s attention. Jughead hopes (and wishes and prays and dreams) for the day Archie will walk down the hall and seek him out in the middle of a crowd.

He doesn’t bother holding his breath, though.

Betty asks him once, while they’re sitting on the bleachers in the scorching sun, a little before Kevin moves to Riverdale and she starts going to him for advice. Archie’s late, stuck in a meeting with Principal Weatherbee, because that’s Archie, always getting himself into the right kind of trouble.

“It’s just Archie, you know?” Jughead tells her, even though he feels like his stomach’s about to sink to the ground.

He wants to tell her more, that he knows what it’s like to have a piece of his soul stolen by a boy who cares, but who won’t ever see him, not really, not completely. He wants to tell her that Archie collects those fragments and carries them around with him in his pocket, that Jughead’s bit would burn brighter than all the rest.

Betty wets her lips, sighs, looks out across the field where the football team is practicing. Jughead thinks he catches a flash of red from where he is, but he’s not too sure.

“I wish things were different,” she says, and he thinks, Me, too.

He’s been sitting in the interrogation room for over an hour, the steel chair digging into his back, his body cramping in protest of how rigid his position is, how wound up he is, like a toy solider with a broken spring.

Sheriff Keller asked him—no, accused him of killing Jason, and Jughead sat there, amazed he didn’t break out into hysterical laughter right then. No, Sheriff Keller, I don’t know who killed Jason. But I do know he gives a pretty mean blowjob. Want me to write it all down for you?

The door opens and Sheriff Keller returns, tells Jughead that he’s free to go. Jughead’s head jerks upwards, his heart filling impossibly with hope that Archie, Betty, his dad—

“Ms. Blossom is waiting for you in the lobby,” Sheriff Keller says, twisting his hands together. He looks uncomfortable.

He’s out of the room like a shot, and he finds Cheryl waiting for him, seeming so out of place in the middle of all the old furniture and housekeeping magazines, lips pursed together like she can’t quite believe it, either.

“Cheryl.” He takes a step towards her, almost positive that this whole day is just some kind of drug-induced hallucination, that he’ll wake up in the drive-in, or in his own home, with his dad employed and his mom singing show tunes for Jellybean in the kitchen. “What are you doing here?”

“You didn’t kill him,” she says when they’ve walked out of the station. It’s getting dark, the sun slowly sinking into the horizon. She states this as factually as if she’s discussing the weather. “Jason always—” She pauses delicately. “I know you didn’t.”

“Yeah.” He slides into the passenger seat of her car when she gives him a pointed glance, breathes in the familiar scent of expensive leather. “I didn’t. I wouldn’t.”

Her forehead creases, like she’s fighting a headache. The look that comes over her features is wistful and a little sad, almost like she feels sorry for him. “I wonder if you would have been enough to save him,” she says, and starts the engine.

Jughead doesn’t dig his fingers into the worn leather, doesn’t pick it apart until it breaks, doesn’t say, What did you want me to do?

He doesn’t watch their town flash past him in a blur of color and sound, doesn’t watch people move on with their lives and say, Jason never needed anyone to save him.

He doesn’t swallow down the tightness that’s lodged in his throat, doesn’t face Jason’s twin, doesn’t say, I wish I did.

Instead, Jughead says nothing. Cheryl drops him off at Pop’s without asking, and it’s only when she’s peeled out of the driveway, the fading sun setting her hair ablaze, does he realize that she probably knew he had nowhere else to go.

“What do you imagine him doing?” Jason breathes, kissing his way down the line of Jughead’s throat.

Jughead shifts in place, allowing him more access, and lets himself get lost in the feel of it, where it’s just the want and the heat and none of the ache that comes back when he returns to himself. Archie would never look at him with such casualness.

“This,” Jughead manages to say, because how can he tell Jason that he’s never asked for, never expected anything more than Archie, warm and solid next to him, a world where he doesn’t have to count every inch of space between them, where he can just reach out and hold. “Just this.”

Jason pauses, his frown imprinted against his skin. “Has anyone ever told you that you’ve got ridiculously low standards?”

Jughead doesn’t laugh bitterly, doesn’t sit up and pointedly stare around the shabby projection room with his old books and his rucksack stuffed with clothes, doesn’t tell Jason he’s never had a fucking choice.

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re not as great as you think you are?” Jughead counters.

To his surprise, Jason falls down next to him, presses his face against Jughead’s stomach. “Cheryl,” he says eventually. “Many times.”

That manages to startle a laugh out of Jughead, and Jason grins up at him, looking almost pleased. “Who would have thought the Blossom twins bickered like everyone else?” he deadpans.

“I’m two minutes older than her,” Jason says. “Something she has yet to forgive me for.” He lets out a long-suffering sigh and rolls his eyes, and Jughead doesn’t think he’s ever seen Jason act so human. “Pretty fucking funny, isn’t it, Jones?”

Jughead thinks, Please call me Jughead, and when Jason’s fingers start to trace patterns along his skin, he doesn’t think of anything at all.

There’s a dance coming up, and Archie’s been rattling off the names of girls in their shared history class for over an hour. He’s thinking, maybe Kylie, you know the one with the blonde highlights, she’s pretty cute, what do you think, Jug?

It’s almost summer, the sun high in the sky and the smell of freshly mowed grass cutting into everything else. Jughead wants to take in the scent of new beginnings, the air of untold tales and the glorified, unwritten future.

Betty’s sitting next to Archie, an artificial smile plastered on her face, even as she tears the paper napkin on her lap to shreds. Jughead watches the excitement light up Archie’s expression, wonders if he’ll look like that talking about people forever.

Jughead’s grown dark and jaded and cynical over the past year, but Archie is still too intense and too vibrant and too idealistic. Sometimes, Jughead can’t stand to look at him.

He thinks of lips at the base of his neck, along his jaw, skin against skin, pressing him down until he’s heady and breathless with it. He thinks about Jason’s voice, low in his ear, telling him, I’m not scared, and, That’s just you, and he says, “I wouldn’t know, Arch. I’m gay.”

It’s almost comical, the way Archie pauses mid-sentence, how his eyes grow wide and his mouth goes slack, snapping together with a click, and Jughead thinks of all the things he isn’t telling him.

“Wow, that’s—” Archie sits back, huffs out a laugh, but claps Jughead on the shoulder. “Thanks for telling me, man,” he says seriously, and Jughead smiles at him, feeling like he really means it for the first time in a while.

From the side, he notices Betty watching the two of them thoughtfully, glance heavy with something like pride.

Jason Blossom kissed the same way he lived; with a reckless abandon and a complete disregard for anyone and anything else. Jason Blossom was. Jason Blossom no longer is. Jason Blossom

Ctrl-A. Delete.

Jason loved his sister with an immediate fierceness that even I envied at times. Despite evidence to the contrary, Jason Blossom was as human as they come. Cheryl knew that.

I’d like to believe I knew that, too.

Ctrl-A. Delete.

The day Jason’s casket is lowered into the grounds of Thorn Hill is dreary and overcast. There’s a slight chill that hangs over the air, and Jughead stands to the side, feeling like an imposter in a stolen suit in the middle of such a wide, opulent space.

Cheryl is a vision in white, and she looks up only once as the procession begins, seeks out his gaze in the middle of the assembled crowd and holds it briefly, her stare loaded down with everything unsaid between them.

He watches as Archie makes his way to the front and hands over Jason’s jersey, remembers him coming up to Jughead and telling him that Coach Clayton wanted him to wear it.

Jughead hadn’t taken the jersey in his hands, hadn’t stared at the glowing yellow nine until it was imprinted beneath his eyelids, hadn’t said, You’ll never be him.

He hadn’t wound his arms around Archie’s shoulders and threaded his fingers in his hair, hadn’t said, You’re much too bright to be in such a dark place.

Instead, Jughead had smiled and said, “Congrats, man.”

He watches what remains of Jason Blossom disappear before him, and he thinks he should say something. I’m not scared anymore, or, You’re much too bright to be in such a dark place, or, What does Riverdale look like from so far away?

But the words don’t come and they get stuck in his throat, alongside the other things he can’t say. Instead, all he thinks is, Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, and even when everyone heads back inside, Jughead crunches the leaves underneath his feet and lets a litany of that one word circle around his mind.

“Why do you live here?” Jason finally asks him.

They’re sitting on his cot, facing each other, a movie playing in the background. They haven’t even touched yet, have just been sitting and talking and laughing, and Jughead would blame it on the drugs if there were any in sight, if they hadn’t stopped doing that ages ago.

It’s the second week of summer and Archie has been acting strange, blowing him off and making excuses, but the hurt that thrums just underneath Jughead’s skin isn’t as sharp as it used to be, isn’t as overpowering.

“Thought you didn’t wanna hear my sob story,” Jughead says sardonically, but Jason frowns, waits for him to explain, and he sighs. “My dad’s a dealer, my mom and my sister live with my grandparents. I don’t like going home very often, as you can imagine.”

“What’s she like?” Jason suddenly demands, and there might actually be some genuine curiosity laced into his question, if only Jughead knew how to find it. “Your sister.”

“She’s as feisty as Cheryl, that’s for sure,” Jughead says, and the edges of Jason’s lips twitch slightly.

He doesn’t even know why he’s sharing this with him, maybe it’s just the illusion that Jason actually cares, aided by the half-lighting and the melancholy soundtrack of Casablanca, still playing on the projector. Maybe it’s the way he cradles Jughead’s face in his hands, how he seeks him out in the middle of a busy hallway.

“I’ll believe that when I see it, Jones,” Jason says, and he finally bridges the gap between them and kisses him, cupping his jaw and running a line down the skin of his cheek with his thumb.

For once, Jughead closes his eyes and fights to stay in the present.

“Ooh, it’s Truman Capote at work,” Veronica says, sliding into the booth across him.

“Hey, Jug,” Betty adds, moving in next to her new best friend. It’s been almost two weeks since Veronica moved into town, and Jughead has yet to have a decent conversation with the new girl.

“Are you working on the next Great American Novel?” Veronica asks him, her voice filled with too much faux-cheer. Despite this, he detects an actual hint of genuine curiosity laced in her tone.

“Obviously.” It’s as good a reply as she’s gonna get.

Betty glares at him, obviously frustrated with his non-response, but Veronica, never one to be discouraged by anything, just leans forward and regards him with interest. “So, this book, you’re writing about everything?”

His fingers skitter to a stop, there’s a beat while he slips into memories of long nights under the dim light of a single bulb, a hazy, smoky room, hushed whispers and Jason’s breath ghosting along his skin, asking him, Is this all you pictured it would be?

He returns his focus to the screen, though he can no longer see words in front of him, only images. “Yeah, everything.”

Contrary to popular belief, Jason Blossom was actually a huge fucking nerd. He wore glasses because his eyesight was terrible. They weren’t even fashionable designer glasses, either. They were big, black, and hideous, and the first time I saw them I laughed for ten minutes

Ctrl-A. Delete.

The first conversation I ever had with Jason Blossom was about Ridley Scott. For reasons unknown to me, he liked coming off as a shallow douchebag. This wasn’t true. He liked football, but he also liked Kafka, and he read philosophical texts like a pretentious asshole

Ctrl-A. Delete.

I met Jason Blossom at a very strange time in my life. I had joined the ranks of the masses and realized that I was in love with my best friend. I went to him for a cheap fix and he let me pretend he was Archie.

He was so good at pretending that I didn’t notice I had stopped until it was too late.

Ctrl-A. Delete.

It ends the way it begins, in the back alley around the corner from Jughead’s bedroom, Jason standing in the shadow of the weak moonlight, Jughead searching his face for any signs of something, but finding none.

“I’m leaving, Jones,” he tells Jughead, and he almost seems sure, if only he would meet Jughead’s gaze. “Finally getting out of this town.”

“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me why,” Jughead deadpans, like the earth hasn’t shifted on its axis and he’s not falling through empty space, all at once too light and weighed down.

Jason gives him an infuriating smirk, and it’s like they’re back to square one, like none of it happened. But Jughead knows it did. He knows it in the way he doesn’t wish (and think and hope and pray), in the way he no longer feels like he’s drowning, like he can finally keep himself afloat.

Without warning, Jason takes two steps forward and frames Jughead’s face with his hands. He takes his time, sucking on his bottom lip and slipping his hands under Jughead’s hat to tangle his fingers in his hair. It tastes a lot like goodbye, without the promise of a, See you soon.

“I’m not the one you want,” Jason says when they finally separate. Jughead tells himself that it’s Jason’s proximity that makes him feel as if all the blood in his veins has turned to ice.

Jughead doesn’t whisper back, doesn’t say, You’ll never be him.

He doesn’t reach out and hold his palm flat against Jason’s chest, feeling his heartbeat hum beneath his fingertips, doesn’t say, I don’t want you to be.

He doesn’t grab onto Jason’s wrist, doesn’t tug him into the projection room, doesn’t pull him back into their safe space, doesn’t say, Stay.

Instead, Jughead inhales, fills his lungs with air, counts to ten, breathes, “Okay,” and watches Jason disappear into the dark like he’s sinking into the shadows.

There might be, I think, a wrong shade of red after all.

Ctrl-A. Delete.

“Cheryl says you and Jason were close,” Veronica comments one night, pulling a plate from the sink and drying it down with a fluffy white towel.

The two of them are standing in the middle of her kitchen, returning plates to the drying rack. He’s been living with the Lodges for over a month, ever since Veronica put two and two together and figured out why he’d been spending so much time at Pop’s.

Jughead tells himself that this arrangement is merely temporary. Veronica tells him that it’s his turn to do the dishes and to please just leave his goddamn toothbrush in the bathroom already. It’s not home, but Veronica sings show tunes in the morning and Mrs. Lodge brings in burgers every other day, and Jughead finds himself thinking, Okay.

“Not really,” Jughead replies, and he looks down at the plate in his hands. It’s overly bright all of a sudden, the ceramic almost blinding. He watches his distorted reflection move along the surface and swallows thickly. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

He’s not sure what Veronica sees on his face, doesn’t know if she detects the quake in his voice. But she’s already seen him more than most people, and it’s enough for him to wish that he’d given her a chance earlier.

“It does, though,” she says gently, softly, factually, and Jughead feels something inside him dissolve. “Doesn’t it?”

He buries his face in her shoulder, inhales through his nose, exhales through his mouth, in and out, eyes pressed shut until he sees stars.

Archie still sits too close and nudges him too hard. He asks Jughead, “As friends, right?” with a too wide smile and a softening glance. He sticks up for Jughead and steals food off his plate and makes him laugh, but Jughead no longer feels that ache, that emptiness.

He’s finally treading water, and he has no intention of going back under.

Jason Blossom’s death wasn’t just the tragedy of a small town. It was an event that touched the lives of those he left behind, whether he would have wanted to or not. There’s the obvious choice, like the part he played in Cheryl’s life. But he also left a space to be filled by Archie, and later on, by Veronica.

As for me, as painfully cliché as it sounds, Jason Blossom taught me how to live. Maybe no one will ever know about everything that went on between us in the last year, but I don’t mind. I’ll know, and that’s good enough for me.

Ctrl-A. Delete.