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Not Since Bonnie & Clyde

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He was Alice's boy next door, trailer trash like she was, with whiskey on his breath and the longest, prettiest eyelashes in Sunnyside.

So Alice had always more or less known about him, and him about her. It had to have come out first during one of those hot summers at twelve or thirteen or fourteen, playing barefoot and half-naked in the dust and junk. His father's radio blaring, her father cursing as he fixed up his truck. And the two of them fooling around furtively in the lean-to behind the trailers. One fair, one dark. One blue-eyed, one black-eyed.

One a boy, but not quite right for a boy. The other a girl, but with a little extra for a girl.

Omega. Alpha.

Alice's dad mostly didn't care about what she was. But FP's dad didn't like having a boy with a little extra. He wasn't like the other Sunnyside folk, FP's dad. Old man Jones had fallen on the hardest of times and ended up in Sunnyside after a lifetime of money and privilege. He had big dreams of getting back to that. He gave his boy the same name as his rich granddad, the alpha, the town judge: Forsythe Pendleton I.

But FP was obviously not an alpha from the start. And he wasn't going to turn out to be a judge. His dad told him enough times he was too dumb for it, and old man Jones wasn't wrong. FP was fast, strong, good on the football field. But that was about all he was good for.

You could hear his dad yelling that at him most nights. Mean. Old man Jones was mean as they got.

Alice knew mean because her mother was mean.

Think you're too good for us because of what you are? she said, the night Alice won a scholarship to Riverdale High. One slot there for a South Side girl smart enough to go. And one slot for a South Side boy good enough to play for the Bulldogs. They'd gone down to the mailboxes together to wait for the news and walked back together, jubilant, expecting congratulations.

Neither got them. That night Alice's mother smacked her hard for being snooty, for putting on airs. And when Alice ran out of the trailer, crying, there was Doug Robles from the trailer across staring at the shadows in the Jones windows.

"Damn shame," he said, because you could see Jim laying into FP hard, harder than smacks. The trailer park picture show. It would come on every night around seven.

So maybe she did think she was too good. She'd read about what she was. A survivor. A leader. The kind of person you could count on to walk out of a war zone. If she could walk out of that she could walk out of Sunnyside. She threw back her shoulders when September came and made the hike across town with FP, neither of them legal drivers yet, both of them nervous of how the North Side would take them.

They shouldn't have been nervous. FP shouldn't have been nervous. Any boy who could run and throw like him would be fine on the good side of town, where the Bulldogs were gods. And anyway, the North Siders didn't know what was under his clothes. They had no idea who the real FP was at all. That was what Alice would think when she'd catch him ignoring her for boring Freddy Andrews, good girl Mary Wyatt. Hearts in his eyes at their rich kid kindness and generosity, because he was an omega and easily-won.

Well, she ignored him too. At Riverdale High she met Hal. Everything FP wasn't. Normal, a beta. And so solid and well-fed and middle class, with that all-American blond hair and those cornflower-blue eyes. Hal wasn't handsome but he didn't need to be. His collar was always clean. He wore a different shirt every day. Wifebeaters were something he considered strictly underwear, and if he was fixing cars he was doing it for a hobby, not because it was the only way to put dinner on the table.

Still, Hal wasn't the one who helped her when she decided to dye her hair lighter. He wasn't the one smuggling her out with her head wrapped in foil because her mama came home early, helping her rinse it out under the pump in the back of the park.

It came out bleached and trashy as anything, but he said, "Shit, Alice, you look hot," and whistled low.

So if by mutual agreement they didn't bother with each other at school, that didn't mean they stopped being something like friends at home. Sophomore year they signed up for the Serpents together. Alice would swear later on that it was his idea, but he'd remember clear as day that really it was hers.

"Come on," she'd told him impatiently. "Do you want him to smack you around like that? Do you think you have a chance of holding him off without the Serpents?"

Low fucking blow, for an alpha to point out an omega's weakness like that, but the thing he'd always remember about Alice was that she never cared if she slipped and became as mean as their parents. That would always surprise him. She'd toss her head back and put her nose in the air and declare herself too good for Sunnyside, but at her core she'd carry the worst of it with her and not be able to tell that she had it in her like that.

But she wasn't wrong. FP needed a crew. A family. Something in him was always hungry for that, some fucking nesting omega instinct that he hated but couldn't get rid of. He signed up for protection. But when they did protect him, sent Rex and Maverick to shake up his old man, they had his loyalty. They had him for life.

"Easy," Alice told him dismissively.

She was a better Serpent than he was. Meaner, cleverer. But she was using them; they both knew that. She wasn't planning to be a Serpent forever. Only for as long as she needed her mother to be afraid of her, and that would only be for as long as she was at Sunnyside.

And that would be almost no time at all. Alice had a four-year plan, sketched neat and tidy. The blonder and sleeker she got, the more North Side she got. Sure, Hermione Mendes would still call her trailer trash, still refused to let her on the Vixens. But Alice was proudly open about every part of her gender, and that brought her her own admirers. She was invited to head up the Blue and Gold. Mr. Weatherbee, the paper's faculty advisor, promised to write her a college recommendation letter.

And there was Hal. Alice had already been to meet his doddering old mother in her grand white colonial. Alice had heard the sob story about the dead father. Alice had been shown the lovely, classic-cut diamond ring: the Cooper family middle class badge of honor.

That ring would be hers. And the colonial. She'd have its chintz sofa covers, its well-behaved plants in their pink planters, its airy kitchen. She'd have Hal fixing up cars for fun, and being fucking quiet about it when she asked him to. She'd have fair, clever little girls and when they talked about going to college, she'd never tell them they weren't good enough for it. She'd love them.

But somehow the plan hit a snag. The same year she joined the Serpents, she and Hal went out to the Twilight. Ordinary People was playing, part of some Robert Redford tribute. She made a joke about Hal being her Robert Redford and Hal didn't get it. FP would have. He wasn't smart, but he loved movies like anything.

Still, he was off somewhere mooning over Fred who was mooning over Hermione. It was just Alice and her all-American at the Twilight. They went for a drive after, and ended up at Lover's Point. She thrilled when she pulled off her top, because she'd planned this, she'd picked out the right kind of bra, white and lacy and virginal, had FP swipe it from Loehmann's drugstore for her.

"Is this your first time?" Hal asked.

"Of course," she lied.

She knew it was Hal's first time, so she didn't expect it to be fantastic. But somehow she had built up expectations. She'd had FP dropping to his knees in the lean-to at Sunnyside for a good year now, his tongue expertly lapping at her vagina, coaxing out her alpha member from its sheath. He'd never let her touch his omega opening, though, didn't even like to acknowledge that it existed. Would say, "Fuck, Alice what kind of man am I if I start getting off from my fucking cunt?" Would get bitter and mean. Would curse and march away.

But if she played him nice, coaxed him nice, never prodded at him for being less of a boy, he'd be good right back. So that was another talent to add to football. FP could fuck. Would fuck, had no compunctions about it. Had a decent dick for an omega, and knew how to use it.

Hal had no fucking clue what to do with his. She was bored the whole time and had to pretend not to be.

"Is that good?" he said, panting, and she had to coo and say yes it was, of course it was. And then in the months after when he wanted to do it again she had to blush and stammer and say she was embarrassed. What would people think. They'd think she wasn't a good girl. He knew where she was from and how important it was to her, being a good girl. Looking like a good girl.

Because she and FP had stopped walking together and didn't even talk at school, Hal had no idea how often they'd catch up at night. Her with a cigarette. Him with a bottle of whiskey. She was always laser-focused and he was always too pliable, but they'd manage between them to have a good time. Unlike Hal, who had seemed to think sex was an excuse for looming over her and pressing her into his car seat, FP didn't mind being manhandled and ridden. Alpha on top, even if they weren't fucking like alpha and omega, even if they were just doing it the normal way. And he wouldn't ask any stupid questions like whether it was good. He'd been hit, growing up, if he talked even loud enough to drown out his daddy's radio, so maybe he was just good at being silent when he needed to be. She'd lower herself onto his dick and watch, delighted, as he bit his lip and held back his groans and let her do what she wanted with him.

Then a good few months passed and she started waking up sick. It was her mama of all people who bought her the pregnancy test, but then maybe that was expected. She looked grimly satisfied when Alice came out of the bathroom and the results were clear as day: knocked up. Just like the trailer park trash she was.

"Well," her mother had said venomously. "Maybe that Hal Cooper will marry you after all. It's his, right?"

She'd only fucked Hal once. FP she'd fucked a whole lot more than that.

That same night she called Hal and pretended to be upset over not getting onto the Vixens again. Hal came by in his convertible, wearing a pressed blue button down, a prep in shining armor.

She shyly told him that she trusted him above all things, loved him above all things, felt so safe with him. So safe she just knew he'd never lead her wrong, no matter what he suggested.

"No matter what?" he said.

"No matter what," she confirmed.

"Alice, if that's true then don't you think you can trust me to -- to take care of you again? I'll make it good. Just like last time."

She stared up at him through her lashes. Said, low and scared-sounding, "Alright, Hal. Maybe I haven't been fair to you."

He wasn't any better the second time. But again she pretended he was. She'd be real with him about it once the Cooper ring was on her finger and she was installed in that colonial. His mother graciously invited to take that retirement in Florida she'd been wanting for so long. Hal's new little boy or girl scooting around on the floor, clever and mobile and safe from Sunnyside.

Maybe it wouldn't look too much like Hal. But Alice was fair and blue-eyed too, and so was FP's colorless, bruised-up mother. There were good odds nobody would notice the kid wasn't Hal's. And this baby was Alice's baby, so it would be born a survivor, no matter what.

What she didn't count on, though, was the difference between the North Side and South Side. South Side, even if you didn't want the kid, you'd shrug and maybe yell a bit, maybe knock your wife around if you were old man Jones. But you wouldn't make an appointment. That was what Hal called it. An appointment.

She was starting to show, because she was two months further along than Hal thought she was. So her Homecoming gown nipped in above the stomach, long and silvery-white as the string of pearls Hal's mother had given her. She should have felt beautiful, and instead she felt a ball of rage inside her, unfurling and unfurling, turning into a flower, setting down roots, filling her up.

An appointment.

She was a Serpent, an alpha. She'd conquered more than Hal Cooper even dreamed existed. She offered him her blood, her flesh, the first little thing she'd been able to grow herself, and he didn't want it. He wouldn't help her save it. Enraged, she slapped him so hard that the mark was still on his splotchy pink face when they crowned him Homecoming King.

"You didn't have to fucking do that. I'm trying to help!" he said afterwards.

"Then call it what it is. An abortion," she said.

She didn't go home with him that night. Instead she found FP and made him drive her to Centerville in his ugly green Dodge. Part of this was FP's fault, after all.

"Shit, why do we gotta go all the way out there?" he complained.

"They have a twenty four hour library, don't they?" she retorted.

He didn't know what was going on so he just looked at her, confused.

"Well, what am I gonna do in a library?" he said eventually. "You know I'm not much of a reader."

She almost advised him to twiddle his damn snatch, but kept her mouth shut. She didn't want him flying off in a rage and turning the car around. While he loitered at the front desk and made the Centerville librarians nervous, she went to the info desk at the back and smoothed down her hair. Adjusted her pearls. FP had stripped down to his undershirt once Homecoming was over, like he was uncomfortable looking too nice. But Alice still looked like a princess.

"I wonder if you can help me," she told the receptionist at the info desk. She could see the woman look up and could hear her response before she said it: of course, sweetie. Alice was so young and blonde. Prim. This was what Alice could be, if people only let her. A sweetie. A good girl. Someone who deserved your help.

"My boyfriend and I, we're in a bit of trouble."

Alice let her hand fall to her stomach. That said it all.

"And me -- I want to have it," she continued. "I need to find people who can help me have it."

She wasn't lying. She was lying about being sweet, lying when she tried to get people to see a princess instead of a snake. But she wasn't lying about wanting the baby. Her baby. Her mother had always told Alice that she'd never wanted her -- well. Alice wasn't her mother. She'd always wanted her own kids. Always wanted to shield and protect them. Give them good odds, better ones than she had. Help them survive.

She was glad FP hadn't come deeper into the library, because she broke down then. First time she had since she was a kid. The receptionist came out from behind the desk and held her and patted her hair. Said, "It's going to be okay, sweetie. Is that him out there? Is he trying to make you get rid of it?"

Alice nodded. Half the truth, right now, would do just fine. She just needed a way out. She needed to get her plan back on track. But she needed, too, to make sure this baby lived. She needed to have it. She needed it to know she loved it.

That night, she found out about the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. The next day, she took her cut of what the Serpents owed her -- walked right up to Rex and demanded it, told him she'd have his balls, that he didn't want to piss off an alpha -- and mailed the Sisters the fee they required. She told her mother she was moving out to live with a friend temporarily, also fuck you. She told Hal she needed time and space and was moving in with a kind old aunt in Greendale who knew plenty of people who could provide discreet appointments. She told Weatherbee that same fictional aunt was sick, and so she'd have to spend a semester taking care of her.

She told FP she was going to study abroad.

"Well la dee da, Alice," he said, rolling his eyes. "Enjoy Paris or whatever."

He kicked the dusty ground with his boot. For a second, she felt that rage again. For some reason she'd expected more. But she wasn't sure why. This was FP Jones, black as sin and pale as a snake's underbelly, smelling like sweat and whiskey and that sweet, hidden scent he mistakenly thought he could hide. And she'd been there guiding him to Riverdale High, telling him he could be better, do better, he could use what he did have (fast, a good arm) to get ahead.

But Alice was tired of dragging an omega around after her. Tired of protecting him. He wasn't going to leave Sunnyside. If Hal was obviously solidly middle class, then FP was just as obviously rawboned white trash.

Which didn't explain why some nights at the Sisters the baby would kick, and she'd think of FP. She'd look down at the lawn with its holy statue of Mary and see someone skinny and sharp-looking coming over the hill, and she'd think it was him. She'd think he would have realized, somewhere in his dumb, thick skull, that she was out here with a kid that was probably his.

But he didn't come. And every time that figure would be someone else, she'd feel that flower of rage fill her up again. He'd helped her make this child, but he wasn't somebody who could take care of it. He wasn't doing anything. He'd graduate Riverdale High and go nowhere, go right back to the trailer park.

The baby was born in a haze of pain, both he and Alice screaming and screaming and screaming. She had called him her chick the whole time he'd been inside her, and coming out he didn't disappoint. His hair was fluffy cornsilk, like Alice's had been when she'd been small. But his eyes were dark and sloe like FP's. The sisters said they would stay that way his whole life, probably.

So she probably wouldn't have been able to trick Hal after all, but she couldn't hate Chic the chick for that.

She spent twenty four hours with him, cooing Chic the chick and laughing about it. Then the new family came to take him away. They didn't know anything about Alice and Alice would never be allowed to know anything about them, not even what they were going to call her son. It was a closed adoption. Closed. The end. Punto Final, like Hermione when she looked over at Alice across the cafeteria and said, "She's too fat to be a Vixen, see. So it was the right call. Punto final, my dears."

Alice hadn't cried over that, but now she cried for weeks.

By the time the sisters had discharged her, she'd decided she would get the most she could out of Hal. She'd have him and she'd rule him, the mealy fucking worm. She'd make him replace Chic, make him give her children she could keep. And she'd be twice the Cooper he was, twice as respectable and clean, so no one could ever look at her and know that once he'd dared to offer her an appointment.

FP she washed her hands of. She didn't look at him. She didn't talk to him. She knew where that would go, now. Once he tried to approach her and she punched him, and he didn't try again.

She was going to get out of Sunnyside and she was going to have clean, clever babies. Beautiful babies. There was no space in that plan for a loser, a low-level criminal with eyes as black as his prospects.

She went to college on scholarship, where she was made president of the young Republicans, the young Catholics, and the moral purity society. People liked an alpha woman with her head on straight. Feminine, yet strong.

After college, at exactly the right time, Hal proposed to her. Hal's mother went to Florida and thanked Alice for the opportunity to get away, and then two years later she died, which was convenient because it meant Alice wouldn't have to share any of the children with her.

The down side was that they then had to name the new baby after her. Polly. Alice had always wanted her daughters to have queenly names, leader names. Victoria or Isabella. But Hal, while weak and malleable ninety-five percent of the time, could get ideas into his head that even an alpha couldn't budge. And he wanted his little girl, who he blithely informed Alice was the light of his life, thank god they were pregnant, to be named after his mother.

"I'm pregnant," Alice corrected. "You're not pregnant."

But he wouldn't deviate from Polly. He had a nurse put the name on the birth certificate while Alice was still struggling to push out the afterbirth. Hal, unlike FP, could be deviously clever. Once they got the baby home, Alice took one of his mother's pink planters and threw it at his head, then threw the rest of the planters -- plants and all -- in the trash.

It was funny how, even when the plan went off perfectly, it could still go off so wrong. Polly was beautiful, blonde and blue-eyed, and Alice loved her despite her name. But sometimes she'd notice how much Hal loved Polly, and the rage would crest again. Why Polly? And not Chic? Had Hal been able to tell, somehow, that the first one wasn't his?

Chic had been every bit as beautiful as Polly. Louder, with stronger lungs. Black-eyed as sin. But just as beautiful. To keep from thinking about him, Alice threw herself into Polly, into PTA meetings and neighborhood watch committee. Into throwing parties at the daycare and making the best cupcakes in town. She and Hal were picture-perfect parents, more doting than even the average North Siders. When she got pregnant again, people cooed about how lucky little Polly would be to have a sister and how lucky the new little one would be to have parents like the Coopers.

She was three months along, barely showing, when the doctor found some fluid in Polly's brain. It would need to be removed. If the operation was successful, Polly would return to being beautiful and normal. But in terms of survival, they were looking at 50/50 odds. There wasn't anything anyone could do to improve those chances.

"For god's sake, Alice," Hal said, when she broke down crying in the hospital. "Pull yourself together. You're an alpha for chrissakes."

She pushed off of him and lurched down the hall, barely hearing the doctor explain that this was typical in people like her, that they didn't like situations they couldn't control.

But it wasn't that she couldn't control it, but that it felt fated. She'd traded Chic for Polly and the colonial, so now life would punish her in the same fashion. Polly traded for the new one. The new one traded for -- for what?

She wouldn't lose her daughter. She couldn't lose her daughter. She drove around town in a haze, barely even noticing where the car was taking her. The most familiar place in town, sitting there like an old wound. Trailers with dingy tin roofs, mangy, barking dogs. Alice almost hit the mailboxes and didn't care. She lurched out of her car and went for the back, to the old rock near the lean-to, wondering if she'd find the old stash there: cigarettes and whiskey. Her fingers closed on both and she pulled them out, triumphant, and only then did she realize she couldn't indulge in either. She was pregnant.

"Alice?" someone said behind her.

FP. In the evening light, she could see that he was a little broader now, or maybe it was just that he appeared to have finally earned his Serpent jacket and it filled him out some. He hadn't changed much otherwise. Still the same large dark eyes and curving mouth. Still that fucking smell, the sweet tang she wanted, hidden behind the liquor and the criminal grin.

He was already drunk. He reached for the whiskey, bemused, and took it from her.

"Who'd have thought that would still be there, huh?" he said, like it was as much a surprise to him as it was to her. He opened it and took a swig. Carelessly wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

Then, exactly the words he'd always known she hated most, because they were her mother's and they were true: "I thought you were too good for us now."

She slapped him. He took the hit, then bobbed back. Took another drink. Started chuckling.

"Nah," he said, and his voice came out mean as his daddy's. "Stands to reason you'd come back. You aren't like the good girls. You won't stay away. So while Hal and your little baby girl sleep on the North Side of town, you -- you come back to our spot --"

Hearing him talk about Polly made her lose it. Just lose it. He was tall, fast, a Serpent, but she was a fucking alpha.

She didn't even realize she was doing it, grabbing him by his dark curls, his whipcord neck, pushing him to the lean-to. She shoved him at the floor while he laughed drunkenly. He stopped laughing when she put two fingers on the gland on his neck and he started. Said, "Shit, Alice!"

He was smelling sweeter already. His dick was tenting in his pants. She bet he'd be wet, too, further back.

It was easy to play an omega. Stupid of him to forget that. She pushed off his jacket over his protests and unzipped his pants. He seemed too dazed to stop her undressing him.

"Alice, fuck's sake, calm down--" he mumbled, so she shoved a hand over his mouth to shut him up. His dick bobbed free, hard already, but that wasn't what she wanted from him. She wanted to do this the right way. She wanted him to feel what he was: an omega. Her omega. And a fucking bastard of one. One who'd never come for her and Chic. Who'd let them down. Who'd never been worth shit to the family he could have had. She could have had.

She barely noticed how wide his eyes were as she got her own pants off. Her own member was hard now. Usually it was tucked in, demure, Hal never got her hard. Hal seemed to think that was normal and natural. No one on the North Side ever talked about what alpha women were underneath all the strength and the focus on their family shit. Women with dicks, women who could fuck you in every sense of the term.

Even in the back-of-the-trailer-park way. Her fingers found the soft, moist opening behind FP's dick and he let out a yelp. But he was already wet, just as she'd suspected. It was easy to dip in and out a little, get him wetter, turn the yelps into moans.

"Fuck," he was saying quietly, tears in his eyes. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

Red was spreading across his cheeks. Shame, she thought. He'd internalized what his daddy had always told him: that he had to be a man. So he never let anyone fuck him like this, even though this was what he was made for.

He never said no, not once in the whole time Alice fucked him. He took it like a good omega, quiet except for a few little sobs that were half-want and half-humiliation.

He was tight, soft, and wet around her, designed for her. She momentarily forgot how much she hated him. She trailed her fingers across his cheekbone to wipe away the tears.

"Big man," she whispered, and even she wasn't sure if she was reassuring him or taunting him. He hung his head and took it either way.

She left him in the lean-to with his pants around his ankles and drove back to the North Side. A month later, Polly's operation was successful, and Alice's daughter was beautiful and whole again. Six months after that, Elizabeth was born. This time Alice got to know all the nurses beforehand, made friends with them, left them thinking she was an absolute sweetie.

So they all knew not to listen to Hal, who wanted to call Betty Myrtle, because in his own way Hal could be a real motherfucker.

Betty wasn't a Myrtle. She was Elizabeth, for the virgin queen. And like Polly, she was purer and better than Alice in every way. She was mobile very early, talking very early, a marvel conquering every milestone. At three she was reading. At four she was tutoring Fred and Mary Andrews' dull little boy next door. At ten, she was a decorated girl scout. At thirteen, she wrote her first article ("LOCAL DINER OWNER INTRODUCES NEW MILKSHAKE FLAVOR") and politely asked her parents to include it in the Register.

She and Polly were both beautiful, intelligent, and good. Good girls, everyone said so. Normal, promising girls, one a beta (Polly) and one an alpha (Betty), and both North Side to the core.

It had all gone according to plan, and Alice was floored by that. Floored that she'd made these two, that she'd been allowed to keep them. Grateful, even though thoughts of Chic still haunted her, and some nights thoughts of the lean-to haunted her too. It felt like the universe had made a mistake. Like something -- something dark -- should have caught up with her, but it had made a wrong turn trying to get out of the South Side and had ended up passing her by completely.

Then, at seventeen, Polly Cooper got pregnant.

At sixteen, Betty Cooper came home and started insistently, aggressively, asking after her sister.

And something dark came out of the South Side, turned the corner of their street, and showed up for breakfast one day, hunched under a tatty denim jacket.

Alice didn't immediately recognize him for what he was. Jones wasn't an uncommon name in Riverdale. And she'd always known Betty had a friend called Jughead, a weedy, dark-haired little thing, pale as a snake's underbelly. He didn't live in the neighborhood, but when Betty went to the Andrews house he'd be there sometimes, because Fred, like all people who'd always had plenty to give away, liked to see himself as an especially generous soul.

Alice didn't see Jughead as a threat. The boy was an omega, smelled like an omega, even if he was clearly smart and had Betty's ear. And anyway Alice had always assumed that the boy next door would be Betty's biggest hurdle, just like FP had been hers.

So, foolishly, Alice was glad when they started dating. Jughead Jones was quiet, odd, respectful, and over the moon about her daughter. He wouldn't be the type to pressure her. And Betty had much more social cachet than he did, and could probably take him in a fight. And punishing Polly for going with a boy had only led to tragedy. So what, exactly, was the danger?

She put the pieces together when she saw FP Jones at Jughead's birthday party. Jones as in that Jones, as in the Joneses of Sunnyside. Whiskey-sweet, with long lashes. Jughead's eyes were bluer and lighter than his father's, but she felt stupid for not recognizing the curve of his mouth, the cut of his cheekbones.

When FP was (rightly, if not justly) arrested, and Jughead officially shipped back to the South Side, Alice was relieved.

No one will ever find out, she thought to herself late at night, and then she realized how ridiculous this was. Find out what? About Chic? Even FP didn't know the whole story, though he did know enough to bluff about Homecoming, apparently. So then what?

That time -- that one time -- when she'd been pregnant with Betty?

Did she think that what she'd done would come back, reverberate, cause suffering to her daughter? She did. In a way, she did. So the relief, really, was that this offered a way to disentangle Betty from all of that.

Betty and the Jones boy would break up, had to break up. Betty wouldn't be caught up with anything like FP Jones, with anyone half so doomed. Betty deserved more.

Somewhere along the way Alice had developed plans for her daughters. College. Careers. Not a life spent at PTA meetings or on neighborhood watch committees. Not a life spent glaring at the chintz sofa covers, with Hal obnoxiously refusing to turn down his radio as he worked on his car for the fiftieth unnecessary time.

If asked, Alice would say she loved her life, and she wouldn't exactly be lying. She certainly knew what her life could have been. But she wanted better for her daughters. Especially for Betty, an alpha and a queen and a survivor. Not someone to be dragged back to the mud and dust of the South Side.

So it was something of a shock to get a call from Sheriff Keller, who told her, "You know your daughter's come by five times to interview that FP Jones?"

She should have known, certainly. Jughead was back where he belonged, but Betty was home at odd hours, like she was spending time after school walking to and from the South Side. There had been the pigs' blood incident: SERPENT SLUT scrawled on Betty's locker, the right words for the wrong Cooper woman, two decades too late. And Betty's speech, and Betty's articles in the Blue and Gold, alarming Principal Weatherbee with how stridently they called for a fairer assessment of FP.

"Betty, for god's sake, can we stop this?" her father demanded at dinner. "He's a criminal, for chrissakes."

But Betty threw back her head, put her nose in the air, and said, simply, "Maybe. But he doesn't deserve to blamed for everything that's wrong with this town, for Polly's problems, or for Jason being shot, or for Archie's dad ending up in the hospital. That's on Riverdale itself, dad, on how easy it is to tear us apart. So sorry, but I believe in FP."

Hal thought that another pig's blood incident would nip it in the bud. Hal, like all cowards, thought that other people were cowardly too. Not Betty. She was like her mother: an alpha, a survivor. It would take more than frightening her to make her give up this crusade.

Alice was wearing her string of pearls and the Cooper wedding ring when she took Betty to Pop's. They both looked sweet. Prim. Mother and daughter, Alice in a pink blazer, Betty in a pink jacket. The infamous Cooper women. Good girls both.

"I was thinking," Alice said. "Though I haven't told your father yet, and you should really let me talk to him about it--"

She trailed off. Betty had already perked up, expectant but suspicious. A part of Alice was absurdly fond of how Betty knew to watch for when her mother might turn devious. Betty -- her little girl, her Elizabeth -- was smart enough to catch on when so many people didn't or wouldn't.

"What, mom?" Betty demanded, when the pause went on a half-second too long.

"I was thinking we could make a trade," Alice said quietly. "I write one -- one! -- five hundred word article offering a more, shall we say, nuanced perspective on FP Jones. Interview him, get the facts from the source. And in exchange for my publishing that viewpoint to a wider readership than just the teens of Riverdale High, you give up your little crusade and stop taking jaunts to the holding cells."

"Six hundred words," Betty said.

"I don't negotiate with terrorists, Elizabeth."

Betty rolled her eyes. Her chin stuck out, mulish.

"Fine, five hundred, but I get editing rights and I get to read it before you publish. And you can't change it back to say anything vile about him once I've edited it to remove the vile things you do say."

Alice looked at her coolly.

"You have such little faith in me, Eizabeth," she commented.

Because it was meant to be a fair trade. More or less. She would publish a piece on FP. She would interview him, and let him have his say. She wouldn't sling mud, or at least not any mud that wasn't true.

But she'd also let him know, in no uncertain terms, that if Betty did visit again and he did say anything to her, Alice would have his balls.

Because Alice was press, they brought him out of his holding cell and cuffed his leg to the table so they could have a nice, long talk. Alice didn't look at him when she walked in, just set up her tape recorder and started rooting around in her bag for her notepad.

"You the reason they set me up nice and let me have a coke?" he said, after a few minutes.

"Yes, I'm the one to thank," Alice said, looking up at him coolly. "Pity. I think you'd look rather nice behind bars."

He cracked a lazy grin. Alice should have said, you look rather nice, period, because that was still true. She hated that it was true, but it was. Still with that curling dark hair, those eyes. Somewhere out there Chic was wielding those eyes against a very unprepared girl. That was really the trouble with FP; she could no longer look at him and see FP. She looked at him, and a lifetime with Chic unfurled, the lifetime she'd never got to live.

"The Register is interested in publishing an interview with you," she told him, voice clipped. "Your perspective."

"Whoopee," he said. He held up his cuffed hands in a gesture of sardonic congratulations. Alice ignored him.

"You shouldn't worry that we'll misrepresent you," Alice said. "Betty will have final say on the article, and I think we both know that you've been delighting in ensnaring my daughter to your cause--"

"They have to break up," FP said, apropos of nothing.

"What?" Alice said.

FP looked away.

"They have to break up," he repeated, after a second. "Her. Jug. I let it happen because my boy -- he's not like me. Raised him right. He'll never pressure a girl. Anything with him's gonna be real innocent. And I thought, before all this happened --" again he gestured with the cuffs but now he was gesturing vaguely at himself, "--I'd get him out of here, take him to Toledo. And then breaking up would happen naturally. You know kids can't do long-distance. Thought that would be easier on him, would hurt him less."

"What are you talking about?" Alice said, bewildered.

She didn't like feeling bewildered around FP. That feeling wasn't natural.

"He's mine," FP said. "My boy. I had him."

"Yes, I know that," Alice said, like she was speaking to a moron.

"No," FP said. Red was spreading across his cheeks. And since he wasn't allowed to drink here in the cells, he didn't smell even a little bit like whiskey, so what he did smell like -- pure, undiluted shame -- was fogging up every inch of Alice's brain.

"He's mine," he repeated simply. "Just mine, Alice. Not Gladys' kid. I met her later. Jug I had nine months after you--"

He broke off, but Alice's brain supplied the answer he'd never give, never admit to himself, because it would make him feel like less of a man:

After you fucked me.

With a slow-dawning horror, she realized that the tape recorder was still on. She carefully turned it off.

"You're lying," she said immediately.

He cursed, bitter about it.

"Birth's a matter of public record, Alice. Go look it up. You're a damn reporter."

"If you're not lying why wouldn't you tell me--"

"Tell you what?" he shot back. "Tell Mrs. Hal Cooper she knocked me up? So you could come back and take your kid? I wanted to keep him. And I know you, Alice. You like what's yours and you like it all to yourself. Like to stake a claim--"

"You're lying," she said again, more vehement this time, dripping with that rage that was still inside her. "You're lying, and -- why would you keep a child just to raise it on the South Side--"

She hadn't done that. She'd been smart enough to want better for Chic, at least. For all her children. So he had to be lying. This couldn't be real. This couldn't be the way the universe caught up with her, the South Side caught up with her.

This time, when she found the whiskey stashed by the lean-to, she drank it all. Then she went to where the birth records for the county were kept on microfiche, which was, in a horribly bitter twist, the Centerville twenty four hour library.

She looked for two names. The first was Chic, who was filed as just Baby Boy (adopted), under her maiden name. And the other was Jughead Jones, which was a bitch to find until she realized that of course his name couldn't be Jughead. Not even FP was dumb enough to name a kid Jughead.

He was just dumb enough to have wanted a piece of his father's old legacy to continue. So she found the birth filed under Forsythe Pendleton Jones III. Born nine months after she'd fucked and left his father in the lean-to. Five pounds, five ounces, and therefore slightly underweight. No mother listed. Just a father: FP Jones.

There was no reason for FP to lie about it. A part of her thought: maybe he wants to trick me into taking care of his kid, but FP wasn't smart enough to pull off that trick. He was also just smart enough to know Alice for what she was by now, to know that it would be a bad idea to toss his kid on a Serpent, an alpha, and a girl like her -- a very bad girl.

And it just felt true. Why had Alice always thought her sins would be visited on her daughters? Her sins were meant for her. And maybe for her sons.

As with everything else in her life, she set up a plan. She took the whole night to do it, lying there in her pajamas next to Hal, trying to ignore his snoring.

Step one, keep it quiet. Pretend to be sweet. Invite Jughead Jones over and get his DNA on something. Test it. Just to be sure.

But that would leave her daughter potentially dating her own brother. So fuck that step one. Fuck that. Fuck it all. Christ. And she'd thought the fucking incest came from Hal's side.

Better potential step one: tell them, and end it between them. And watch her daughter's face fall completely.

"You're lying!" Betty said immediately, in a twisted parody of Alice just a few hours earlier.

"She's not lying about my dad being -- being an omega," Jughead said quietly. He looked spooked, tucked in on himself in the corner of a Pop's booth. "And I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have told her that. He's not proud of it."

Betty kept talking over him, talking at Alice. "You just don't want me with Jug! Because of this stupid North Side versus South Side Civil War--"

"Keep your voice down," Alice said. "We're in public. Pop doesn't need to hear our business. And I am from the South Side, Betty--"

"I'll do it. I'll just take a DNA test," Jughead said. He didn't let go of her daughter's hand, Alice noticed.

"Jug, no," Betty insisted. "She just wants your DNA for something, something messed up--"

"You sound crazy, Elizabeth," Alice snapped.

"Don't call her crazy," Jughead said, with more iron in his voice than his father had ever managed. "I said I'd do it. There's a DNA lab in Centerville. We'll go do it right now--"

"Jug, she'll find a way to mess with it. She's the one who made Archie and Veronica investigate your father--"

For the first time, Alice felt bad about that. Not because of FP, exactly, but because FP's son wore his hurt on his face far more easily than FP ever had.

"I don't think she can manipulate the whole DNA testing lab," he said shakily. "Let's just get it over with."

"Fine," Betty said. "But I'm riding there with you. Not her."

He helped her into the pickup truck like she was a princess. A real one. Alice stood for a second on the front step of Pop's and just stared at them, this distorted mirror of her and FP. Purer and better. Neither of them trash, she thought.

Not her kids.

Because she'd already accepted it, in a way. Even if for a while she didn't know. It took a few weeks for the lab to process the samples, weeks her daughter spent despising her. There was something like hate in Betty's eyes when Betty looked at her now. But it was hard to tell. Betty had never worn hate before.

"I hope I don't have to tell you that you and Jughead shouldn't do anything until the results come back," Alice began one morning.

"I already made out with him," Betty said coolly.

Alice recoiled. Betty turned on her heel and left for school. And after she was gone, Alice put her head in her hands and breathed hard as she realized that Betty had said that to make her recoil. Betty had lunged like a snake, vicious and precise, and struck her target.

Just like her mother. Done.

"God, Alice, you pretend you're so nice, but you're the most two-faced girl in our school," Mary had told her once. "We're not friends anymore. Okay? Done."

She hadn't even considered crying about that, but she cried now, for hours. Then she wiped away the evidence and went out to the mailbox to get the mail and there it was: the result.

FP hadn't lied. Just gone off and had the kid, and then done what Alice couldn't, and stupidly kept it. Raised it on the South Side. Black-haired and as pale as his dad, but with Alice's eyes.

Betty cried when she saw the results, and that was worse than crying over Betty.

"Honey," Alice began.

"The worst part is that I still don't know if this is a trick," Betty spat. "You're such a liar -- you've lied about everything -- and I have no idea if this is just because you wanted us to break up--"

"FP told me to break you up! He agrees with me!" Alice said, falling back on the old partnership somehow, the old snake's path out. It wasn't just me fooling around back there. It was FP, too.

"When did he tell you that?" Betty said, eyes red but her mouth set. "When? When you had your nonexistent interview with him?"

Then, bitterly, "God, the worst part about this is that -- that we were probably going to break up anyway. But you couldn't wait to just do it yourself--"

"You were going to break up?" Alice said, thrown. "But you were claiming you loved him. That's not like you--"

Betty dried her eyes and somehow looked like a prizefighter while doing it.

"He's a Serpent now," she said. "And he said he wasn't going to stop being one, so we were going to go on break. Do you even care that he's a Serpent? If he were your real kid, you'd care."

Betty said it accusingly, like she thought there was no way Alice would care. But Alice did. There was another hot, heavy thing unfurling inside her. Only now it wasn't rage, but something darker and grimmer. Despairing.

A boy like that -- like Jughead Jones. He needed a crew. Something in him would be always hungry for that, some South Side instinct that he'd never get rid of. Just like his parents. Wanting a family. And if he found one in the Serpents, they'd have him for life.

"Jesus Christ, Elizabeth," Alice said. She grabbed her purse and headed for the door, ignoring Betty calling after her.

Jughead wasn't at the Jones trailer. So she went to the Whyte Wyrm. The Dodge was parked outside, offensively green as always. Inside, she almost couldn't make him out. He blended with the others. They'd given him the jacket right away, looked like, probably to lure him in. So she had no idea which of them she should punch first: Rex or Maverick or Ginger or Angel.

She settled for hauling Rex violently away from the pool table, watching surprised recognition bloom across his face.

"Alice?" he said, staring at her prim khaki coat and pink blouse.

"Mrs. Cooper?" Jughead said at the same time.

"Out, Jughead," Alice snapped at him. "And take that jacket off. It looks ridiculous."

"Hey, you can't come swanning back here, Alice--" Rex began.

"He's my kid," Alice said flatly. "I can do whatever the fuck I want."

And then, prudently, she hauled Jughead away and shoved him into his truck before the Serpents could get themselves together long enough to follow them out.

"The results came back," Jughead said, blinking at her.

"Yes, and you'll never guess what they say," she told him crisply.

"I saw the envelope but didn't want to open it," he admitted. "Guess now I don't have to."

She frowned at him.

"The trailer. Now," she said.

He started up the truck and drove to the trailer, as ordered. She followed him in her car. Inside, she perched gingerly on one corner of FP's lumpy, hideous couch and watched Jughead open the envelope and see the truth for himself. His hands were shaking. After he read the results, he passed one hand over his mouth.

"Jesus," he said. "It's so sordid. When does it -- when does it stop being sordid?"

Alice didn't have an answer, so she just looked at him. The more she looked at him the more she liked the look of him, the way she caught trace elements of herself. Bones a little finer than his father's. Mouth a little wider.

She didn't really have anything to say to him, but then she'd always thought it would be like this with Chic, too. No words could communicate what she was, what she wanted to be to a son she'd never been allowed to raise. She'd just have to sit here like this, offering herself in mute surrender.

"I guess you're like Betty and you don't think much of the Serpents," he said after a second, sounding insufferable about it, like he thought he knew more than her.

Well, she could nip that in the bud.

"I was a Serpent," she said. His eyes widened in a satisfactory way.

"They're a dead end," she told him. "You're out of them, understood? You're not joining a gang."

"What, like you kept Betty from joining the Vixens?" he said, rolling his eyes.

"The Vixens didn't leave your father facing twenty years for obstruction of justice," she said.

He scowled. And that -- that -- was more her than anything else. FP never scowled, not if he could smirk or sneer or just look like a dumb hot fuck. No, that scowl was pure Alice.

Jughead was still talking. "The Serpents are the reason I can survive at South Side High--"

"You're not going to stay at South Side High," she said flatly. "Leave that to me."

"I belong at South Side High," he said. He said it a little pompously, like this was a truth that should be evident to all. It was Alice's turn to roll her eyes.

"No, excuse me, Forysthe," she said. "No kid of mine belongs at South Side anywhere."

"Jughead," he insisted.

"Jug. Head," she said. "No."

He looked at her belligerently. She looked at him right back. Unlike Polly, who always cracked under her stare, and Betty, who'd only stopped cracking recently, he didn't even flinch. She was an alpha, his parent alpha, but he just stared at her like she was an adult and unfair and he was a teen too clever for his age, and one who wouldn't back down from a bully.

This was her kid. Was Chic like this, too? Chic had to be like this too.

After a second, Jughead scrunched his nose up, like something had just occurred to him.

"Betty said she had a long-lost brother," he began. "Would he-- I mean. Would he be mine--"

"Yes," Alice said.

His in every way. Not even a half brother. A full brother.

"I'd, uh, like to help you find him," Jughead said. "If you want that."

Now he did look away, ducking his head, embarrassed. Alice found herself tangling her hands in the hair at the nape of his neck, just where it peeked out under his hat.

"My dad does that," he said, after a second. "He's the only one who does. Was. The only one who did."

Alice curled her hand around him tighter, a little possessively. Not Chic, no. But still a lost kid, an abandoned kid. Left to rot in the trailer park, used to mean treatment. And a survivor, despite all that.

When she left him she went first to Weatherbee, to tell him in no uncertain terms that Riverdale High was re-instituting its South Side scholar program, and that the seat would go to Jughead Jones, effective immediately. He looked surprised, but ended up agreeing. Alice had always been able to play him.

Then she went to see FP. His trial was in three days, but he didn't show any gloom on his face, just regarded her with that cocky appreciation he'd always reserved for her. She used to think he did it just to annoy her.

"Go on. Tell me I'm still hot," she said.

"Well, not if you're gonna be that stuck up about it," he said easily.

She laughed despite herself. Then she kept laughing. Then the laughter turned into tears, completely unexpectedly, even though she'd never, never cried in front of FP.

"Alice?" he said. He was up and at the bars of his cell in a flash.

"Jesus, Alice! What's--"

"I got pregnant junior year," she said. "It was yours. The baby."

He reeled back like he'd been hit.

He said, "You mean the one you got rid of. Paris and shit."

"I mean the one I wanted," she said. And then it all burbled up, the whole fucking flower of rage, exploding out of her. "The first one I had, the one that was mine, the one that was going to be smart and gorgeous, that Hal told me to get rid of, that I had to leave half a year of school for, that I carried for nine fucking months, you son of a bitch, and it was yours, and you never noticed--"

She hadn't noticed it, but she had grabbed him through the bars, forced him up against them. She let him go. He fell back, breathing hard.

"You carried it?" he said dumbly.

"I had it and I gave it away," Alice said. She didn't sound like herself. Her voice seemed to belong to some other woman, one that was a lot more fragile than Alice Cooper had ever been. "I gave it away even though I wanted it."

For a second, FP didn't say anything at all. He retreated back to his cot and put his head in his hands.

"I'm sorry," he said simply. "I am, Alice. I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well, I'm sorry about Jughead," she said.

"Fuck, I'm not," FP said. "I'm not sorry about my boy."

But then he quieted, because they both knew what she was really apologizing for. And they both knew she'd never say it, would never come out with a sorry for what she'd done to him. That wasn't what they were. That wasn't what she was. She wasn't a good woman any more than he'd ever been a good man.

She was smart, though. A survivor. When she didn't waste her time with apologies, it was usually because she'd hit on a better plan.

You're such a liar, Betty had said, hating her, breaking her heart. You lie about everything.

After visiting FP, Alice went to the offices of the Register. Hal had locked up for the night. In a few hours, their employees would arrived, and they'd find the file Hal had marked for tomorrow's edition, and they'd open it and print thousands of copies, for Riverdale and Greendale and Centerville.

Alice clicked on it. She and Hal had agreed on this week's editorial. Something unlikely to ruffle any feathers. Something that didn't mention the South Side at all, that would please Mayor McCoy and Sheriff Keller and all of their North Side neighbors.

RIVERDALE'S FINEST CHEESE IS THE MAPLE BRIE, in fact.

"No fucking wonder our kids resent us, Hal," Alice muttered.

She deleted it. It was by Mrs. Prudence Muggs, and the Muggs were going through a hard time. Sadly Alice was just going to have to make it harder. She didn't want to print the maple brie thing anymore. She didn't want to print anything that anyone in an airy kitchen or a chintz living room would chuckle at.

She started to type.

FP Jones is guilty of picking up a teenage boy's body and dumping it in Sweetwater River. Let's get that out of the way. Now let's talk about what we're proposing: that he get twenty years for it. Twenty years, when Hiram Lodge, who is responsible for at least forty-three suicides, got less than twenty months.

This somehow makes sense to us, because FP Jones isn't us. FP Jones is a South Sider. Well, I wonder if any of you realize how long a South Sider has lived among you.

It would infuriate Mayor McCoy and Sheriff Keller. But she could very well take both Mayor McCoy and Sheriff Keller. Hal was the one she was more worried about. He'd never actually liked her to talk about her South Side past. He liked her to be ashamed of it. She'd liked to be ashamed of it, too. A good girl, she'd always thought, would have been properly ashamed of it. And the good girls were the ones who didn't need careful plans or petty meanness. The ones who got out.

She couldn't predict what would happen in the morning, after this was published.

She could only sketch a four-year plan, and hope.

-

It did take four years: to get both girls to college, to get both her boys back, to finalize the (messy) divorce, to go bleached blonde again and wait for FP outside the prison on the day he was released. Black as sin, but hers. She liked to have what was hers. And she'd staked a claim on him years ago.

And in the divorce, Alice got the ring, the pearls, and even the fucking colonial.