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Trade-Off

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It was three in the morning on an innocuous Friday night when the insistent ringing of his phone woke Reggie Mantle from a dreamless sleep. Peeling away his sweaty arm from where it was draped over his eyes, he sat up and fumbled around on his crowded side table for his phone.

A tube of chapstick rolled away, a brand new pair of sunglasses clattered off, his car keys went over the side, and a full can of the beer he’d popped for himself before bed and then forgotten about fell to the ground, the now flat liquor spilling out over the carpet and anything he’d thrown to the floor earlier. He’d have a hell of a time explaining the smell to his history teacher when he handed in that textbook at the end of the semester.

When he finally wrapped his fingers around his phone and squinted into the sudden brightness, he was less than impressed to see it was Veronica calling. It was too late at night to flirt, he needed his sleep to be at his most charming.

“Oh for the love of...” he hit the answer button, holding the phone to his ear and briskly snapping: “What?”

“Reggie?”

“Yeah, Ronnie?” He replied tersely.

“Did I... did I wake you up?”

“It’s three in the morning, Veronica! Yes, you woke me!”

“I’m sorry... but...” A beat passed and then Veronica was in tears on the other end of the call.

Okay, something definitely wasn’t right. Beauty sleep forgotten, Reggie was suddenly interested in what this was all about. “What’s wrong?”

A babble of indiscernible crying came through in response to his questions.

“I didn’t get any of that, Ronnie.”

More crying, but this time, a few words he was able to make out. “Everyone... hates... me!”

“Where is this coming from? What’s happened?”

More crying and Reggie realized that he wasn’t going to get anything out of Veronica over the phone. Throwing the blankets off his legs, he climbed out of bed, slapping his feet in the beer soaked carpet and stooping to grab his keys.

“Tell me where you are, Ronnie, okay? Let’s talk face to face, yeah?”

The wails faded into sniffling but Veronica didn’t reply.

“I guess I’ll go back to sleep then, huh Ronnie?”

The sniffling escalated again but she answered between choked out sobs: “I’m... at... the... beach...”

“Okay, the beach. I’ll be right there. Stay put, alright?”

“Al... right...” she choked out before hanging up suddenly.

Reggie stared at the screen of his phone until it turned itself off. Then pulled his feet out of his wet carpet and stumbled through the dark. The jeans and t-shirt he was wearing all day were draped over his desk chair so he pulled them on. His sock drawer was empty though, so he pulled on his Doc Martens without any. He hoped Veronica could be coerced into his car where he could spare his toes the mid-October chill by turning on the heat.

Or maybe heat it up another way.

As Reggie grabbed his leather jacket, sleep was suddenly the last thing on his mind.

_______________________________

Reggie hadn’t obtained any specific information about what part of Riverdale’s beach Veronica was on, but there was a spot the gang hung out almost every day over summer. Further down where the beach narrowed, the cliffs got taller, and the lighthouse shone out over the waves. She was no doubt there, so Reggie went there too. Parking his car as close as possible, he began the still considerable trudge over the sand to the usual spot.

The moon was full and the sky cloudless, so at least she wasn’t hard to spot. Her knees were drawn up, her arms wrapped around them. She sat staring at the water and didn’t acknowledge his approach.

“Alright, Ronnie. I’m here.” Reggie said as he came to stop beside Veronica.

Veronica stayed silent. “What, no hello?”

Veronica stayed silent. “C’mon, what’s the drama, Veronica?”

“I... don’t know...”

“You don’t know your own drama?” Reggie laughed. “Aren’t girls like you supposed to keep very detailed receipts on all their drama?”

“I don’t know why I called you!” Veronica snapped.

“Ah, but you did.” Reggie replied. He wasn’t put off just yet that he hadn’t been Veronica’s first choice to call. He wasn’t anybody’s first choice for anything. He could accept that to a point. Especially since he was dying to know why Veronica had started all this in the first place.

“I know you don’t care,” Veronica continued with a sigh. “I just... didn’t have anyone else to call...”

That… that wasn’t what Reggie had expected to hear. This was so unlike Veronica Lodge. The defeat in her voice wasn’t a Lodge quality he’d ever seen before. It was just interesting enough to make him zip up his jacket and sit down beside her instead of turning on his heel and leaving.

“Alright Ronnie, I’ll bite. Tell me what happened.” He added after a beat: “Please?” That please was as uncharacteristic for Reggie as the defeated tone was for Veronica.

“I was out with Archie earlier.”

“No surprise there,” he remarked, rolling his eyes as he did.

“Do you want to hear this or not?” Veronica sighed. She cast Reggie a sideways glance and he saw the remnants of tears in her eyes.

Truth was, he kind of didn’t want to hear the story. It was three in the morning. It was cold out. He wanted to go back to bed. But maybe what Veronica was about to say would finally give him something to lord over Archie’s carrot coloured head. “Go ahead. I’m listening.”

“I was out with Archie. He didn’t say a thing to me all night. Not before or after the movie. Not at Pop Tate’s. Nothing. Then Betty came along... And he left with her.”

A snicker escaped him before he could stop it. “C’mon Ronnie, how many times have you stolen Archie from Betty?”

“This time was different! The smile on his face as he went to her... I had heard gossip that the two were getting closer. I didn’t think it was true.”

“Because who’d want a girl with car grease on her hands when they could have you?”

“Reggie Mantle!” Veronica shouted, turning to glare at him as she did. “If you don’t want to act civil for half a minute while I tell you this, just go home!”

“Don’t you think I’d love to be home right now?” Reggie snarled back. Pretty girl or not, he didn’t appreciate when people wasted his time and told him what to do. “I was sound asleep when you called. Having a particularly great dream about Betty, actually!” That was a lie, Reggie hardly ever dreamed, but Veronica didn’t know it. All she knew is when she heard the name Betty, her stomach clenched and the tears started again.

“I’m sorry I even called you!” She shouted, but the anger in her dissipated as quickly as the echo of her voice did against the cliffs behind them.

There was a part of Reggie wanted to turn tail and leave. He’d been trying to get with Veronica for years and she’d rebuffed him for Archie Andrews, for reasons he just couldn’t understand, each and every time. Why should he sit here now and listen to her complain about Andrews? It’s not like everyone didn’t tell her about Archie.

Veronica turned away from him to look back out at the moonlit water. A tear rolled down her cheek and Reggie forgot the argument he had in his head about why he should leave as a sudden urge to brush that single tear away overtook him.

Well, the urge to touch Veronica in any way wasn’t all that sudden. He’d had it nearly constantly since he’d hit puberty. Tonight was an urge to comfort her though.

Because, and he hardly believed it himself, there was the other part of him. The part that wanted to stay because she’d wanted him to be here in the first place. He was a loner by his own design, though he wondered if that’s ever what he wanted to become. Hardly anyone ever texted him to talk, or invited him along to go places. He would just invite himself places. The only people that ever called were his parents, saying they’d be gone for another night and to just charge some more take-out to their credit card.

“You want to know the worst part of tonight?” Veronica asked, clearly wanting to finish her story more than she wanted to shout at Reggie. “Daddy saw the whole thing. I was outside yelling at Archie and he watched it happen from a window at the bank. He came out afterwards... to rub it in. To say how right he was about Archie. And how wrong I was...”

“The man hates Archie.”

“Enough to mock me? His only child? His only child that has just lost the only two friends she has?”

That confused Reggie. Wasn’t Veronica friends with everyone? Didn’t she have just shy of ten million Twitter followers and hundreds of thousands of people complimenting her on Instagram? Wasn’t she constantly throwing parties, dominating rooms, and being surrounded by people?

But the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. Sure, she was always surrounded by people, but they were just hangers on, trying to get in with the rich, popular girl. He supposed he was marginally guilty of that himself. Who were Veronica’s actual friends? Archie of course, and when she wasn’t with Archie, she was with Betty. Jughead didn’t like her though, so if Archie and Betty were together who did she go to? And her parents? Almost as absent as his were.

Was Veronica Lodge really as lonely as he was?

Why hadn’t he ever seen it before?

“Daddy tried to take me home because he didn’t like the emotion I was showing. Which, for him, is any emotion. But I didn’t go. I couldn’t. So I walked here.”

“You walked from downtown to the beach?” Reggie craned his neck to see what she had on her feet. Sky high black heels. Standard Veronica fair. “That’s a helluva walk, Ronnie.”

The corner of her mouth twitched into a small smile. “You’re telling me.” The smile turned to a grimace as she peeled the shoes off and Reggie got a look at the blood on the toes of her tights. “I’m afraid I’ve ruined the suede,” she remarked as she tried to pull the shoe back onto her foot. The look on her face gave away how much pain that caused her.

“Let’s go back to my car. I’ll drive you home and you can take your shoes off for the night.”

Veronica shook her head vehemently. “No! I can’t go home. Not yet.”

“Then here,” Reggie said as he pulled off the Martens he hadn’t bothered to lace. “Wear mine.”

Her look was dubious. “Why are you giving me your shoes?”

It was a good question. Reggie wasn’t sure if he knew himself. There weren’t any of his usual ulterior motives behind the gesture. It was just kindness for an old friend he supposed.

“They’re big enough that you won’t rub anymore skin off. Besides,” he said with a smile as he placed the two boots in front of Veronica, “army boots are in this fall. You should know that.”

“Won’t you be cold?” She asked with a small whimper as she removed her heels again.

“It’s not so cold out,” Reggie said as he dug his now bare feet into the sand. In truth, it was just cold enough for him to constantly notice it. As long as they weren’t here all night, he’d bite the bullet.

After the boots were on Veronica’s feet, she stretched her legs out across the sand, leaning back on her hands to admire the too-big Martens. “You wouldn’t think this would be a good look for me, but here we are.”

“I wish I could say the trade-off was as good to me,” Reggie smirked as he held up the four inch suede heels. “I don’t suppose you have these in a size ten?”

That got a good laugh out of Veronica, her perfect white teeth flashed in the moonlight as she turned to give Reggie one of her million dollar smiles. “I take it back. I’m glad I
called you.”

“I’m glad you called me too,” he replied with a smile of his own.

It couldn’t have been anywhere near as beautiful as Veronica’s, but she must have thought it was something because she leaned her head on his shoulder and didn’t brush him off when he reached around her shoulder.

“Do you think Betty and Archie are serious?” Veronica asked after a moment had passed. “About being together, I mean.”

If Veronica had asked him that yesterday, he would have said any number of things to discourage Veronica from trying again with Archie. If the ridiculous redhead was out of the picture, Reggie could swoop in to take his place. Now though? He was feeling generous.

“Who knows.” He answered. “Maybe you can plead your case on Monday and get him back again.”

“Maybe…” Her thought trailed off as she moved herself closer to Reggie.

Reggie’s arm tightened around her as she did, and the two lapsed into silence as the waves lapped against the shore.

_______________________________

Veronica was nodding off on his shoulder. He could feel the slight droop of her head and the perk back up as she tried to stay awake. She shivered slightly under the fashionable but thin leather jacket she wore over her strapless dress.

Reggie fought against his own shivering. His feet were like ice and goosebumps covered every inch of him, but he didn’t want to move in the slightest. Not with Veronica cuddled up to him. It was like having a cat curled up on your lap. No matter what you had to get up to do before the cat laid down, you just let the cat stay.

The sound of the waves on the beach was distraction enough from the cold. And the fact that his hand was around Veronica’s shoulder.

He wondered briefly if he could get his hand somewhere else on Veronica’s person other than her shoulder but decided not to push the extraordinary luck he already had. Besides, resting his head on top of hers felt like all he needed.

Veronica’s head drooped and perked up again, but this time she stayed awake. “Reggie?”

“Yeah, Ronnie?”

“Do you mind being alone?”

“Who says I’m alone?”

“Obvious fact?”

He couldn’t fault her there. The only person ever at his house was him. The only person ever in his car was him. The only person ever around him for extended periods of time was... well, the point was made, he didn’t have to go any further.

“I guess sometimes it’s kind of hard,” he answered after a minute. “But I think I’ve gotten used to it.”

“That’s so sad. Just getting used to things.”

“There’s nothing you’ve just gotten used to?”

“Tonnes.” She replied as she pulled away from Reggie. The cold wind hit Reggie even colder when she did. “Doesn’t mean it’s not sad.”

More tears dropped her from eyes. Veronica Lodge cried like a starlet from old Hollywood. Just a single, graceful tear rolling down one cheek and then the other. This time Reggie didn’t hesitate to reach out and brush them away. Her cheeks were ice cold

“And I thought my hands were cold...” he said as he wondered how long she’d been out here on the beach.

“No they’re still cold,” Veronica replied with a small smile. “I’m sure your feet are cold too. You should go home, Reggie.”

The stubborn reply came without a beat passing. “I’m not going anywhere without you.” He’d thought earlier about how he’d bite the bullet if they weren’t on the beach all night, but now he thought he’d willingly sit here with Veronica until snow started falling. Then he’d give her his coat and stay with her till spring.

Veronica raised her eyebrow and smirked. “Why are you being so nice to me, Reggie Mantle?”

The first thing that came to his mind was in defence of himself: that he was always nice to her! But he knew it was a lie, she knew it was a lie, so why say it? “Because you needed someone to be nice to you. And I’m sorry if this is the first time I’ve ever realized that.”

Veronica did something then that neither one every thought she would do. She leaned in and kissed Reggie. He kissed back. And suddenly the stars blinked out and the waves went silent and the only thing left in the universe was this moment.

But since moments always have to end, it did. Veronica pulled away, leaving Reggie wide-eyed and instantly warmed up from the cold of the night.

“Do you want to go to for a drive, Ronnie? Or maybe go to Pop’s?”He would have offered to take her to Paris if it kept her with him for a little while longer.

“At this time of night?”

“It’s an all-night dinner. And it’s almost five. They’ll have started breakfast by the time we get there.”

“It’s already five in the morning?” Veronica pulled out her own phone to confirm. Her face fell as she got a look at something on her screen. Or rather, by the lack of anything on her screen. “Daddy hasn’t called once... he knew I didn’t go home and now it’s five in the morning and he hasn’t called once?”

The indignant anger was back in Veronica. Though it was justified this time, not like when Archie would forget to open her car door or Betty wouldn’t share your pink lipstick. Even Reggie’s borderline neglective parents would call to check in with him. Veronica’s dad had watched his daughter walk off into the night and hadn’t as much as texted?

She stood then and ran towards the water’s edge. She skidded to a stop right before splashing into it and hurled her phone into the black water with a scream. She stood with her fists clenched and shaking for a minute before dropping to her knees on the wet sand.

Reggie stood and went to stand beside her.

“Reggie?” She turned her face upwards to look him in the eye. He expected her to be crying again, but she looked almost sincere.

“Yes?”

“Take me home?”

And that seemed to be that on their night together. One universe stopping, spur of the moment kiss for him, a hissy fit to throw and then come to her senses for Veronica. Yup. That seemed about right. His general level of luck.

He wasn’t mad about it though. Maybe if it wasn’t five in the morning and he wasn’t cold to his core he’d throw his own hissy fit. But not tonight. He extended his hand for Veronica to take and helped her to her feet.

“Let’s get you home to Lodge Manor,” he muttered as he crammed his hands into his pockets and began his shoeless trudge back to his car. Veronica didn’t follow him though. Rolling his eyes, he stopped to see why.

“Lodge Manor?” Her beautiful little nose scrunched up in confusion.

“Has the cold got to you? That’s where you live. I’m taking you home.”

The million dollar smile flashed again. “I didn’t mean for you to take me to my home, Reggie.”

“Wait... what?”

“I thought you’d guess what I meant after the kiss.”

Okay. Maybe the cold had gotten to him. First, Veronica Lodge had kissed him, freely, of her own accord. Now that very same Veronica Lodge wanted to go home. With him. To his home.

“You want to come home with me?”

Veronica nodded with a smile as she walked towards Reggie. “I thought it would be nice if neither one of us was alone. At least for a little while.” She took Reggie’s hand in her own and started walking.

Reggie was pulled along by her in silent disbelief. Veronica Lodge wanted to be with him? In his company? In his house? In his bed even?

Veronica Lodge in his bed.

That thought alone was enough to squash the doubt.

Scooping Veronica up in his arms, he ran barefoot across the cold sand back to his car. Veronica giggled at the sudden surprise, but then gasped as she dropped her heels that she’d had in her hand.

“Oh Reggie, my shoes!”

“I think you mean my shoes,” he laughed. “Remember, we traded?”

“And you’re just going to leave your lovely suede heels at the beach?”

“Why not? They’re not my size!”

Veronica laughed, clinging to Reggie tighter as she did. She loved those suede heels, they were her favourites. Expensive, name brand, the catalyst of a perfect outfit. But as she rested her weary head in the crook of Reggie’s neck, she knew the trade-off was still definitely in her favour.

Chapter Text

A dog woke Reggie up. The crusty little shih tzu next door was always barking at awful hours and waking him up. Grabbing his phone from where he’d left it, he squinted his blurry eyes to see what time the horrible dog had decided to go off at today.

Turns out it was three in the afternoon. Maybe the shih tzu wasn’t completely in the wrong.

“Oh. My. God. I hate dogs.”

Reggie turned to see that the barking monster had woken Veronica up as well. She lay on her back, her black hair swept elegantly over the pillow, her delicate arm held over her eyes to block what little light was coming through the window.

The day outside was grey and windy. Rain pattered against the glass, along with the bare branches of his backyard maple tree. But it was a beautiful day nonetheless. Ash could have been falling from the sky from an erupting volcano and it would have been a beautiful day as long as Veronica was beside him.

Reggie was still having a hard time believing that Veronica Lodge had come home with him last night. After their time on the beach had drawn to a dramatic close, with Veronica hurling her phone into the water, she’d taken Reggie’s hand and told him she wanted to go home.

His home.

And his bed.

Though, and it pained him to even think this to himself, nothing had happened. The kiss on the beach had been all that ended up happening, because after depositing Veronica into his car and speeding through the empty, early morning streets of Riverdale, he’d screeched to a stop outside his house only to discover Veronica was fast asleep in his passenger seat.
He was tempted to laugh. Or smash his face into his steering wheel over and over again. When a few particularly harsh expletive words didn’t make her so much as twitch, he laughed.

“Well, I don’t know about you Ronnie,” Reggie said as he took the key out of the ignition and turned to look at her serene, sleeping face. “But I prefer sleeping in a bed. Don’t say anything if you’d like to join me.”

Predictably, she said nothing.

“Ronnie, I’m so flattered,” he remarked sarcastically as he exited his car and made his way around to the passenger side of his car. Opening the door as wide as it would go, he stooped and scooped Veronica into his arms. He kicked the door closed and carried Ronnie into his house.

He hoped gossipy Missus Anderson wasn’t up yet and peeping out her window. The old bat ran to a window whenever she heard his car and the last thing he needed was her seeing him now, with a limp, unconscious girl in his arms, coming home before the sun had risen. That would go along great with the narrative she’d built up in her own mind about the Mantle kid, and he didn’t need cops showing up and finding him and the unconscious girl sharing a bed.

Innocently sharing a bed, but how often was that asked in a court of law?

He supposed he could have put her in one of the guest rooms and not his own bed, but just because he wasn’t a big enough bastard to try anything with a passed out girl didn’t mean he still wasn’t a bastard. Having Veronica Lodge in his bed was something he’d marked on his bucket list.

And now that she was awake and able to judge the situation herself, she didn’t seem to mind. At least not about sharing a bed with Reggie. The dog was quickly getting on her nerves. He saw it from the way her forehead crinkled, and the corners of her mouth turned ever so slightly downwards.

“Why won’t that mutt shut-up?” She groaned.

“I actually think it’s pure-bred,” Reggie replied with smirk.

“Such wit you’re capable of,” Veronica replied as she stretched out below the blankets. The feather duvet crinkled with her movement and made Reggie wonder what other movements he could get Veronica to do under his blankets.

“How’d you sleep?” Reggie asked as he threw the blankets off himself and threw his legs over the side of the bed.

“Like the dead.” She replied with a smile as she sat up. She crossed her legs under the blanket and stretched her arms over her head. The way her back arched put more thoughts in Reggie’s head and he had to look away completely. “I’ve got a killer headache though.”

“Veronica Lodge in my bed. I’ve got a killer ache too.” He got a punch in the shoulder for that remark. She laughed though, so it was fine. “Do you want some aspirin? I’m sure we have some.”

Why did he bother saying we? Anything used in this house on a regular basis was usually within an arm’s length of Reggie. He knew he had painkillers because the amount of keggers he threw demanded he had painkillers around for the mornings after.

“What I really want is something to eat.”

“I can offer you sugary cereal or leftover pad thai.”

“Neither of which sound great,” Veronica remarked.

“Don’t knock living on Lucky Charms until you’ve tried it,” Reggie replied.

“I know your parents are hardly ever around, but don’t you have someone to cook for you?”

“Like a butler?” Reggie laughed as he pulled off yesterday’s t-shirt and put on a clean one. “I’m well off but I’m not that well off. Mom and Dad leave a credit card behind when they go and I do what shopping I need. Sugary cereal, hair products, and beer are usually what’s on the list.”

“I should have guessed most of those based on the smell in here,” Veronica replied with a smirk.

“Yeah, well, I spilled a can of my expensive imported beer at three in the morning in the rush to answer my phone because someone desperately needed me. I don’t have maids to clean up after me either.”

“I’m not followed around by maids and butlers all the time, Reggie Mantle!” Veronica exclaimed with a huff.

“Obviously not, they have to look after your parents and Lodge Manor too! But I assume this is the longest you’ve gone without your personal shopper and PR person, yeah?” An empty beer can grabbed from his bedside table beaned him in the back of the head for that remark. “Oh you are so gonna need that PR person to smooth over this vicious assault!” He laughed as he turned to look at her.

Veronica had climbed out of bed while his back was turned and now stood staring out the window at the gloomy fall day. “You think I’ve gotten any calls yet?” She turned and leaned against the window frame, the cold glass against her bare shoulders made goosebumps break out over her arms, but it was nice after the heat of sharing a bed with a boy. Why were boys always so warm?

“Do you want me to lie and make you feel better?” Reggie asked tentatively.

Veronica’s slender shoulders drooped. “Yeah. I don’t think so either.”

The silence between them stretched to the point where Reggie wished the shih tzu next door was still barking. Finally Veronica said something. Pinching the bridge of her nose she sighed and asked for the aspirin Reggie had offered. He hurried from the room relieved to be doing anything but pointing out Ronnie’s thoughtless father.

When he returned with the bottle of pills and a bottle of water, Veronica had taken a seat on the edge of the bed.

Reggie thought maybe she was crying, but as he approached, he saw she was wiping away her smudged makeup from last night on a tissue. She smiled as he handed her the pills and water. Was she over it already or faking it?

Definitely faking it. As discreetly as she could, she sniffled her nose and made only fleeting eye contact with Reggie. Now that she didn’t have anything to cathartically hurl into the sea, the realizations were hitting her fully.

“So, uhh...” Reggie searched for something to say, anything to distract her with. “You said you were hungry? My offer from last night still stands. Wanna go to Pop’s?”

Veronica smoothed her hands over her wrinkled mini dress and made note of all the runs in her silk stockings. “I’m dressed a little strangely for an afternoon at Pop’s, but I’m still not ready to go home. So a Valentino cocktail dress it is.”

“My mom continues to dress like she’s in her twenties. I can grab you some skinny jeans if you want.”

“Maybe just something to cover my shoulders?” Veronica asked. “So I don’t have to wear my jacket in Pop’s?”

“I’m sure I can track something down.”

Reggie left again, Veronica heard a closet door from down the hall open. She took the opportunity to stand and look through his already open closet. She’d had her eyes on exactly what she wanted to cover her shoulders.

“Any colour preferences?” Reggie yelled as he flicked through the collection of name brand designer clothing his mother had. Maybe not as name brand as Veronica would be used to, but if she’d wear Archie’s threadbare letter jacket, she’d more than likely wear a mass produced Dior blouse without being upset it isn’t a one of a kind Dior blouse.

When Veronica didn’t answer he grabbed a long sleeve, red blouse. Ronnie always looked good in red. But when he strode back into his room, he saw she’d already decided what she was wearing. His personal favourite shirt, a soft, long sleeve, blue flannel number was already on her. It was shapeless on her shapely body, but anything looked good on Veronica Lodge.

“You don’t mind, do you?” She asked as she slid her arms into her jacket.

“Nah. Looks good on you. And now the boots won’t look so out of place.”

“That’s right. Those are my Docs now. Well, if I’m wearing boots and flannel I don’t know why I’m still wearing stockings.”

Veronica did something then that Reggie had only ever fantasized she’d do in front of him: undress. What he had assumed were tights were, in fact, stockings. Extending her left leg and then her right, Reggie watched as she rolled the silky material off, letting them drop to the ground when she was done.

Catching the look on Reggie’s face when she was done, Veronica stood and brushed past him into the hallway with the comment: “Pick your jaw up off the ground and let’s go to Pop’s.”

Chapter Text

Walking into Pop’s with Veronica Lodge was an experience. It was Saturday afternoon and the place was packed. Add in the fact that gossip about Archie and Betty being officially together had spread, along with the meltdown Veronica had last night. Mix all that with the reputation Reggie already had and the fact that Veronica was in the same clothing she’d been seen in last night, including a few pieces from his own wardrobe, and you had a diner full of people dying to talk about the pair but were unsure of if they should do it while they were around.

When Reggie and Veronica grabbed seats at the counter, and it was clear the pair were there to stay, everyone started theorizing why they were together and what they had been doing whether they were within earshot or not.

“Don’t listen to them,” Reggie said as he took off his rain splattered leather jacket and hung it off the back of the small, swivelling counter chair.

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Veronica replied with a small smile. Reggie was used to being talked about behind his back. He supposed Veronica must be too, considering who she was.

“Reggie, Ronnie!” Pop Tate exclaimed as he saw them. “Archie, Betty, and Jughead are in the booth in the corner if you’re looking for them.”

“We’re not!” They both exclaimed at the same time.

That elicited a strange look from Pop, but he didn’t say anything else on the matter. He just reverted to the usual question. “What’ll you have?”

“Bacon cheeseburger, extra fries.” Reggie responded without a beat passing. “And a chocolate milkshake.”

“And you Veronica?” Pop asked, swinging his ample frame to face her. “The usual salad?”

“Oh god no!” Veronica exclaimed with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Who am I trying to impress? Give me what Reggie’s having. Double bacon. And a Coke.” When she got a look at the surprise on Pop’s face she added with a laugh: “Make it a diet Coke if you’re shocked at the idea that I’ll be eating food. Oh! And I want a whole cherry pie, fresh baked to go for when we leave, please.”

Pop shook his head with a look of disbelief on his face, but went to fill their orders without a word. Their drinks were in front of them within a minute, but Pop warned the food would be a while.

“Saturday rush,” he said with an apologetic shrug before waddling off to refill someone’s drink.

Veronica sipped her Coke (which was the regular Coke she originally ordered, thank god, because she hated Diet Coke) and Reggie reached behind the counter to grab a spoon for his milkshake. She’d always thought it was odd that he ate his milkshakes instead of drinking them, but realized now it was really very endearing.

Another realization hit her about Reggie. Had he offered to buy her food? Reggie wasn’t exactly known for generosity, often sticking Archie with any bills he could. Of course money was no object to a Lodge, but that was only the case when she had any on her. She’d known Archie was paying for everything last night so she’d skipped carrying a purse to keep the focus on her outfit and not her accessories.

She laughed, derisively at herself. “I’ll have to pay you back,” she commented when Reggie looked to see what she was laughing at.

“For what?” He asked, clinking his spoon against the glass to get what little of his milkshake was left.

“The food,” she replied. “I ordered a full pie!” She twisted a paper napkin in her hands. It was the only thing she could do to keep herself from looking at Reggie and crying. She was not having a good go with these last few hours of life. God, what a stupid thing to do! A rich girl going out in the world without credit cards, cash, or enough makeup on to charm her way into at least a tab!

“Don’t worry about it,” Reggie replied with a casual shrug of his shoulders.

“If you could pay and then drive me to school, I have some cash in my locker and credit cards–”

“Seriously, don’t worry.”

“Or just get me to an internet connection and I’ll PayPal it–”

“Ronnie, it’s fine! I’ll pay.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, really.”

“For everything?”

“Everything, Ronnie.” Reggie pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and opened it for her to see the contents. “See? I’ve got enough for like, a hundred burgers. Order triple bacon and a dozen pies if you want them.”

Veronica released her grip on the napkin, letting it fall to the floor, as she turned back to her Coke. “I have to ask again, Reggie Mantle, why are you being so nice to me?”

“Okay, well this time is clearly because I’m trying to get into your pants, and not because you don’t eat like Jughead and I can trust you to keep the bill under triple digits!” Reggie said with an eye roll. Did she have to keep insinuating that he couldn’t just be nice?

If he stopped to think about it for even a second he knew she had years of evidence to pull from that he was mostly an asshole, but Reggie didn’t like to disagree with himself. That’s what everyone else was around for.

Veronica reached across the counter and laid her cool hand over Reggie’s hot one. “I didn’t mean anything by it, Reg. I appreciate the kindness.” Her million dollar smile flashed again and he turned his hand to hold hers and a murmur moved through the entire diner because of course everyone had been looking at them.

Reggie didn’t care though. Staring into Veronica’s eyes put him right back on Riverdale’s beach. The whispers and the snickers of the revellers might as well have been ocean waves washing over the sand.

_______________________________

Archie and Betty didn’t notice when Reggie and Ronnie entered Pop’s. Their backs were to the front door, and besides, they were too busy making puppy dog, love struck eyes at each other. Jughead noticed when they came in, but he didn’t care. He was happy when the pair sat at the counter and didn’t come over, and he wasn’t going to ruin that auspicious luck by drawing attention to them.

Though as the murmuring around the corner booth where they sat became blatant conversation about whatever exaggerated-to-just-completely-made-up details of the pair could be concocted, even the ever oblivious Archie took notice.

“... doing the walk of shame!”

“... isn’t that his shirt?”

“... she’s holding his hand!”

“... she moved on quick...”

“Who’s everyone talking about?” Archie asked as he looked around.

Jughead opted to keep drinking his milkshake and absentmindedly flipping through his comic book, wanting to keep the drama as far away from himself as possible. But Betty tapped Archie on the shoulder and pointed when she herself saw who was causing the stir.

“What’s Ronnie doing with Reggie?” Archie asked as he got an eyeful of the two smiling at each other at the counter.

“Holding his hand,” Jughead replied. Sure, he wanted to keep the drama as far away from himself as possible, but at the expense of a sarcastic comment? It was a tough call, but sarcasm usually won out.

“Is that the same dress she was in last night?” Betty asked.

“Yeah...” Archie commented as it dawned on him what that meant. “It is.”

“Should we go over and talk to Ronnie?” Betty asked quietly. She hadn’t wanted what happened last night, what happened being the scene that Veronica and her father had thrown because she’d shown up and finally laid down exactly how she felt about Archie. He had chosen her. It felt great to have Archie all to herself now, but she didn’t want to lose a friend because of it. Maybe now they could even be true friends instead of the frenemies that they’d so often had to be because Archie.

“Yes.” Archie said.

“No.” Jughead added.

“Jug?” Archie said as he turned back to look at him. “It’s not your business.”

“Sure it is. Because I know you’ll go over there, she’ll start shouting, Reggie will start laughing, you’ll lose your temper, and then it’s going to be everyone’s business in this place.”

“Jug has a point,” Betty said as she continued to stare at the pair. Veronica’s back was to them, but she could see Reggie and his smile. He looked genuinely happy. Her friendship with Reggie Mantle had always been as tenuous as her friendship with Veronica Lodge, but she never wanted to hurt either of them. “Maybe just let her cool down until school on Monday?”

But Archie didn’t listen. He stood and made his way past the booths to the counter on the far side of Pop’s.

Veronica and Reggie’s food, including the freshly baked cherry pie, was placed in front of them just as Archie decided to make himself known.

“Um... Ronnie?”

She knew who it was before turning around. Who else was it going to be besides Archie Andrews? He always seemed to appear out of the blue, like the answer to a question no one asked.

Reggie witnessed the epic eye roll Veronica made at the sound of Archie’s voice and smirked. He’d watched Archie screw up and make Ronnie mad over and over again. Usually as soon as he said her name again, all was forgiven. The eye roll indicated something else this time around.

“What?” Veronica snapped as she swivelled on her stool to face him. Everyone else in Pop’s did the same. No one wanted to miss what was about to happen.

“Hey. Um... can we talk?”

“No.” She swivelled back to face her food, though she was suddenly anything but hungry.

“I just want to explain–”

“And I’d just like to not hear it,” she spat over her shoulder.

“But, Ronnie–”

“Pop!” Reggie said as he caught the man’s eye. “Change of plans. Can we get this to go?”

Pop nodded and waddled over to exchange their plates for Styrofoam boxes. Veronica turned back to Archie when her food disappeared, not content to stare at the Formica counter top.

“I didn’t get a chance to say it last night, Archie-kins, but thanks for dinner and the movie. It was great to sit by myself for four straight hours because you wouldn’t talk or look at me.”

“Listen... me and Betty... we’ve been trying to work out us for a long time...” No eye contact was made during the delivery of his insincere apology and he rubbed the back of his neck like he always did when he was nervous. “I tried calling you last night to talk about it.”

“Did you?” Veronica shouted. “Was this before or after I hurled my phone into the ocean? Because no one called or texted me from when I stormed off to right before sunrise, so it must have been after!”

“I meant this morning...” Archie muttered, twitching more and more as he realized this was going exactly the way Jughead had said it would. “If you’d stay and listened last night...”

Veronica had had enough. For all the times Archie had done this passive aggressive, excuse spewing routine in the past and how he was doing it now. Again. Instead of just flat out saying what needed to be said.

Grabbing her Coke off the counter, she flung it in his face. Everyone in the Chock’Lit Shoppe gasped. Veronica couldn’t tell if he flinched from the ice hitting him in the face or the collective shock of the people that watched it happen.

Cola dipped off him as he brought his face up to make the first eye contact of the conversation. “What was that for?” Archie shouted, losing his temper just like was predicted.

“Everything,” Veronica hissed as she stood. Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she pulled on her jacket and grabbed the food that Pop had placed on the counter. “Reggie?” She asked with a tight and forced smile.

“Car keys,” he said with something between bemusement and awe as he reached into his pocket and deposited them into her slightly shaking hand. “I’ll be right out.”

Veronica used what little self-control she had left to march out of Pop’s with her head held high and her eyes straight ahead.

Archie watched her go, but his attention went from Veronica to Reggie as he stood. He was laughing as he pulled on his leather jacket. “You really fucked up this time, Archie-kins,” he said as he slapped some money onto the counter for the food.

“Was she in your shirt, Reggie?” There was Archie. Pinpointing a solitary detail to fixate on instead of looking at the obviousness of the overall situation.

“Yeah,” Reggie said with a smirk. “My favourite shirt at that.”

“Why?” Archie grit his teeth. Reggie didn’t hand out details about himself like that unless he was trying to make a point. Usually a nasty one.

“After you ditched her last night, she called me.”

“And?”

“You figure it out, Arch.” Reggie stepped in closer, the smirk turning to something altogether more sinister as he ran his tongue over his sharp canine tooth. “I mean, you saw her in the same dress last night, didn’t you?”

The punch that Archie abruptly threw hit Reggie squarely in the mouth.

The murmuring that had filled Pop’s hushed immediately.

“I’ll never understand you, Archie,” Reggie snarled as he touched his fingers to his split lip.

Archie balled his fists, lashing out again, but Reggie saw it coming this time and dodged it. Archie stumbled forward and Reggie took his chance. Grabbing him by the back of his letter jacket, Reggie slammed Archie’s head into the counter, clattering every dish on it.

“I’ll just never understand,” Reggie said again as he pulled Archie up, “why you start shit you have no hope of finishing.” Reggie threw Archie into the front doors and they opened, spilling Archie onto the wet concrete of the parking lot.

Veronica watched the whole thing from the passenger seat of Reggie’s sports car. Through the rain streaked window of Pop’s she had watched Archie say something to Reggie, and Reggie’s returned comment, delivered with the cocky swagger that Reggie trafficked in. Then Archie had thrown a punch.

Stupid boy. How many times had he tried this with Reggie and lost?

When Archie tumbled out of the restaurant, splashing into a puddle on his back, Veronica got out of the car. She folded her arms on the roof of the car, leaning against it with a smile as she watched Reggie stride out of Pop’s.

What girl doesn’t love to watch boys fight over her?

Reggie was on top of Archie before he’d fully pulled himself up, and he was thrown against his own junk heap of a car. Betty ran out into the rain to try and break it up; everyone else in the restaurant had moved to the windows to watch.

“All I wanted to do was apologize!” Archie shouted as he threw another punch. He got lucky, hitting Reggie in the eye. Reggie got him back doubly, so maybe it wasn’t luck.

“Bullshit, Andrews! I was sitting right there while you made your excuses. You didn’t sound sorry to me!”

“Stop, Reggie!” Betty shouted as she grabbed his arm to stop him from throwing another punch. “Stop it! Both of you!”

Reggie tried to shake Betty off, but her nails were dug deep into the leather, so he shook the leather jacket off instead. Rearing back to deliver a punch that would knock out teeth, he struck. But Betty’s interference gave Archie enough time to get his bearings and he dodged it.

Reggie’s fist went straight through Archie’s passenger side window.

He pulled back his bleeding hand, howling curses like he was a wolf howling at the moon. The opening let Archie get a solid strike across his jaw that sent Reggie stumbling. Another one sent him flat on his back.

Betty screamed as Archie dove to continue the fight on the ground. Looking around in a panic, she saw Veronica hanging out of Reggie’s car. “Veronica! Do something!”

This was not going how Reggie had thought it would. Nor how Veronica had thought it would. Since Reggie was in no position to stop it, Betty was unable to, and the people in the diner were more concerned with watching it than being a part of it, Veronica would have to end it.

Stomping through the puddles of Pop’s parking lot she approached where the two grappled on the ground. “Archie-kins?” She cooed sweetly.

That got him. It always did. Immediately distracted from the punch he was about to hit the grounded Reggie with, he turned his face upwards to Veronica.

And she hit him as hard as she possibly could across the jaw. The surprising force of the punch knocked Archie off Reggie and back into the puddle he’d originally been thrown in. The four of them, even Veronica–especially Veronica–were in shock. Betty dropped to the ground to throw her arms around Archie and the two of them looked up to Veronica, a look of immense betrayal in both their eyes.

Reggie though? Reggie was impressed beyond belief. Picking himself off the ground, he grabbed Veronica by the lapels of her jacket and pulled her in for a kiss too rough for his tender, bleeding face, but not rough enough for the adrenaline coursing through his veins.

When he pulled away, she wiped the blood off her lips like she herself had the split lip. It was a good look for her.

“How good did that feel?” Reggie asked as he grabbed his coat off the ground and then threw his arm over Veronica’s shoulder.

“I’ve wanted to clock Archie for so many years,” Veronica said as they went back to Reggie’s car. “But I think his hard head broke my hand.”

“No doubt,” Reggie commented with a glance over his shoulder. Archie was on his feet, dripping dirty water, and being fussed over by Betty. Reggie had taken more of the beating and he’d have the bruises and cuts to prove it come Monday morning in the hallways of Riverdale High, but he’d won the fight regardless.

That warranted the smirk he shot Archie before he climbed behind the wheel of his car and pulled out of Pop’s parking lot with a screech of his car’s tires and his arm back over Veronica’s shoulders.

Chapter Text

As much as Reggie had wanted to once again race to his house to get Veronica Lodge (the currently fully awake Veronica Lodge) into his bed, she’d insisted they go to the hospital for his severely bleeding hand.

“It’s not that bad,” he’d replied, purposefully keeping his eyes off of it and trying to ignore the drip, drip, drip of his own blood on his thigh.

“I know what you’re thinking, Reggie Mantle,” Veronica smirked, “but I don’t know how you think you’re going to get it up when all your blood is dripping out of your hand.”

The comment was at his expense, but he couldn’t help but laugh as he took the left turn that would take him to Riverdale’s hospital. Stitches were probably the correct course to take. He didn’t want huge, unsightly scars because of a fist fight with Archie Andrews.

The ER wasn’t crowded, the only other people there were a small girl with a bad cough and an old guy holding his left arm like it was broken. But Reggie was a minor and procedure had to be followed. His hand couldn’t get looked at until either his parents were contacted or he paid for it himself.

“How much will it be?” Reggie asked, really looking at the injury for the first time. There was a tonne of blood. And was it just the sight of it that was making him feel suddenly faint or had he lost enough blood that the adrenaline of the fight wasn’t keeping him steady anymore?

The nurse took a moment to look at it. “What did you do to it?”

“Punched through glass.” Reggie replied through gritted teeth.

“You’ll need it examined for glass then. Probably x-rayed for broken bones. Then cleaning, numbing, and stitches. Then painkillers and a tetanus shot. Maybe antibiotics to stave off infection. That’s a lot to pay out of pocket.”

Reggie turned to Veronica. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a credit card anywhere on you?”

“No.”

“Me neither.”

“Then I need phone numbers where I can contact your parents.”

“Yeah, good luck with that...” The nurse raised her overly plucked eyebrow but Reggie didn’t have the patience to explain that his parents hardly ever picked up the phone when he called, let alone a number they didn’t recognize. But he rattled off both sets of number and the nurse went about getting in contact.

Reggie dropped into one of the pond scum green, vinyl hospital seats. Veronica took the seat to his right, taking his bleeding hand in both her own, and squeezing it where it seemed to still be bleeding the worst. She was pretty sure applying pressure to bleeding wounds was right.

The nurse punching numbers into her phone could be heard in between each of the little girl’s coughs. Then a pause as she waited for someone to answer. Then her quietly murmuring a message into either his mother or father’s voice mail.

“How’s your hand?” Reggie asked, hoping to drown out the repeated process of trying to find his parents. He really, really didn’t want to experience their neglect while he bled out in a hospital.

“Feels broken,” Veronica replied quietly. “Archie and his rock hard head...”

“His car is easier to punch than he is, huh?”

A weak smile played on Veronica’s beautiful face. There was more guilt in the expression than amusement though.

The nurse came over then, some paperwork in her hands. “Neither of your parents are answering. I’ve left a few messages with both. Now it’s just wait and see.”

“For me to bleed out?” Reggie asked.

“Pretty much.”

“Will me saying I’m Veronica Lodge make this go any faster?”

“Say it all you want, but it doesn’t help. If it becomes an emergency, a doctor can see your boyfriend without proof of insurance.”

“Greatest medical system in the world,” Reggie snarled as the nurse walked away to hand paperwork to the old guy with the broken limb. Though he liked that he’d been called Veronica’s boyfriend and Veronica hadn’t corrected her. Of course, he was still injured, so the victory was short lived. “Fuck me...” he muttered as he pulled his hand out of Veronica’s. “Stop trying to make it stop bleeding. If that’s the only way to see a doctor then I’m going to bleed all over the fucking place.”

Veronica held out her blood covered hand then. It was very déjà vu to how she’d been in Pop’s. “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Car keys. I’m going to get a credit card.”

Digging into the front pocket of his jeans, he once again relented his car keys to Veronica and she rushed out of the ER to go get whatever credit card she had stashed closest to the hospital.     

She was gone for fifteen of the longest minutes of Reggie’s life. Most of the gashes on his hand had slowed in their bleeding, but there was a deep one between his index and middle finger that wouldn’t stop. Instead of letting the constant dripping of the blood splash on him, he let it slowly puddle on the floor, all while the nurse behind the counter tried to ignore him and looks he was giving her.

The ER’s automatic doors opened every minute or so as people entered or exited the hospital, and after the first five minutes or so, Reggie stopped looking up to see if it was Ronnie coming back. He should have known he wouldn’t have to see her to know she’d returned.

“So what do you take?” Veronica blustered as she started laying credit cards on the counter. The slap of the plastic as she made a show of each and every card she laid down was like a gunshot in the relative silence of the waiting room. “Visa? Mastercard? American Express? You’ll find they all have no limits and are in my name, which is, if you remember, Veronica Lodge! Here’s ID to prove that if you’re still unsure!”

The nurse took a card without looking to see which one and attached it to the inside of the file she’d made for Reggie. “This will be fine. We’ll charge it on the way out. Follow me.”

The look of triumph on Veronica’s face was the sexiest thing Reggie had seen all day. Well, the sexiest thing he’d seen since he’d watched her punch Archie in the face. It almost made him forget he was about to get two dozen stitches.

“Oh Ronnie,” Reggie said as he stood to follow the nurse, “you treat me so fine.”

“I think we’re even on you buying lunch,” she remarked as she took his good hand in hers.

_______________________________

“I am numb across my entire chest,” Reggie commented as he and Veronica exited the ER and headed towards his car. The stitches went in, Reggie’s hand was bandaged, and Veronica’s credit card was charged all relatively quickly, but the sun was almost completely set behind the thick layer of rain clouds. Reggie reached into his pocket to check the time on his phone but his numb fingers were out of his control.

Veronica saw him struggling and laughed. “Looks like I’m driving,” she said as she slipped her hand into his jacket pocket to take back the car keys.

“Babe, you can do whatever you want. But hold off on any of the extra fun stuff until I’m not half numb.”

“And they say romance is dead.”

“Don’t think I can’t pull out sweeter nothings than that, Ronnie. But I punched through a window for you today and I think I’m tapped until some of my blood regenerates.”

“Let’s get you home for that task,” Veronica said as she dropped into the driver’s seat.

Reggie lowered himself into the passenger seat, moving their neglected takeout onto his lap as he did. He had never wanted anything more than he wanted his bacon cheeseburger.

Veronica must have read his mind and agreed with him because she threw the car into drive and peeled out of the hospital parking lot in the direction of Reggie’s suburban home.

Chapter Text

Reggie’s house was, surprise surprise, completely dark and empty when Veronica pulled into the driveway.

“Where do your parents go all the time?” She asked as she pulled the keys from the ignition. The sport car’s smooth, purring engine fell silent and suddenly the only sounds in the car were the pattering of rain on the roof and Reggie’s derisive laugh at Ronnie’s question.

“Conferences, conventions, political rallies, finding scoops, interviewing sources, protests, counter-protests for the first protests, couples vacations to reignite the spark because they had a kid seventeen years ago and have yet to fully recover the passion. Pretty much anything that gets them out of this dead end town and away from me.”

“Bitter much?”

“As much as anyone would be. But I get through the day telling myself that I’m the first seventeen year old in Riverdale to ever have his own house. Go me.” Reggie pumped his non-numb arm as sarcastically as possible.

Veronica clearly didn’t see the gesture because she stated matter-of-factly: “Daddy gave me a loft in New York for my sixteenth birthday.”

“I think Riverdale is a little more impressive than New York, Ronnie.” When Veronica raised one of her slender eyebrows at that, Reggie qualified himself. “Rather than spend time with their only child, my parents would rather sit in a crowded, unairconditioned room and listen to a Republican congressman spew pro-life garbage for hours at a time so they can write up nearly the same article they wrote for the last Republican congressman that said all the same shit. Let me have this one, huh?”

Was that pity in Veronica’s eyes? Or understanding? Reggie didn’t stay in the car long enough to find out. Grabbing the keys out of Veronica’s hand, he swung the car door open and stepped out into the rain that just seemed to keep getting worse. Slamming the door behind him, he hurried through the downpour to his front door.

That was usual Reggie, Veronica thought as she climbed out of the car and followed after him. Just get angry about life’s problems because it’s the easiest thing to do. She did the exact same thing if she were going to be honest. Didn’t that bode well for whatever the two of them had struck up over the last day.

Reggie hadn’t wanted to get angry, but he had. And he was only getting angrier as he failed to be able to use his house key.

“Need some help?” Veronica asked as she stood a short distance back from Reggie who was struggling to unlock the door with his numb hand. She was anticipating that he’d kick the door with his temper and didn’t want to get booted herself. Or worse, have the food spilled.

 “This reminds me of the time in fourth grade when I lost my keys and couldn’t get in the house. I had to sleep in my tree house because my parents were out of town until the next afternoon.”

“I remember that tree house,” Veronica said as she stepped beside Reggie and took the key from his hand. “You pushed me out of it one day because it was no girls allowed. Luckily Archie broke my fall, though I do remember that you ruined the dress I was wearing… Reggie?”

When Veronica had unlocked the door and entered the house, Reggie hadn’t followed. Stepping out into the rain again, she saw Reggie just before he disappeared around the corner of the garage. All she wanted to do was eat her food but she was curious about whatever Reggie was up to. So she followed.

Turning the corner of the house just as he turned the next corner into the backyard, she saw he was headed for the backyard. For what? As she turned the back corner, she saw him pulling himself into his childhood tree house.    

It had been years since Veronica had seen the tree house. Reggie had demanded a tree house when Archie got one as a kid. Of course it had to be bigger and better. Archie’s had been built by him and his dad with spare wood lying around. Reggie’s had been designed and built by carpenters. It had little glass windows you could open and close, a shingled roof, and a balcony with a railing. It was waterproofed and even had electricity from an extension cord that had been threaded through a hollowed out portion of the maple tree it sat in.

The tree house had made even Veronica jealous as a kid.

Veronica climbed the ladder to see Reggie had taken a seat on the wooden floor inside his childhood hangout. “Reggie,” she said as she stooped to enter the miniature doorway, “can I ask what the hell you’re doing?”

“You ignored the no girls allowed sign, I see.”

“I figured it was null and void since you’ve hit puberty.”

Her rather smart remark was not commented upon and the silence stretched as she took a cross-legged position across from Reggie.

“You know,” he said when the silence got to him, “I hated this tree house as a kid.”

“Then why’d you always drop water balloons on Betty and me when we tried to get up?” Veronica asked with a smile.

Oh, how she’d howled about that injustice when she was a kid. Reggie Mantle dropping freezing cold water balloons over her head and cruelly laughing as she and Betty had run off crying. Making girls cry had always been Reggie’s favourite past time. And Veronica had given him every opportunity too. The lure of the tree house had been too great and she’d kept coming back no matter what.

Now, a decade later, she’d finally managed to secure herself a spot in the tree house! Though she was still wet and cold because of it.

“I was always losing my keys as a kid,” Reggie said as he pointed into the corner behind Veronica. She turned to see a rolled up sleeping bag beside an open cooler. The cooler was filled with the little things someone would need to live semi-comfortably for a short period of time. It didn’t look like any of it had been used recently, but it was a sad in the implications nonetheless. “My parents never gave a spare key to the neighbours or hid one under a rock. They’re too paranoid for that… I never let anyone up here because I didn’t want anyone to know.” 

“We were your friends, Reggie. You could have told us.” Veronica said quietly as she turned back to face him.

“I didn’t want your pity then, and I don’t want it know,” Reggie replied. “It’s fine, I turned out fine!”

“Oh yeah,” Veronica said with a sardonic laugh. “You’re the most well-adjusted person I’ve ever known. Throwing temper tantrums and running away from problems to a tree house as an eighteen year old. If you didn’t look so cute in your miniature surroundings I’d say you’re acting like a right brat!”

“Hey!” Reggie replied with a smirk. The comment was scathingly true but the tone Veronica delivered it in was teasing. His return was just as teasing. “Don’t make me push you out of here again!”

“You wouldn’t dare.” Veronica said as she leaned towards him.

“Why not?” Reggie said, imitating the faux-intimidating lean in.

“Because I’ve got all the food and I’m not opposed to using it to break my fall.”

“Well fuck… I do really want that burger.”

“That’s what I thought. Now,” Veronica said as she turned to exit the tree house, “let’s go in the house–”

“Can we eat here?” Reggie asked as he grabbed Veronica’s wrist to stop her from leaving.

“Why?”

“It might be nice to have a good memory come from this tree house.”

Thinking back to all the tears and jeers and ruined clothing and hurt feelings that had surrounded the tiny house, Veronica really couldn’t argue with wanting something nice to remember.

“Better late than never, I suppose.”

_______________________________

The tree house turned out to be a terrible idea. It was dry but it was dark, the electricity had long been disconnected, and the cold wind that picked up after the sun set made them both shiver, Reggie from his wet hair, Veronica from her bare legs.

Reggie resisted reaching out to rub his hands over Veronica’s goosebump covered bare legs and instead scarfed down his long cold burger and fries, Veronica doing the same, before they both dashed into the house.

The glowing clock on the microwave said it was eight at night.

Veronica took a seat on a stool at the counter as Reggie flicked on lights. It seemed like a longer time had passed. It seemed like it couldn’t possibly still be Saturday. But in a good way. Like she’d gotten a year’s worth of experiences out of Reggie and not just a few hours. Not only had he paid for what could be called a date today, but he’d opened up more than she ever remembered him doing before on the beach. She’d even slept in a bed beside him and she’d woken up trusting him. When had she ever trusted Reggie in the past?

“Whatcha thinking?” Reggie asked as he slid the full cherry pie in front of her, two forks already stuck in it.

“It’s been a full twenty-four hours since I stormed off,” she said as she scooped out a bite of pie from the very centre. “So I was thinking I should probably go home soon.”

“Oh.” Reggie remarked as he grabbed the other fork and a mouthful of the pastry. He’d forgotten that Veronica needed to do that eventually.

“How’s your arm?” Veronica asked as she tapped her fork absentmindedly on her ever-so-slightly protruded lower lip.

The truth was he’d gotten all the feeling back in his arm a while ago. But the look in Veronica’s eyes seemed to say she didn’t want the truth. She wanted an excuse to stay longer without saying flat out that’s what she wanted.

“Still numb,” he replied with a coy smile, playing Veronica’s game because he looked to profit it from it too. “I don’t think I should drive yet.”

“Well, can’t be helped then. I’ll stay a little longer.”

Reggie knew that Veronica knew he was fine. It was fairly obvious his hand was usable again since he had the fork he was eating the cherry pie with gripped firmly in it. But it was like he thought, she didn’t want to go home. He was happy to oblige.

When Veronica finally did decide that it was time to go home, it was well after midnight. The cherry pie was gone, Netflix had asked them if they were still watching three times, and Reggie was nearly sure he loved the raven haired girl that sat snuggled under the threadbare couch blanket in the crook of his arm. She had giggled uncontrollably at Parks and Recreation, and then changed the bandage on Reggie’s hand with a gentle concern his mother had never even shown him when he’d hurt himself as a kid.

Was declaring it love maybe jumping the gun?

Reggie had lusted after Veronica for a lot longer than he’d ever admit to anyone. Even while he chased after Midge, he wanted Veronica. Even when she wouldn’t give him the time of day because Archie was around, he wanted Veronica. What little attention she had given him in the past came when Archie had pissed her off and she needed a revenge date. Reggie was shallow enough to be arm candy for a night, but that shallowness just stoked the fires that burned under his want for Veronica Lodge even more.

Every superfluous date they’d gone on, there was only one thing on his mind the entire time. The daydreams always began with him swooping in like a knight on horseback to take Veronica away from Archie Andrews for good. And they always ended with the two of them sweaty and moaning. The circumstances that lead to the moaning were interchangeable, the positions in a constant rotation depending on how Reggie felt that particular day, but the fact that it was sex always stayed the same.

And now that Veronica was as close as she’d ever been to him, it wasn’t daydreams of sex going through Reggie’s mind. He had no doubt he could get it if he wanted to… but he didn’t want to. At least not like he had on all those shallow, meaningless dates. Sex then could have just been shallow and meaningless, like everything else. It would have salvaged the evenings if anything.

Now though, there was a chance it would wreck everything. He didn’t want the last day to be shallow and meaningless. He wanted Veronica still–who wouldn’t? But it was different now.

At least, he wanted it to be different this time.

So when Veronica had yawned and asked to be taken to bed–to her bed this time–Reggie resisted saying or doing anything stupid or selfish or needy or entitled: all the things he was so good at doing! Instead of any of that, he just pulled on his Chucks, grabbed his key cars, and him and Veronica made a dash for his car through the rain that continued to fall.

They drove through the empty streets of Riverdale, a mindless pop song from Ariana Grande or Selena Gomez or someone basic and unoriginal was playing on the radio, keeping remarkable time with the windshield wipers. Reggie wanted to turn off the uninspired beat he’d heard a billion times before and plug in his phone to listen to Hole, but he doubted Ronnie was interested in hearing Courtney Love amelodically belt out a song.

Veronica was clearly interested in anything but what was on the radio because she reached out a moment later and turned it completely off. “Hope you don’t mind.”

“It was only on for you,” Reggie commented as the car rolled to a stop at a red light. “I thought pop would be your favourite.”

“I hate pop,” Veronica replied.

“So enlighten me,” Reggie’s bandaged hand reached for the radio dial. “Favourite genre?”

“Metal.”

That was not what Reggie thought she would answer with. His hand fell from the dial as the traffic light turned from red to green. There was no one else on the small town’s streets at this hour so the sports car idled at the intersection while he turned to face Veronica. “Get the fuck out! Metal?”

Veronica smiled and laughed. “No one ever believes me when I tell them.”

“Well shit Ronnie, you don’t exactly look like a headbanger,” Reggie exclaimed as he drove through the intersection, not even checking to see what colour the light was.

“It’s not just metal. I like punk. Heavy dubstep and alternative too. Anything fast and loud, really.”

“So anything that pisses daddy off is your jam?”

“Until they make that a category at the record shop, I’ll stick with saying metal,” Ronnie replied with another smile.

“I want to learn everything about you, Ronnie. You’re just too interesting,” Reggie remarked with a smile.

Veronica cast Reggie a look and then went back to staring out the rain streaked window. The two lapsed into silence again, the only sounds that of the tires on a wet street and the windshield wipers.

“I wonder what Daddy will have to say to me…” She said quietly when Lodge Manor appeared in the distance.

“Think he’ll be mad you’ve been missing for a day?”

“He’ll probably be madder about the credit card statement for your hand.”

Reggie laughed bitterly. “Yeah, my parents check the credit card statements more than they check on me too.”

The mansion glowed brightly through the rain and from behind the wrought iron fence that surrounded the property. Reggie stopped his car at the gates that were tightly shut to outsiders and both him and Ronnie stared up at the imposing house.

“So how do we get in?”

Veronica sighed loudly. “The app that controls the front gate was on my phone. So I guess I’m going over the gate. Give me a boost?” She asked as she exited the car and stood near the iron gates.

Who would have ever thought Reggie would be spending his Saturday night helping Veronica Lodge scale the fence to her mansion in the rain? But that’s what he was currently doing. What a strange turn the last day had taken.

Veronica stepped into Reggie’s cupped hands and then pulled herself carefully over the decorative spikes atop the nine foot fence. She dropped into a puddle on the other side with a grunt.

“You okay, Ronnie?”

“Perfectly fine,” she answered as she turned back to Reggie. “Thanks to Cheryl’s insane cheerleader routines I’ve fallen from higher up than that.”

Veronica moved right up to the fence and put her hands over Reggie’s where they were clenched to the wrought iron.

“I guess this is goodnight then,” Reggie said with a dramatic sigh.

“It’s goodbye even. Until I get a new phone at least,” Veronica added.

“A Romeo and Juliet for the modern era,” he smirked as he leaned in closer. Of course he was hoping for a kiss. Veronica did not disappoint. The wrought iron was cold against their faces, the cold, constant rain streaming over them, but the kiss warmed him through.

When Veronica pulled away, she was smiling. “See ya, Reggie.” She purred with a small wave as she turned and walked the quarter mile that her house was from the road.

“Bye, Ronnie,” Reggie said too quietly for her to hear. He just needed to see if his lungs still worked after the kiss.  

Chapter Text

Monday morning came like Christmas for Reggie.

Waking up far earlier than he should have, considering he was up half the night unable to sleep from excitement, he bounded from bed in anticipation of the day.

He’d get to see Veronica today!

All of Sunday had gone by without being able to even text her and he’d found himself nearly impossible to be around in the long, drawn out hours that passed without even so much as a winky face text. He wandered around the house, stopping where Veronica had spent any amount of time… and then feeling utterly ridiculous with himself because the love sick puppy routine was so insufferable in other people, let alone himself.

Now it was Monday and Reggie had just dropped into his car to head to school. He hadn’t shown up to first period on time in a long time. Miss Grundy was going to drop her teeth when she walked in to see him at a desk before the second bell rang. A sudden fear crossed his mind though, and the minutes ticked by, pushing closer and closer to him being late once again, but he just couldn’t shake the self-doubt and start up his car.

What if what had happened between him and Veronica over the weekend ended with the weekend? She’d had these mood swings before, seemingly whenever Archie pissed her off just the right amount. But the moods ended when Archie showed up again. How likely was that to happen this time after what happened with him and Betty?

For once in his life, Reggie hoped Archie was happy.

But if he wasn’t? Well, Reggie wasn’t going to just slink away into the background again. Veronica had slipped off her stockings in front of him, she’d woken up beside him with a smile, she’d kissed him. He was hungry for more. Surprisingly, what he was starving for the most was the attention she’d paid him.

Turning the key in the ignition, his car purred to life in the chilly morning air. He had a stop to make before heading to Riverdale High.

_______________________________

First bell had already rung.

Veronica had arrived at the last possible moment to avoid as many people in the hallways as she could. Not that she cared what most of these people thought of her, but it had been a long Sunday spent under her father’s thumb as he scrutinized her every move and she wasn’t in the right head space to ignore them. Especially Betty and Archie. After the Pop Tate incident she wasn’t sure what she’d ever say to them again.

Thankfully the hallways were almost completely empty, most students having already filed into their classrooms. Her heels clicked loudly in the empty hallways as she hurried to her locker.

Turning the corner to the English hallway, she was surprised to see Reggie leaning against her locker. He was looking down at his phone, a textbook tucked around his arm, and a tray with two coffees in it in his other hand.

Reggie had heard Veronica coming, her heels clicking through the hallways, fast and confident as always. He looked up when the clicking stopped to see her at the far end of the hall. The look on her face worried Reggie. What did she have to look so surprised about? But then she strode forwards again, her million dollar smile getting bigger (or should he describe it as pricier?) the closer she got.

“As I live and breathe! Reggie Mantle is at school relatively on time?”

“I could have even been to class on time too if I hadn’t stuck around a certain someone’s locker to give her one of these,” the statement came with a teasing tone but the tray was popped under her pretty little nose for her choice of drinks.

Grabbing the one that had whipped cream hardly contained by the lid, she leaned in to kiss Reggie on the cheek in thanks. “You’re an angel for this,” she commented as she tipped the coffee to her lips.

“For the caffeine or my own shining presence?”

“Both.” Veronica said with a smile as she spun her combination into the lock and wrenched open her locker. “You couldn’t imagine what I’ve had to deal with since we parted ways.” Veronica didn’t bother to wait for Reggie to ask before she continued. “Daddy is none too pleased that I spent any time away from his overbearing grasp and spent all of Sunday lurking over my shoulder threatening this and that. No cars, a strict curfew, no credit cards.”

“Has he seen the hospital bill yet?” Reggie asked as he held up his bandaged hand.

“Thankfully, no. That would have been the tipping point to actually enact some of the shit he was threatening.”

The second bell rang. Class had officially begun. “Late for Grundy’s class again,” Reggie commented as Veronica slammed her locker shut. “Wanna skip? Get some breakfast to go with our coffee?”

Veronica looked insulted at the prospect. “And have me miss out on reading Shakespeare aloud? We’re right at Hamlet’s big soliloquy and it’s mine. I will literally fight people for this.”

“Alas poor Yorick, and anyone that gets in your way for this, huh?” Reggie smirked as he knocked on door 103. He’d been late to Grundy’s class enough to know that you didn’t just walk in after the second bell and not expect a lecture on respectful behaviour.

“Damn straight,” Veronica replied as Grundy opened the door for her two tardy students. Before the old hag could get a single word out though, Veronica had strode past her, calling back over her shoulder that she was reading for Hamlet today and anyone who had anything to say about it could, in fact, shut up.

Reggie tried to keep a straight face as he walked across the front of the class to get to his seat in the back. Everyone was staring, and when mutterings about what had happened over the weekend started up, Grundy didn’t bother to settle the class, but Reggie didn’t care. He’d never care again what people had to say about him. Why should he when he could still feel Veronica’s soft lips on his cheek?

_______________________________

First period ended and Reggie walked with Veronica to her locker. He was remorse to leave her when she headed for the math hallway and he went to the opposite end of the school to the tech hallway. He usually loved getting out of Grundy’s stuffy class to go to shop, but shop today meant leaving Veronica.

She had held his hand in the halls but had ducked into her second period classroom without a kiss. Reggie had feverently hoped for that kiss. He wanted it more than anything and he hadn’t gotten it. He pondered what that meant on his way to the tech hall. If they were together together, shouldn’t he have gotten a kiss? She’d held his hand, but she held Betty’s hand while walking too, so that wasn’t any kind of indication of the relationship.

As shop started up and the dozen other people in the class spread out among the wood working tools to complete their current project, Reggie stayed at his desk, wondering what he was to Veronica. The shop teacher, Mister Harding, appropriately nicknamed Mister Hardass, ended up snapping his fingers in front of Reggie’s face to break his daze.

“Mantle, what’s the problem? Did whoever slugged you in the face knock your sense loose?”

“No.”

“Do you have a note from a doctor that you can’t work with your hand in a bandage?”

“No.”

“Then there’s no problem?” Reggie shook his head no. “Good. Then get to work. Your birdhouse isn’t going to build itself.”

Reggie rolled his eyes, both at Hardass’ obnoxious attitude and the birdhouse project that was so beginner level, but he stood and went to work nonetheless. He grabbed the wood he’d stenciled his birdhouse on and took his place in the queue waiting for the table top saw.

Veronica stayed on his mind until he began to cut the wood. The whirling saw blade kept him focussed: it always did. Despite Reggie’s rather diva approach to life, he liked working with his hands. It made him feel useful.

When he had finished cutting out the pieces of his birdhouse, he grabbed a nail gun off the wall and began loading nails into it. Backwards. After not having signed the nail gun out in the first place. After leaving the table saw on and unattended.

Veronica was back on his mind.

_______________________________

Of course Harding the Hardass had noticed Reggie’s absentmindedness and of course he chewed Reggie out for what was left of the class. By the time the bell rang for lunch, Reggie shoved his way out of the wood working shop without even using the air hose to clean off the sawdust he was coated in.

He arrived at his locker to see Veronica leaning against it, a reverse tableau of this morning.

Looking the sawdust covered boy up and down as he approached, Veronica smiled. “Did you have fun playing with your toys in the sandbox?”

“I’ll have you know that shop is serious business.” Reggie remarked as he spun his lock to open his locker.

“So you’re not making birdhouses?”

Reggie, with a laugh, conceded: “No… we are.” Veronica opened her mouth for what was no doubt a smart-ass remark, but Reggie jumped in before she could. “And if you say another word about said birdhouses, you are gonna talk yourself out of getting it as a gift.”

“Well I better shut up because I want that birdhouse.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“So what are we doing for lunch...” Veronica’s thought trailed off as she turned away to sneeze daintily into the crook of her arm. “Besides getting you a new shirt because the sawdust is killing me.”

“One sneeze and suddenly you’re dying?”

Veronica pointed at herself with a scoff: “High maintenance.”

“You’ll hear no argument from me,” Reggie smirked as he grabbed the back of his t-shirt to pull it off. He always kept a couple of spare shirts in his locker, lest he ever lock himself out of his house like he did when he was kid. As he balled up the shirt he’d been wearing and dropped it to the floor of his unorganized locker, he was pleased as fucking punch to catch Veronica unabashedly staring at him.

Football had him chiselled like a marble statue. He was, unquestionably, a perfect specimen.

Pulling a plain black t-shirt over his head, he grabbed his jacket and slammed his locker shut. “So what’s this about lunch?”

Veronica snapped back to attention. “Lunch?”

“At the very least we’ve gotta get you a drink, Ronnie. You’re looking pretty thirsty.”

Veronica raised her eyebrows and smirked. Her beautiful lips parted, no doubt for a clap back of epic sarcastic proportions, but Reggie leaned in to kiss her before she said a single thing. It was the kiss he’d wanted earlier; the sudden spark in her eyes just then had been his cue to take it. After all, Veronica might have been thirsty for him, but he was starving for her.

When he pulled away from the kiss, the sounds of the hallway surrounded him. Gasps of surprise, snickers of disbelief, murmuring that got louder and louder because everyone had to talk about what they’d just seen to everyone else.

Reggie could have ignored them, but it seemed like they were getting to Veronica. A blush rose to her face. She had lost her appetite. Or at least the appetite that Reggie so very much wanted her to have.

But he got it: why Veronica suddenly couldn’t make eye contact. The crowd around them was full of people shaming her. They had taken Archie or Betty’s side, or they just plain didn’t like Veronica, or him, and were taking it upon themselves to say loudly to their judgemental friends that like attracts like, even in the case of trash.

“C’mon Ronnie, let’s go,” Reggie said with a glare cast at the group of junior girls that were talking the loudest about what a slut Veronica was. “I’ve decided I want ice cream for lunch. I’ll buy you a double scoop.”

“With sprinkles?” She shyly squeaked when he threw his arm over her shoulders and lead her towards the doors that would take them to the student parking lot.

“All the sprinkles!” Reggie exclaimed with a smile. “You will never want for sprinkles with me.”

“All the sprinkles,” Veronica said dreamily. “What more could a girl ask for?”

“Another look at my abs?” Reggie replied without missing a beat.

“Better yet,” Veronica said with a smirk, “let’s cover them with all the sprinkles!”

“You read my mind, Ronnie! I’m so glad we’re on the same wave length here.”

Veronica laughed then and Reggie melted at her laughter. He loved her laugh. It was airy and light and it meant she wasn’t upset anymore. The nasty things said about her were forgotten. He’d done that! Reggie Mantle had helped someone besides himself just then!

He was starving to do it again.

Chapter Text

A week past. And then another. And then two more. And before long, another three weeks were done and gone. It was the first week of December and the unexpected romance of Reggie Mantle and Veronica Lodge was still going, stronger and seemingly better as each day passed.
The couple had persisted longer than even the ever optimistic Betty was willing to guess they would.

The pair was seen everywhere together, kissing, laughing, holding hands. They’d spend lunch together, arrive and leave school together, walk to class together, or skip class together. Reggie would pick her up after cheerleading practice and Veronica would wait around outside the detention room for Reggie to get out. They’d share food and drinks and secret little smiles when they thought no one else was looking. It was sweet how they never seemed to run out of things to talk about or how neither seemed to care what everyone else thought when they were together.

Most shocking of all, none of their previous shallow intentions seemed to be fueling the relationship. Reggie wasn’t in it for Veronica’s money or connections like he’d so often seemed to be in the past because he was footing every bill for their low-key, around town dates. And Veronica wasn’t working out of spite to make Archie jealous because her usual staged casualness had turned to a legitimate casualness that had Veronica distracted whenever Reggie was nearby.

It was just… sweet.

And that sweetness was just so out of character for the two of them. They had always separately created buzz, but together as a pair, they were the only thing anyone could talk about. Even Mister Weatherbee and Miss Grundy had been heard talking about the pair in the hallways.

“I think they’re so cute together,” Betty commented one day at lunch. Despite the cold and the occasional droplet of cold rain from the grey clouds above, her, Archie, and Jughead sat around their usual picnic table out front of Riverdale High. Veronica and Reggie had just walked past, Reggie’s arm thrown over Ronnie’s shoulder as they strolled to his car.

“I don’t,” Archie returned. His long standing but tentative relationship with Reggie had not recovered after their fight in Pop’s parking lot. Neither really had Betty and Veronica’s friendship, though she wished it would. At least they were civil to each other. Archie acted like he wanted to get pummeled again whenever he was around Reggie.

“Why not?” Betty asked.

“They’re bad influences on each other.”

“Oh please,” Jughead remarked through a mouthful of potato chips.

“Juggy, you agree with me?” Betty was surprised he had an opinion on Reggie and Ronnie at all.

“I could care less if they’re cute together, but I think they’ve been good influences on each other.”

“Like how?” Archie asked with a quizzical look at Jughead.

“Reggie is actually going to class because he wants to be with Veronica. Consistently going to class. When’s the last time he did that? Fifth grade? And Veronica is a lot calmer. Girl used to be wound tighter than a jack-in-a-box. And Reggie is less vicious. And Veronica is less catty. And I honestly think this is the most human I’ve ever seen either of them. Ever. Plus,” he added with a smirk, “they don’t hang around us anymore.”

Jughead was the only one that was happy about the last point and the mood at the picnic table quickly began to dim.

“Me and Reggie were so close as kids,” Archie remarked.

“And I always wanted to be closer to Veronica,” Betty added. “I didn’t want to lose her.”

“Well, not me,” Jughead said as he stood to go back inside out of the cold. “I hope they’re happy and together forever.”

“Juggy’s right,” Betty said a moment later. “We should be wishing them happiness.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

Archie knew Jughead was right. But it just didn’t feel right. What about, for lack of a better word, other factors? Factors like Reggie’s ego and Ronnie’s impatience. Factors like their parents and social standings. Factors like the leggy, pixie-haired brunette named Midge that was sitting a few picnic tables over and that had a history with Reggie.
Archie might have gotten a lot of flak for being oblivious more often than not, but he knew his friends. Especially Reggie. How long would it be before his self-destructive habits kicked back in?

It wasn’t really a question of if. It was a matter of when.

How much happiness did the pair have left even if he wished them more?

Chapter Text

School wrapped up for the year three days before Christmas. Veronica had already jetted out of the country three days before that. Reggie had almost gone with her. Hiram Lodge had a ski chalet in the Alps that the Lodges went to every year for Christmas, and while Veronica had occasionally taken Betty with her, Reggie was off the table. Despite the vicious hissy-fit Veronica had thrown, a male chalet guest was out of the question.

Or at least Reggie was. Hiram had said, in some rather explicit language to combat his daughter’s rather explicit language, that Reggie was not ever going to be a welcome addition to the Lodge household.

So that’s what people had been saying all these years about how he was making a reputation for himself. He’d never seen it before being with Veronica. And it had been a bit of an ego blow. Though worse than that had been being pushed out of the Lodge mansion and discovering the next day in school he wouldn’t see Veronica again until the Lodge’s annual New Year’s Eve party.

Well, in person at least. They’d messaged each other constantly and when Veronica had sent Reggie his present through express courier on Christmas Eve, they Skyped so she could watch him open it.

“You sure you don’t want to wait till you can open yours?” Veronica’s own present sat within his eye line, the colourful bag on his closet floor.

“I’m so proud of this gift Reggie Mantle, you open it now and love me for it,” Veronica said with a smile she artfully hid behind a mug of tea.

Ripping open the impeccably wrapped package had revealed a brand new, candy apple red, electric Fender guitar with a fingerboard made of rosewood and a strap that was artisanal crafted leather, probably from a cow that produced wagyu beef. Money was no object to a Lodge after all.

“Holy shit...” Reggie muttered as he marvelled at the exquisite instrument in his hands.

“Do you love it?” Veronica’s voice crackled, her image distorted briefly. Snow must have been falling in the Alps because the connection was getting worse and worse. But the smile on her face was crystal clear. Veronica was never happier than when she was giving a gift. How had the angel on the other end of this Skype call ever gotten the reputation of being cold and heartless and greedy?

“Yeah, I love it. Thank you, Ronnie…” Reggie loved more than just the guitar. He loved the girl that had given it to him. She had said that she wanted to be loved for it and hot damn if he didn’t. And he was prepared to say it to her. Veronica smiled again at his declaration of love for the gift, but before he made his second declaration of love for her, the call disconnected and Reggie was left staring at Veronica’s Skype icon.

“Love you…” he muttered to his empty room, just to get the sounds out of the back of his throat.

Love. He’d never loved anyone before. Well, besides himself. He didn’t even know if he loved his own parents, not after the way they’d treated him all these years. It was probably more than a little sociopathic that he thought that way, but what did it matter now? He loved Veronica, he was sure of it.

He could have tried to reconnect the call or sent her a message over whatever social media he already had open on his phone, but as he looked again at the cherry red guitar he didn’t think saying it online would be enough. She’d say it back of course, but with a little heart emoji attached to the end. And while he loved to see her associate him with little cartoon hearts, he wanted more for himself. And her. And them as a whole.

Because Veronica made him whole. He wasn’t broken or lacking like he’d so often felt when he was alone in his room. Veronica proved that. And he’d tell her as much the next time he saw her, a week from now at the Lodge’s New Year’s party.

Not that he had any idea how he’d say it. People just said it, that much he knew. But what else went with it? He resolved to find the right way to say it before the party.

And his first step?

He turned towards his closet again to look at the colourful package that waited to be placed in Veronica’s manicured hands. It would have to keep waiting because step one was an entirely different gift than the one he’d gotten.

Chapter Text

Reggie had thought the days leading up to New Year’s Eve and the Lodge’s party would be tedious, dragging on and on until he couldn’t take it anymore. But with the knowledge that he loved Veronica and the anxiety of saying as much right to her, the days went by in a blur. Before he knew it, it was New Year’s Eve and the same courier that had delivered his Christmas present was once again knocking on his door, this time to deliver a perfectly tailored tux and a handwritten note from Veronica saying she couldn’t wait to see him later.

The party started at eight and Reggie spent the hours leading up to it primping and preening and stressing about what he was going to say and how he was going to say it. And then there was his gift. Something else to stress about! Even after scraping the last gift to something entirely more personal and heartfelt, there was still a creeping dread at the edge of his brain saying that maybe it wasn’t enough. It led to many a nasty anxiety rattling around his chest cavity about how he might not be enough in general.

By the time he was grabbing his keys and shouting to his parents he was going, he was so shaky and worked up he didn’t see the note his parents had left saying they’d already left for the party themselves.

The Lodge Annual New Year’s Eve party was the biggest party Riverdale saw regularly. Anyone who was anybody in the town got invited and anyone who was nobody tried their damnedest to be anybody when winter rolled around and the gossip of this year’s party really got going.

Reggie went every year either riding on the coattails of the invite his parents got or the football team’s group invite. He’d seen the glitz and glamour, the excess of the one percent trying to outdo what had been done before. There was endless high-class champagne and food, an hours long fireworks show that could be enjoyed from a heated tent on the back terrace, and for the truly elite on the guest list, there were gift bags crammed with thousands of dollars of products to be collected while the chauffeur pulled around your car.

It was the stuff dreams were made of. Honestly it was what had first made Reggie so very, very thirsty to be with Veronica. The yearly party was one day for him and the rest of the town to live like a Lodge, but if you were a Lodge the other three hundred and sixty four days of the year, life was surely always like that party.

There was no doubt that everyone else in town felt that way too. Traffic headed towards the Lodge homestead moved at a crawl but no horns blared or birds were flipped. Everyone stuck in traffic was just glad to have an invitation to the black tie event.

Though Reggie found as he inched ever closer to the Lodge mansion that the feeling in his chest was not excitement like it had been in the past. He was nervous. He cast his gaze constantly between the present that sat in his passenger seat and his phone clutched in his hand, Veronica’s smiling face beaming at him from the bubble of his messanger app.

Horns honked, breaking the trance Reggie hadn’t realized he was in. The light he had stopped at had turned green and just turned red again.

“Calm the fuck down, Reggie,” he muttered as he gripped the steering wheel. “You’ve been to this party before. You’re with Veronica Lodge for god’s sake. You kiss her and hold her hand and… and love her…”

Why was he suddenly in a cold sweat? Why wasn’t he as cool and calm as he was in the face of everything else? Where was suave Reggie? Where was charming Reggie? Where was the Reggie that at least had dry palms?

The light turned green again but Reggie stayed where he was, much to the frustrations of those stuck behind him. Which was half of Riverdale. When the horns started again, a cacophony of anger this time, Reggie wrenched on his steering wheel, turning sharply to the right and speeding down the near empty street. It wasn’t the way to Lodge Manor but he suddenly couldn’t go to Lodge Manor. Couldn’t stomach the pressure. What pressure that was he couldn’t exactly say, but it was pressure nonetheless.

Reggie drove for a few minutes, taking random turns down streets that meant nothing to him. Riverdale wasn’t a big place though, and before long he’d taken the set of random turns that deposited him back on the main drag. He was at the back of the traffic now and in front of Pop’s.

The Chock’lit Shoppe was totally deserted, though the neon sign blinking in the front window proclaimed it was still open. Good ole Pop, keeping the diner open twenty-four hours, seven days a week no matter what. Reggie was glad for it tonight. He suddenly wanted some ice cream more than he’d ever wanted anything.

Pulling into the diner’s parking lot was an instant release of the pressure, though dread instantly took its place. He sat idling in the parking lot of Pop’s, the messanging app open, the simple declaration of ‘I’m going to be late’ typed but unsent. Veronica Lodge was used to getting what she wanted. She presumably wanted Reggie and, while that should have made him smug to the nth degree, tonight it made him feel ill. She’d be upset if he didn’t show. She’d be upset even if he was late.

But the thought didn’t send him on his way. It made him send the text and pull his keys out of the ignition, pocketing both them and his phone as he made his way to the abandoned Pop’s.

Well, almost abandoned. Pop stood behind the counter reading a newspaper and Jughead Jones sat at the counter hunched over a plate of food and a comic book. Neither of them looked up as Reggie entered, though Jughead definitely looked up when Reggie dropped down on the vinyl stool directly to his left.

“Of all the Chock’lit Shoppes in all the world, why’d you have to come into mine?” Jughead asked with a sigh. Usually the two would just ignore each other, but that was easier said than done when they were shoulder to shoulder in an otherwise deserted diner.

“I just wanted a malt,” Reggie returned.

“The usual?” Pop asked from behind his newspaper.

“Nah, make it strawberry tonight.”

Jughead put his comic down and got an eyeful of Reggie. “You’re a little overdressed for a milkshake, don’t you think? It’s almost like there’s someplace else you should be.”

“I do and I will get there. Traffic’s bad though. I’m just… waiting it out.”

“So I guess I saw someone else drive past with your exact sports car earlier, huh?” The sarcasm that dripped out of Jughead was as thick as the ketchup that dripped out of his burger.

“I guess so,” Reggie snarled back.

The blender whirled to life, cutting off any smart ass remarks Jughead might have thrown back. The two settled on rolling their eyes at each other. And when the blender stopped and the strawberry malt was placed in front of Reggie, the silence between the two stretched on. At least until Reggie broke it. Because Reggie was always breaking something.

“How come you never go to the Lodge’s New Year’s Eve party?”

“Why would I? Veronica’s not my friend and Pop doesn’t cater it.”

Reggie snickered at the comment but didn’t say anything else.

Though Jughead could sense he wanted to say more. Why, oh why, was he here trying to say more to him? He wished he could hide behind his comic as effectively as Pop was hiding behind his newspaper. But he couldn’t, so he might as well give Reggie what he wanted, lest the situation get anymore awkward. “How come you’re dragging your heels going to the party this year?”

“I’m always fashionably late,” Reggie replied as he brought a spoon heaped with ice cream to his mouth. “And if there’s one thing Veronica can make exceptions for, it’s fashion.”

“You think?” Jughead pondered. “Because the last time I saw her she was wearing your blue flannel over a Black Sabbath t-shirt. Is that the in look this season?”

Reggie turned to look at Jughead, who was already turned to look at him. “What does that have to do with anything? What are you getting at, Jughead?”

“Honestly Reggie, I’m not getting at anything. I think you and Veronica work great together. She looks comfortable in your flannel shirt. You look comfortable as a pair.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Which leads back to my original question of why you’re dragging your heels getting to her tonight.”

“I’m worried.” Reggie replied instantly.

“Worried?”

“I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but yeah, worried.”

“About what?”

“About… being comfortable, I guess. I love her, Jughead.”

“You’ve lost me, Mister Heteronormal. Isn’t that a good thing?”

“Yeah, of course it is… I think. I mean yes, but…” Reggie stopped himself from blathering on by cramming more ice cream in his mouth.

“You worried she doesn’t love you back?”

The memory of unwrapping the Fender guitar came to him then and he smiled. “I’m more concerned that I’m not worth her love.”

“Jesus Reggie, is that you in there or have you been body snatched? Since when do you think anything but the best of yourself?”

“I know, right?” Reggie exclaimed with the same amount of disbelief as Jughead. “What’s happened to me? Like, I’m really happy about everything but the more I think about it… it feels like I’m ascending a tall building in an elevator that’s too smooth and fast and the pressure inside my own head is the only indication I’m moving. Is this what love is supposed to feel like? Why would anyone ever want to feel like this?”

“You’re asking the wrong guy,” Jughead replied.

Reggie’s phone buzzed from his pants pocket and he pulled it out with a grimace. The screen showed it was Veronica. He dropped it face down on the counter without reading it, fearing the worst.

“Veronica?” Jughead asked. He didn’t know why he asked, that would only continue the conversation.

“Yeah. I told her I’d be late. She’s probably not pleased.”

Jughead reached out and grabbed the phone. Call it morbid curiosity. The same morbid curiosity that had him watching horror movies every night. He liked the danger, the gore, the fright. Things that would no doubt be on the line for Reggie now that he’d disobeyed Queen Veronica of the Land of Lodge. But the message Veronica had sent wasn’t what he thought it would be. Not at all. “She says that’s fine, that she’d be late herself if she could be. What does that mean?”

“I can take an educated guess that it has something to do with her father.” Hiram must have been on her case again. She’d mentioned in nearly every message she’d sent him how much he’d been stressing her out.

“That old dragon stresses me out too,” Jughead responded.

“That’s an apt description of the man if I’ve ever heard one.”

“Well then?”

“Well then what?”

“Go be the princess’ knight in shining armour. Rescue her from the dragon, sweep her off her feet, prove to yourself that you’re worth the women’s love!” The thought came out as an exclamation. It shocked both Reggie and Jughead himself. There was no need to be this invested in what Reggie was telling him, and yet here he was, talking about dragons and romance and he was no expert on either. Maybe dragons. But romance? His imagination was just getting away from him again.

The scene must have gotten through to Reggie because he slapped down his hands on the counter with enthusiasm. “You’re right!”

“I always am,” Jughead said as he went back to his comic.

“And… well… thanks Jughead.”

“For what?”

“Listening. You’re kind of the last person I thought would care.”

“Oh please,” Jughead said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I don’t care. I’m just too polite to tell you to piss off.”

“Since when?” Reggie laughed. And Jughead laughed too because he supposed he had said that - and worst - in the past.

“You gonna finish your malt?”

“It’s all yours, along with anything else you want. Pop, put Jughead’s food for tonight on my tab, would ya?”

“Pop doesn’t do tabs,” Jughead stated matter-of-factly.

“Not for you I don’t,” Pop remarked as he waddled over to get Reggie’s signature on a new tab. “Mantle’s got good credit though.”

“Well I’ll be damned,” Jughead said with a shake of his head. “The new things I’m learning about everyone tonight!”

Reggie scribbled his signature on the tab before grabbing his phone off the counter and dashing out of the restaurant. He had a damsel in a high tower to rescue from a fire breathing dragon.

Chapter Text

Reggie arrived at Lodge Manor well after the majority of the rest of the town. The roads were clear but the drive leading up to the stately house was still backed up as valets tried to get cars parked. It could take an hour more for him to hand over his keys and get to the party! So he decided not to wait because Ronnie had already waited enough.

Breaking away from the crush he took the small service road that lead to the back for deliveries. Technically at first he was on the decorative gravel path that led to the rose garden and fountain, but that non-car-intended path eventually led to the service road. Hiram had enough money to re-landscape anything that Reggie might have wrecked anyways: it was a win-win as far as he was concerned.

He parked his car in the non-live in helps area, grabbed the gift that sat prettily in his passenger seat, and made a beeline to the kitchen door.

The door stood open for a last-minute delivery and Reggie ducked through, weaving between the frantic caterers, the stressed out waiters, and the surprisingly calm delivery men that were standing around hoping to snatch a few finger foods before heading out. In the centre of all the chaos stood the Lodge’s faithful butler Smithers, directing the traffic like a cop at a busted stop light.

The appearance of Reggie brought a demure smile to his face. “Mister Mantle, so glad to see you’ve arrived. Miss Lodge is very much looking forward to seeing you.”

“Where is Miss Lodge?” Reggie asked as he was shoved from behind by a waiter screaming for more crab cakes.

The question raised an eyebrow on the butler’s face. “You aren’t coming in through the kitchen door at the direct behest of Miss Lodge?”

“No. It’s a long story,” Reggie added when the butler threw him another quizzical look.

“Well, whatever the reason it’s a blessing.” Smithers pointed to a door on the far side of the kitchen. “She’s in the butler’s pantry.”

Reggie strode across the room to open the door, expecting to see Veronica looking over the party’s inventory. The girl was as no-nonsense as her father and took pleasure in micro-management. But she wasn’t standing at the shelves with a clipboard in hand. She was hidden away behind a barrel filled with apples, her high-heeled feet splayed out in front of her. Headphones covered her ears and her eyes were closed. She could have been asleep if not for the furrowed brow that showed concentration and the tapping of her foot to a beat Reggie couldn’t hear.

Reaching out his hand, he touched her knee. She must have been expecting someone because she didn’t startle or take off her headphones or even open her eyes.

“Tell him I’m not ready yet, Smithers.”

Ah, so Smithers was in the kitchen because he was acting as a frustrated Veronica’s handler. No wonder he was so relieved to see Reggie walk in. And the him that Veronica was talking about? It had to be Daddie Dearest himself.

When Reggie’s hand lingered on her knee despite being shooed away, Veronica finally opened her eyes. Harsh at first, with whatever pent-up frustrations she was dealing with, but then, upon seeing him, melting into a radiance the sun would be jealous of.

“Reggie!” She exclaimed his name and threw herself around him. It felt like relief: for both of them.

“Hey Ronnie. Sorry I’m late.”

“It’s okay. Have you seen this year’s crowd? It’s ridiculous. Entirely too much.”

“Veronica Lodge thinks a party is too big? Who are you and what have you done with the girl that once skipped a week of school to party with Kylie and Kendall?”

“Oh the carefree days of tenth grade,” Veronica said with a sardonic laugh.

That particular laugh always meant Veronica had something to get off her chest. It was like that night on the beach. The night that started all this. Reggie couldn’t help but be brought back to the feeling of Veronica leaning against him with his feet ice cold in the sand.

He wanted to comfort her now like he had then.

Reggie dropped to sit cross-legged in front of her: weird creases in his rental tux be damned!

“How was the time at the chalet?”

“Terrible.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

The list of grievances that Veronica had ready to go was long and exhaustive. The main talking point of Veronica’s list was of course her father. Everything she said drained more and more until she was totally deflated. Her eyes glassy with tears she suppressed for the sake of her impeccable make-up, her hands wrung nervously tight around the phone she’d been listening to music on.

Hiram Lodge had always been a hardass but Veronica had been his weakness. No matter what Veronica wanted from him, Veronica got from him. But something had changed in the last little while. Reggie hoped it wasn’t his presence that was causing it.

“Being stuck in close quarters at the chalet didn’t help. It snowed the whole time and I had nowhere to hide. I felt like a fucking coyote with its foot in a trap.”

“I’m glad you didn’t chew that foot off,” Reggie said with a smile, moving his hand from her knee to her ankle. He hoped the remark would make Veronica smile too. But she didn’t.

Plan B then. He lifted the gift bag he’d had in his hand all this time and held it out to her.

“Will a Christmas present make it better?”

“Do you ever know me,” she said, a smile finally back on her beautiful face.

Before the package was handed off though, the pantry door opened. It was not Smithers that came stomping in to ruin the moment Reggie had been anxious to have go perfectly.
“There you are!” Huffed Hiram Lodge as he took in the scene in his butler’s pantry. “Hiding from your responsibilities, Veronica? And with a Mantle at that.”

“Daddy, I just needed a minute to–”

“Why aren’t you mingling, hmm? Networking with people? Endorsing your new lipstick line?”

“I told you I didn’t want that lipstick line –”

“You shouldn’t be avoiding your duties like this, Veronica. It’s unbecoming.”

“Um, yeah, hi,” Reggie said as he stood and faced the man. “Hiram, you slave driver you, what duties? What responsibilities? This is a party, isn’t it?”

The insolent use of his first name from Reggie set the man’s spine pin straight. The air around the Lodge patriarch bristled like the hair on the back of an angry alley cat. If looks could kill, the one that Hiram shot Reggie would have been taken him out and buried him in the woods.

“Veronica is to play the piano this evening. To show off her many years of expensive classical piano training and further the Lodge brand as one of excellence. Those are her duties.”

“Because she wants to?”

“Because the family wants her to.”

“But does Veronica want to?” Reggie pushed back at Hiram’s challenging tone with his own. Veronica had just told him how domineering her father had become, how impatient and scaly he was with her. It seemed like Hiram Lodge was determined to play the dragon’s role, and hadn’t Reggie decided just a little while ago that he was going to be Veronica’s knight?

Jughead had dubbed him one at least. He wore a crown and everything, it was more or less official!

“Come, Veronica. I have a few matters to talk to you about. And then the crowd is waiting for your performance.” Hiram’s tone suggested that he’d be the one doing all the talking. And it wasn’t going to be a pleasant chat.

“Yes, Daddy.” The statement came out of Veronica like the last bit of air from a deflated balloon. It was a sound of giving up because what else was there for the girl to do?

“Ronnie?” Reggie asked as she brushed past him to follow her triumphant looking father back to the party. “Don’t you want to open your present first?”

That made Veronica pause. She looked back to Reggie and the colourful bag he held out to her. She made a move to go back to him, but her father had wrapped his fingers around her bare arm before she got too far from his direction.

“She’ll open your paltry gift later, Mantle. Now get out of my kitchen and join the rest of the party before I put you to work to pay off that tux I know I paid for.”

And with that brusque remark, the Lodges were gone from the kitchen.

“I hate that man,” Reggie said to no one in particular, though Smithers was within earshot to hear it.

“For Miss Lodge’s sake, humour him. He’ll only make it harder for her if you don’t.” The statement came with a resigned sigh. Smithers must have been speaking from experience.
And that made the big and dark fear that Reggie had been harbouring even bigger and darker than before. He was the cause of Veronica’s sudden stress at the hands of her overbearing father.

Smithers must have read his mind because he reached out his hand to reassuringly place on Reggie’s shoulder. “Don’t blame yourself, Mister Mantle. He’s had more than one mood like this. It will pass and you and Miss Lodge will be stronger for it. He always bends to her eventually. Now, go on, enjoy the party.”

“Yeah. I will. It’ll probably be the last one I’m ever invited to here,” Reggie remarked.

“Well, maybe by Hiram. But I see the good you do for Miss Lodge. You’re always welcome to sneak in through my kitchen.”

“I guess he didn’t see me drive in through his rose garden,” Reggie muttered under his breath after the butler had moved back to directing the other staff and he had pushed through the kitchen door to join the rest of the party goers.

Chapter Text

The party was in full swing when Reggie entered the massive hall used for occasions such as these. There was a band playing something easy to dance to and the crowd obliged, taking up much of the room to do so. Around the edges of the dancers were tables set with finger foods and delicate desserts and towers of glasses filled with champagne. Reggie made his way to those boozy towers, inching through the other revelers, the present tucked safely under his arm as he kept a look out for the person it was destined for.

“Reggie?” That was Betty Cooper calling Reggie’s name. The chirpy cadence was impossible to mistake for anyone else.

He really didn’t want to turn and acknowledge he’d heard her: where Betty was, Archie was, and his and the redhead’s relationship was far from salvageable.

Not that it had been a great friendship before they had beat each other’s faces to pulp in Pop’s parking lot, but they’d always had their moments. Reggie had taken delight in grade school at being able to make Archie laugh so hard milk would shoot out his nose. The two of them had even managed to have some genuine moments, especially during football practice. They’d just been friends during football. But any moment he had with Archie now would, no doubt, lead to more blows.

“Reggie?” The second inquiry came with a hand placed on his arm. He couldn’t very well ignore her now. But when he turned to face her, he was surprised to see her without her tag-along redhead beau.

“Uh, hey, Betty.”

“Happy New Year, Reggie! You look very handsome tonight.” The statement came with the beaming smile Betty was constantly flashing and Reggie was glad for it. He was surprised to find he’d actually missed seeing it.

“You look good too,” he replied as he took in the sight of the usual tomboy Betty done up in glamourous curls and make-up and a floor length, shimmering gold evening dress.

“Thank you! Or, thank Veronica actually. She sent it for me to wear earlier today.”

“Hey, me too!” Reggie laughed.

“I guess Veronica knows we’re lacking in formal wear,” Betty laughed back.

This was nice, this back-and-forth he was having with Betty. How long since they’d been this casual if they’d ever even been this casual?

“So where’s Veronica?”

“Dragged off somewhere by her father. Where’s Archie?”

“Home with the flu.”

“So we’re both dateless, huh?”

“Well, your date is around here somewhere.”

“Not if her father has anything to say about it. The man hates me more than he hates even Archie.”

“He can’t keep her hidden all night. I’ll keep you company till then if you’d like.”

“Yeah?” Reggie was a little surprised a girl he’d tormented since childhood had any interest in doing him a favour. “That would… be nice.”

And it was nice. Betty had always been an enigma to him. She played baseball and got her hands dirty and fixed cars. He avoided taking auto shop for the sheer fact he didn’t want to be shown up by her in it. And yet, she still had guys hanging off her. But she still chose Archie Andrews. Total puzzle.

She was also a bottle rocket ready to go off. Girl had a temper and nothing short of nuclear bomb could upstage her when she really got going. Her sister Polly was the same way. And even though it was before his time in Riverdale High, stories about her older brother Chic and an infamous rampage he threw still circulated.

It was usually pressure that made her pop. Pressure to get straight As. Pressure to win a game. Pressure over who’d get Archie. She’d won that one but the girl still got strung pretty tight over her own insecurities. Tonight though, there were no pressures. And Betty was an exceptionally charming creature when there were no expectations on her.

They found a quiet place on the tented veranda and acted like old, dear friends as they flagged down waiters and told dirty jokes they’d picked up over the years. Betty’s were dirtier. She always had to be the best though, so it was no surprise.

“So how are you and Archie?” The question came out during a lull in the conversation. It should have stung him all along the still visible scar on his hand but the champagne was helping to take the sharp edges off the world.

“Good! Great even!” Betty exclaimed, the champagne clearly having the same effect on her. “It’s so great to have this loving, stable relationship. But you must know all about that, you and Veronica look so good together!”

“Jughead said the same thing earlier.”

“You were with Juggy earlier?”

“It’s a long story.”

“I bet!” Betty laughed.

She was the only one laughing. The anxiety Reggie had been feeling for days on end was suddenly back, sitting on his chest like a tonne of bricks.

“I’m worried about the gift I have for her actually,” he said. The gift was an easy, tangible item to attach his anxiety too. How could he even begin to fathom the anxiety of ruining Veronica’s life just because he was himself with Betty and a buzz on?

“What did you get her?”

“She got me a brand new Fender guitar. This is what I’m giving her.” He retrieved the bag from under the table and moved the tissue paper aside for Betty to peek in.

She gasped when she saw it. “Reggie, is that–”

“Yeah.”

Betty was silent for a moment as she gazed into the bag. “Veronica is going to love it!”

“You really think so?”

“It’s so thoughtful! She’ll adore it, I know she will. Oh, I wish Archie had done this for his Christmas gift now!”

“Don’t say that. You know how incompetent that boy is around tools.”

“That’s true. He almost lost his eye the last time he leaned into his car’s engine. All he had in his hand was a flashlight!”

“But honestly, how?”

“You don’t ask how with Archie Andrews, you just accept it!”

That set off another round of boisterous laughter, though it didn’t get to last long. The two quieted themselves when they heard the band stop and announce that the host for the evening had the floor. Looking around themselves they saw that everyone that had been on the veranda had moved inside. It looked like it was time for Veronica’s performance to begin.

_______________________________

The hall had been dimmed, lights pointed to the stage that now stood empty of a band. Hiram stood in the centre, a microphone in front of him. Pushing into the crush from the veranda, Betty and Reggie were just in time to see Veronica make her debut.

“Oh wow,” Betty muttered.

“Yeah, right?” Reggie replied with a smile.

Veronica looked stunning as she strode towards the grand piano. So full of that Lodge branded confidence she was lacking just a little while ago. She came to a stop beside her father and the crowd, which had been humming before, hushed completely. Reggie doubted it was because any of the yokels of Riverdale had an interest in classical music. Maybe it was the look on Hiram’s face that brought the lively room to a grinding halt.

“Thank you all for coming to this year’s party,” he began with a smile that may have been wide but any joy in it stopped long before his cold, hard eyes. “Before we ring in the New Year with the spectacular fireworks show we’ve prepared, my lovely daughter Veronica will be performing a small piano piece.”

The announcement came with the calculated coolness of someone long standing in putting on fronts. Reggie recognized the act because he did it himself.

“What have you chosen to play for us, my dear?” The way he turned to her was like a predator turning on prey. The talk they had must have been heated. He’d obviously won it with Veronica standing beside him now, but the fight she most certainly would have put up had left a few marks on his ego.

“I will be performing Rosenthal’s adaption of Chopin’s Minute Waltz.” The look on Veronica’s face just then was hard to place.

There was a polite smattering of applause by those who knew what that was.

“The thirds in that piece are non-stop,” a woman remarked quietly to her husband directly in front of Reggie.

“Definitely an intense arrangement. I’ll be surprised if she can pull it off well,” agreed the husband.

Ah. That’s what the look was. She was nervous and ready to vomit from it.

“Hey Ronnie!” Reggie suddenly shouted like a man possessed. He drew everyone’s attention backwards to him: Veronica’s nervous gaze, her father’s scathing one. “None of that boring old crap! Play some Sabbath!”

Veronica rolled her eyes at the request, but she was smiling as she did. Hiram, not so much.

“How dare you even suggest such a thing, Mantle.”

“Alright no Sabbath. How about some Iron Maiden then? You down for some Powerslave, old man? It's Ronnie's favourite!”

Veronica was straight up laughing now, as were most of the people in the crowd. Again though, Hiram? Not so much.

“Would you kindly shut-up–”

Reggie interrupted him. “Don’t tell me you like their new stuff.”

That was a push too far. “One more word from you Mantle and you’re gone!” He snapped, bringing the cheerful laughter of the crowd to an abrupt halt.

Reggie had no doubt that wasn’t just a bluff. Security prowled the party like leopards looking for trouble makers to devour like a weak gazelle. So he swallowed the retort he had and simply smiled at Hiram. The man was on edge enough to take the smile to mean whatever he wanted it to.

Which is to say nothing good, and Reggie would no doubt pay for it in the long run, but Veronica was smiling as she took her seat at the piano, and that was a victory.

_______________________________

The performance went off without a hitch despite the piece being as frantic as a heart attack. Reggie didn’t know if it was supposed to be like that or if Veronica was legitimately having a heart attack. Veronica was an amazing piano player but with Hiram keeping an eye on her during like she was a petulant toddler about to run off? It wasn’t exactly soothing.

But she got through it without fail and even managed a genuine smile as she took her bow to the cheering crowd.

Veronica had done the duties that Hiram had demanded she do: she’d even done them well. Not that it seemed to impress the scaly old man. As soon as he’d thanked his daughter, he brought the band back out, said the fireworks would begin soon, and escorted Veronica off the stage. All while wearing the grimace of a man that had been stabbed in the back but had survived to take his revenge.

It did not bode well.

Especially when they didn’t move into the crowd of people to mingle. Hiram had placed his hand firmly on Veronica’s back to escort her off the stage and keep escorting her right out of the grand hall.

Betty saw it happen to and scowled. “There’s no way he’s upset about Veronica’s performance. She was perfect.”

Reggie didn’t bother to go into the conspiracy theory involving his bad reputation to the sudden drop in Hiram’s good humour. Betty had probably already figured it out herself.

“I’m gonna go,” Reggie commented as he made a beeline towards the door the Lodges had left through.

“Tell Veronica she’s perfect!” Betty yelled after him.

As if he needed to be told that.

Chapter Text

Reggie followed after Hiram and Veronica hoping that he wouldn’t lose them among the sprawling hallways of a mansion his reputation had barred him from: even after he started dating the owner’s daughter. Especially after he started dating the owner’s daughter.

That probably shouldn’t have surprised him.

He thought to take note of landmarks through the hallways in case he got lost but Hiram was berating his only child at a volume that would have been hard to miss. He followed easily after the scorched terrain the dragon Hiram was leaving, his present clutched in his hand like the handle of a broadsword. He was going to rescue the princess–he was hyped to save the princess!

Snippets of what Hiram was saying could be heard as Reggie trailed behind.

“…you’re making a fool of yourself…”

“…this stupid little rebellion…”

“…bad decision after bad decision…”

Reggie turned a corner but ducked back behind it quickly. Hiram had dragged Veronica to the back of the mansion: the party couldn’t be heard at all from this point within the massive house. But what Hiram was saying echoed through the quiet halls like the boom of the fireworks that were about to start.

“I won’t let you destroy your reputation with a boy. That boy.”

The anxiety seed that Reggie had swallowed earlier bloomed again, faster and nastier than it had before. It snaked through his stomach and up the back of his throat like a thorn covered vine. The hostility continued to be about him. It would be for as long as he was with Veronica.

“Why’s it any of your concern?”

There was an edge to Veronica’s voice. Impatience. Like how she used to get the second something didn’t go her way. A return to form for the princess. Reggie peeked around the corner to watch the scene.

“You’re a Lodge. I built the name up from nothing and you’re about to drag it back to that!”

“I haven’t done anything I haven’t done before.”

“It doesn’t matter–”

“Really? Remember the trouble I got into with that investment banker’s son? You had to bail us out of a Moroccan prison and an international incident. What’s the count on international incidents since Reggie?”

“That boy is set to take over the largest network of banks in the world. Mantle is set for mediocrity. Probably jail time given his attitude. Just being around him… For Christ’s sake Veronica, Mantle is below you! Look at how he behaved at your performance!”

“What’s he done that’s offended you, Daddy? Knowing my favourite Iron Maiden album is suddenly unreputable? It’s more than what you know about me!”

There was a quiver in her voice. Soon there’d be tears. Hiram, like any good bully, knew his target was about to break and went in to finish it.

“I know more about you than you think. And I know more about him than you think as well. He’s trash. And he’s using you, Veronica.”

“So are you!” Veronica screamed, her voice piercing through the boom of Hiram’s firework shouts like a missile at Mach five.

Hiram leaned in close to Veronica then, whispering something that shook Veronica worse than the shouting had because the tears that had brimmed her eyes were suddenly streaking down her cheeks and she collapsed onto a decorative chaise lounge that had (given that Reggie had passed half a dozen identical chaise lounges) probably never been sat on.

Pleased with the success of his antagonism, Hiram stalked away in the opposite direction of where Reggie stood. Reggie was glad for it. He wasn’t sure what he would have done if the man got anywhere near him at the moment. Though his clenched fist was a good clue.

Jail time to ring in the New Year. At least that would mean the rest of the year could only go up?

He took a breath to steady himself before going to steady Veronica.

“Ronnie?” He softly called as he strode down the hallway towards her.

Her eyes snapped up to meet his and suddenly the tears dried up. She stood, running her fingers under her eyes to clear away the evidence of her sadness. “Reggie. Hey.” The casual impassiveness she was going for caught in her throat.

There were a million things Reggie should have said but he said the one thing he shouldn’t. “What did he say to you, Ronnie?”

The question was tactlessly delivered to be sure but he couldn’t stand to see Veronica made so sad and it had been whatever Hiram had quietly said to her that made her this sad.

“Oh, you know, just the usual. How I’m a total disgrace and constant embarrassment. How I’d crash and burn as soon as he releases the reins. Nothing he’s never told me before. Though he’s been telling me it all a lot more frequently nowadays.”

“It’s because of me.”

Veronica scoffed. “As always you’ve put yourself at the centre of the universe, Reggie Mantle.”

“It has nothing to do with me?” The disbelief in his voice was palpable.

“It’s true you’re wearing your welcome inside out with Daddy, but you’re more a symptom than the cause.”

“What’s the cause?”

“Me.” Veronica said with a tone that implied he was dreadfully dumb for not reaching that conclusion on his own.

“No! Fuck that!” Reggie’s sudden declaration made Veronica jump. “None of what he’s telling you is true. The old dragon is just upset he can’t horde you away with his other possessions any longer. He can treat you like just another object he can buy and control but you aren’t.”

“You say that with such confidence.”

“Well I speak from experience, don’t I?”

“Do you?” Veronica asked as she dropped back to the chaise lounge.

“I’m sure this won’t come as any surprise, Ronnie, but I wanted to own you before. Everyone in this town does in some way. Except Archie Andrews and that’s probably why you liked him so much. Because it wasn’t his car. Or those god awful freckles.”

Veronica chuckled at that. “I actually kind of like the freckles.”

“Really?” That astounded Reggie but it was a discussion for another time. “Wait, no, never mind about the freckles. What I’m saying is that you’re not something to own. And it really pisses me off to see people treat you like that because I used to do it but I changed so why won’t they?”

The look on Veronica’s face was how Reggie felt on the inside: who the fuck was standing here saying these things and what had he done with the Reggie Mantle everyone knew? “Well…” Reggie cleared his throat, suddenly self-conscious about his entire existence. What did he have to change the topic? “Um… I don’t think it’ll fix all your problems, but you still have this present to open.”

Veronica took the package with a small smile. As she pulled out the tissue paper to look inside, the smile fell from her face. Tears filled her eyes again as she took out the gift for a closer look.

It was the birdhouse he’d built in shop. Reggie had scraped the bottle of pricey perfume he’d bought her for the birdhouse because she had said, way back when, that she wanted it. He’d gone all out on the birdhouse, making it two levels tall and surrounding it with a little white picket fence. There were shutters for the windows and a trellis that Reggie had painstakingly threaded with tiny fake flowers. It was even painted bubblegum pink, something the other guys in the class had gotten a good laugh over.

It was the best thing Reggie had ever built and even Harding the Hardass had been impressed. It earned him his first ever A+.

But even an A+ wasn’t good enough for a Lodge. Why else would she be crying? She’d expected something bigger. Better. Veronica was used to the best life had to offer. The look on her face showed as much. She’d never wanted this. It had been a joke at the time and now it was an even bigger joke at his expense.

“Is this… your birdhouse project? From shop class?” She asked after an excruciating long moment had passed in silence.

“Yeah. You said that you wanted it. I guess you were kidding, huh?” Reggie crammed his hands into the pockets of the tux and turned away, hoping to hide his disappointment and calm the temper that would flare up if he weren’t careful.

“You made this entire thing?”

“Made it entirely for you.”

“Reggie… I-”

“Don’t worry,” Reggie said with a shrug and a forced smile as he turned back to face Veronica. “You don’t have to say you don’t want it. It was a stupid idea for a Christmas gift. I’m sor-”

The apology was interrupted when Veronica jumped up and kissed him. When she pulled away, her eyes brimmed with tears but there was one of her million dollar smiles shining brightly as well.

“Reggie Mantle you are the sweetest man I know! I adore it!”

“Really?”

“No one has ever made me anything before.”

“I’m so relieved you like it,” Reggie said with a sigh. A sigh to release all the anxiety that had plagued him for the last week. Hell, some of the anxiety that had plagued him since as long as he could remember got exhaled.

What a feeling. And Veronica was the cause of it. He could almost cry himself.

“Do you really think I’m special enough for all this effort?” Veronica asked as she looked over the little pink house again.

“Ronnie, I will single handily build you a whole house one day.”

“With a little white picket fence and flower trellis?”

“That’s version 1.0 you’re holding. I got the scale a little wrong but I’m gonna work on that,” Reggie replied with a laugh.

“Till then,” Ronnie said as she laced her fingers through Reggie’s, “I’ve got the perfect place for my itty bitty dream house.”

Veronica lead Reggie further into Lodge Manor. The sounds of the party, which had entirely disappeared where Veronica had been dragged by her father, began to pick up again. But they didn’t go back to the main hall. They came to a spot in the wall that Veronica pushed open, revealing a secret set of servant’s stairs. Reggie tried to keep his jaw from dropping at the extravagance of the mansion as they went up.

“We’re going to miss the fireworks if we go any deeper into your ridiculously huge house,” Reggie said as they exited the secret panel at the top of the stairs and he was lead down yet more hallways filled with yet more rooms.

“My room faces the back of the house,” Veronica replied. “We can see them from there.”

So, Veronica was leading him to her bedroom, huh? He’d had a suspicion that’s where they were headed. He had yet to see Veronica’s room. Not that that was any surprise, he was barely allowed in Lodge Manor, let alone in the only daughter’s secluded bedroom.

Veronica stopped in front of a pair of glistening white, intricately carved double doors. Every other door they’d passed had been dark wood. These were the doors that lead to a room where a princess dwelled.

“Well shit,” Reggie muttered as the doors were opened and Reggie was invited into the princess’ sanctuary. The illusion that the doors created crumbled immediately.

The room was as large as the first floor of his house and filled with delicate, white carved furniture that matched the doors. There was make-up and jewellery and magazines, with a California King, four post bed as the centerpiece of the room. All that was no surprise.

The surprise lay scattered amongst the glitzy veneer. The bed was unmade, the sheets onyx black and the curtains hanging from the posts a deep, moody purple. The delicate furniture looked at its breaking point with all the shit stacked on every inch of it. There were stacks and stacks of heavy metal records, first edition Brontë novels, candy wrappers, dirty dishes, and just a general layer of untidiness atop a general layer of filth.

Clothing and shoes lay everywhere and vases full of flowers shed their shrivelled leaves to the scuffed hardwood floor. The whole mess was lit in the soft light of dozens of strings of fairy lights. Reggie was a little scared what direct light might reveal around him.

“Ronnie, you live like a pig,” Reggie laughed as he looked around.

“It’s no worse than your room,” Veronica returned with a smirk.

“I could make the argument that it is.”

“You’re going to argue yourself right out of the best New Year’s kiss you could ever hope for then.”

Miming zipping his lips closed earned him another beautiful smile before Veronica turned away to find a place to put her gift. Despite the room being the square footage of his house there was precious little space to be had anywhere.

Reggie, to avoid standing around awkwardly, took a seat on Veronica’s bed while she looked around. Not that sitting down made him any less awkward. Out of fear that Hiram would barge in at any moment, he stayed facing the doors, tense so he could jump up and act innocent should he need to.

He made himself so tense that he jumped when Veronica dropped down beside him.

“Don’t worry. Daddy never shows his face here. I don’t even think he knows which room in this mansion is mine.”

“That’s good,” Reggie smiled, though he added a hasty afterthought: “About him not dropping in on us. Not the overall parental neglect.”

Veronica laughed and it was only just a bit sardonic.

“So where’d you put your gift?” Veronica pointed and he twisted around to see she’d placed it on her bedside table. She’d cleared off the whole space just for it.

“I want to always be near it,” she said dreamily as she stood again. She moved to one of the windows to peek out the purple curtain and down on the crowd that had gathered there to watch the fireworks display.

Reggie stared at Veronica as she stared out the window. She looked so beautiful. Even with her eye make-up smudged from her tears.

It was time.

“Veronica?”

She turned from the window to find that Reggie was standing again. She tucked her hair behind her ear as she cocked her head to the side. “Yeah?”

“I love you.”

Chapter Text

Well.

He’d said it.

Said them. The three words he’d decided needed to be said. The three words he felt more than he’d ever felt anything. The three words he knew could make or break everything he had with Veronica but said them anyways because they just needed to be said.

Fireworks began to boom as soon as the three words left his mouth. The sparkling colours that twinkled iridescent over Veronica’s pale skin were the only thing that convinced him it was the fireworks exploding beyond the frost covered window panes and not his own heart in his rattling chest.

Veronica still stood near the window. Frozen still by the declaration. Was she frowning? No, it was the shadows cast by the New Year’s celebration happening just outside. The crowd could be heard owing and awing at the spectacle but it was all just background noise to the blood pounding in his ears as he waited for Veronica’s reaction.

“Do you really mean that?” She asked as she drew back from the window. She moved towards where Reggie stood at the end of her bed, keeping her deep brown eyes firmly on Reggie as she did.

“Yes.”

“There’s none of your usual ulterior motives?”

“When have I ever had ulterior motives?” Reggie asked as Veronica came to stand directly in front of him.

“No?” Veronica asked with a knowing smirk as she threw her arms over his shoulders and wove her fingers through his hair. “Want to have some now?”

“What are you proposing?”

Veronica kissed him then, pulling him down to meet her lips. There was tenderness to the kiss, but mostly it was passion. A hungry, angry, reckless passion. It was like that night on the beach. The night that had started this all.

Maybe he’d loved her all the way back then. Maybe she’d loved him.

He had given her his shoes then. He wanted to give her more now.

Reggie rested his hands on her hips. Her manicured nails dug into his neck as he did. Clear encouragement if he’d ever felt it. Moving from Veronica’s lips to her neck, he was pleased beyond belief to hear her purr. He moved slowly downwards, her orchid perfume luring him like a bug into the mouth of a smiling fly trap. And willingly he went because willingly she took him: until his hands were on the tiny zipper that would undo her designer dress and he was trembling at the prospect and she was breathlessly whispering yes because Veronica had always had an uncanny ability of reading other people’s minds.

Though she was pressed up against him, so maybe it wasn’t his mind she was reading.

And so Veronica’s zipper was undone. Leaving her bare as the dress dropped to the ground. Her curves, always hidden under the most exclusive designer fashion, were now covered only in the soft glow of fairy lights and the colours of fireworks defused through the frost on the windows.

She laughed nervously, suddenly self-conscious of her total nudity. “You simply can’t wear any lingerie under form fitting ball gowns. The lines are unsightly.”

Nothing on Veronica Lodge would ever be unsightly. Her body was like art. Reggie had never appreciated art but he would now. He wished his bowtie wasn’t suddenly choking him so he could say all that out loud.

But the look on his face must have wordlessly given away what he was thinking because Veronica didn’t baulk at the silence like she normally did when no one was paying her compliments. She wound her fingers through his bowtie and began to untie it. Reggie eagerly followed suit, ripping himself out of the tux because undressing normally just wasn’t fast enough.

Flurries of kisses and clothing flung far and wide and soon they were in Veronica’s bed, the soft sheets and heavy duvet thrown atop Reggie, and Reggie atop Veronica. She’d pulled open the drawer on her bedside table to reveal a small stash of condoms and Reggie had grabbed one, all without stopping the hungry, passionate kissing.

But then the kissing stopped because Veronica had pulled away, turning her head to chew on her lip nervously. The look on her face was doubtful.

“It’s not my first time,” she remarked after a moment of silent introspection.

“Archie?” This was literally the last thing on Earth he wanted to know, but Archie had always been the biggest hurdle between him and Veronica and old habits die hard.

“Oh please,” Veronica scoffed. “That boy’s going to wait till he marries Betty and you know it.”

“Then who?”

“The random sons of random rich guys that I’ve partied with. It was all meaningless.” Veronica added the last bit hastily, no doubt after seeing the look that passed over Reggie’s face.

How many random sons of random rich guys was Veronica talking about? Sure it wasn’t Reggie’s first time either, but his conquests really weren’t as frequent as locker room talk had led others to believe. Though looking back on the hook-ups he’d had, he agreed with the sentiment that they were all pretty meaningless.

He could salvage what was left of the mood with a tactical turn towards that.

“Well, it’s not my first time either. This’ll be our first times with meaning though. And major plus, no awkwardness with the condom. Which, speaking of…” Okay, so it wasn’t exactly poetry, but could anyone blame Reggie for being in a hurry? Placing the corner of the colourful condom packaging in his mouth, he ripped it open and promptly sent the condom inside flying across the room.

It seemed the universe had taken umbrage with the haste. But he was in a good enough mood to laugh about. So was Veronica.

She snorted a laugh at the immediate irony. “Oh Reggie, you’re the hottest of messes.”

“Don’t you love me for it,” he asked absentmindedly as he rummaged for another condom.

“Absolutely,” Veronica replied, hardly louder than a whisper.

That made Reggie pause. Had Veronica just said she loved him?

“Don’t look so surprised, Reggie. I love you.”

There she was reading minds again. Not that Reggie minded. Now nothing else needed to be said and their New Year was rung in together under satin sheets with a bursting, sparkling, glittering firework with each thrust and moan.

Chapter Text

Nothing changes on New Year’s Day. U2 had said it and Reggie had taken it to heart. Not that he took a lot of generic popular rock to heart, it just happened to be true. Every New Year’s Eve was supposed to be a rebirth: it was engrained in the Western consciousness to change when the New Year rolled around. But no one ever did. Because the day after the party is bleak and cold and the hangover screaming behind the eyes of the partiers tells them to put off that change till the headache goes away. And in this life, does that headache ever really go away?

So no, nothing ever changes on New Year’s Day.

Well, not unless one wakes up on New Year’s Day in Lodge Manor with the exquisitely beautiful and still very much naked Veronica Lodge draped over them. Which Reggie did. He hadn’t had this yesterday, so something had changed.

And unlike so many of the changes the world insisted he participate in, he could get used to this one.

He stayed as still as possible to let Veronica rest peacefully. He was happy to just lay there with her, basking in the glow of love. And sex. Mostly love, but c’mon, naked Veronica Lodge! Despite wanting to stay still he couldn’t resist touching her. She was unconscious though so he reached for her hair instead of where he very much wanted to reach.

Veronica began to stir not long after Reggie began stroking her glossy hair. She awoke like a cat: a noise in the back of her throat and a stretch from her fingertips to her toes. And when she opened her eyes and saw Reggie beside her she purred a good morning and a happy new year.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Like the dead,” she replied with a yawn. “Sleeping beside you is better than taking Valium.”

Reggie was reminded of their first night together and how completely zonked out Ronnie had been as he’d carried her to bed. It was amazing he could be that much of a comfort to anyone. That someone trusted him that much.

“What time is it?”

Reggie reached for his phone on the side table but this wasn’t his side table and his phone wasn’t on it. It was in the pocket of his tuxedo pants and they had been thrown clear of the bed in his haste to get in it last night.

“No comment.”

Veronica laughed. “Never mind, time is meaningless in Lodge Manor after a party.” She slipped out from under the onyx black sheets and strode towards the massive bathroom that Reggie hadn’t noticed last night. And, if he was being honest, wasn’t really noticing now. “I’m going to take a quick shower and then we can go to Pop’s for some food, okay?”

“Sounds good.” Even that simple statement was hard to put together with the distraction of a completely naked Veronica. Thank god she didn’t ask any follow up questions because he wouldn’t have been able to string anymore words together if his life depended on it.

Veronica blew him a kiss before retreating into the bathroom. He wondered if he could get anymore sleep in while she showered. He made himself comfortable again to try it, leaning back on the feather stuffed pillow with a smile dopier than even Archie Andrews could produce. What wasn’t there to smile about? Life was good. Love was good. The steady sound of water from the shower was good. The tranquil thoughts of all three had almost lulled him back to sleep when he got the most effective wake-up call in the universe: footsteps.

They were coming quick and steady down the hallway, closer and closer to the double doors of Veronica’s bedroom. Reggie’s spine stiffened with each echoing step until he was bolt upright in the bed, on edge like a dog that heard thunder far off in the distance. Of course there was the possibility that whoever was coming this way was headed somewhere else in the mansion. There was also the possibility that, at that very moment, it was snowing in Hell. This whole hallway–this whole wing–belonged to Veronica.

Someone coming this way was coming to this room.

And the odds that it was Veronica’s father?

Sure Veronica had said that he didn’t know which room was hers, but Hiram Lodge knew everything. Even if there was a chance that Hiram didn’t know the location of his own daughter’s bedroom, that meant there was also a chance he had Reggie senses and they were tingling and that’s what was leading him here. Christ that’s what it was, his Reggie-slept-with-my-only-daughter-I’ll-kill-him senses were tingling and leading him here like a heat seeking warhead!

The footsteps came closer and closer, the odds Reggie had proposed getting greater and greater until JACKPOT.

A knock on the door.

Though that was no jackpot. It was a bust. Just like Reggie’s head was about to be if the man saw him here.

Reggie flung himself out of the bed like he’d been launched with a spring. Fuck fuck fuck ran through his head as a panicked mantra of doom and despair. Hiram Lodge was here to kill him unless he did something and did it now. But the prospect of being skinned alive or buried alive or burned alive or whatever malicious shit Hiram could think to do was a bigger distraction than Veronica had been.

Veronica! Of course, she could save him!

But she was in the shower and Reggie suspected Hiram could flay him before she even had time to wrap a towel around herself.

A second knock. Louder this time.

He’d have to hide if he hoped to live to see another day. But where? Under the bed? Behind the curtains? Amateur hour: those are the spots that would be checked first for intruding, naked boys!

A closet maybe? Veronica had to have a walk-in closet and it had to be at least a thousand square feet, this was just empirical fact. And if it were as messy as the rest of her life? He’d never be found! And what reason would Hiram have to go in his daughter’s walk-in closet? It was a perfect plan.

Reggie rushed to the askew closet doors, slipping into the massive closet and quietly shutting the doors behind him just as the room’s main door opened.

Breathe, he told his constricted lungs as he backed away from the door, tiptoeing backwards through the shoes and purses that littered the floor. There was nothing to worry about, he told his roiling guts. Hiram would look around, realize his daughter was in the shower, and leave. No fuss, no muss.

Noise from the bedroom indicated that the door was open and someone was entering the room. Okay, Hiram was going to wait in the room for Veronica. That was a little fuss, but still no muss.

Footsteps again. Moving around the room from point to point. Was Hiram pacing? Was he about to lay into Veronica like last night? Or was he looking for something? Or someone?

The footsteps stopped for a moment. But not because the person making them had sat down or left the room. It was the exact amount of time it would take to look at something out of place.

Shit. There was the muss. Reggie’s tux was scattered all over the floor. As messy as Veronica’s room was, a men’s tuxedo would still stand out.

The footsteps again, headed right to the closet. Christ, maybe he should have hidden under the bed.

Closer and closer. Any second now and the doors would be ripped open. And then Hiram the dragon would rip open his rib cage and tear out his still beating heart to snap between his jagged teeth.

Fuck fuck fuck started up again, louder in his head this time. Maybe he could–shit, no time, the door knobs were turning. Fuck fuck fuck! The only thing left to do was shield himself from the inevitable attack. One hand snatched a purse off the shelf to cover his nakedness, the other shot up to protect his face.

“I-I can explain!” He shouted as soon as the doors were thrown open. He expected fire and brimstone within a heartbeat. He didn’t expect Hiram to wait for him to explain. But there wasn’t anyone attacking him, so he must be. Unless Hiram was just so mad he’d loss use of language?

Reggie risked lowering his hand to take a look.

It wasn’t Hiram standing in the threshold of the closet. It was Smithers. The next worst thing to Hiram: the butler that was on his dime.

“Mister Mantle–”

“Look, I can still explain!”

“There’s no need to.”

“No, there is, see, what happened is–”

“You spent the night with Miss Lodge.”

“No, of course not! What happened is… what happened…”

“Again,” Smithers said as he held up his hand to stop Reggie’s stammering, “there is no need to explain.”

No, there wasn’t any need to explain, was there? Reggie stood before him in his employer’s daughter’s walk-in closet, naked as the day he was born except for the designer bag clutched in front of him. It was pretty goddamn clear what had happened. What wasn’t clear was what would happen next. Smithers would tell Hiram and that was the end of Reggie for sure. But what would happen to Veronica? Reggie couldn’t have anything happening to her on his conscience.

“Okay, listen,” Reggie said with a sigh. “I know you’re on Hiram’s payroll and all, but don’t tell him, okay? Blackmail me in whatever way you want, but keep Veronica out of this. Please.”

“Mister Mantle, Hiram Lodge might be the one that signs my cheques, but I have Veronica Lodge’s best interests at heart. As you clearly do as well. I understand what happened and it will go no further than that.”

“Wait… what?”

So… he wasn’t about to die? What a goddamn rush!

“I simply came to you–”

“Cornered me, you mean.”

“Yes, corned you, unintentionally of course, to obtain your car keys. Mister Lodge will be up and breakfasting soon and I wished to move your car so you would not be found out.”

“My car keys?” Reggie yelped. The rush of before was quickly draining out of him and leaving nothing but annoyance. He got out of Veronica Lodge’s bed for this? “Sorry old sport, I don’t seem to have them on me at the moment!”

Smithers didn’t even try to hide the smirk that twitched at the corners of his mouth. With a gesture to the alligator skin bag that Reggie hid behind, he remarked: “They’re not in your purse, Mister Mantle?”

Reggie opened his mouth to retort but Veronica walked in then, wrapped up in a towel with a smile on her face. “Good morning Smithers,” she gave the aging butler a kiss on the cheek with the statement, completely unperturbed by his appearance. Though she was perturbed by Reggie’s when she turned to look at him. “Oh Reggie. That bag does not go with that look. Try something in a nude tone.”

“You’re both just so goddamn funny,” Reggie exclaimed as the two laughed at their cleverness at mocking him. “You should put an act together. Go on tour. Leave me alone as you do it.”

“But first we’ll get you some clothing, hmm?” Veronica gave him a kiss on the cheek as she breezed past into her own acres large collection of clothing and Reggie was reminded of his nudity. As if he could forget: he had these two forming a whole Vaudeville routine about it.

“My keys are in my tux pants. There’s a bag in my trunk with clean clothing in it–”

“Will any of it match the bag you’ve chosen?” Veronica quipped from within her closet.

“I’m sure you’ll be the first to tell me if it doesn’t, dear,” Reggie quipped back.

“I shall be right back with it, Mister Mantle,” Smithers said with a chuckle as he left the two. Perhaps an odd reaction given the circumstances, but he couldn’t help himself.

He had considered Veronica Lodge his own daughter since the moment he’d first held her because her biological father was too busy to. And since no father wanted to find his teenage daughter in bed with someone, this morning should have been quite the unpleasant bit of business. But his loyalty lay with Veronica’s happiness first and foremost, and since Reggie made her happy, Smithers saw no harm in it.

And besides, the look of complete shock on Reggie’s usually cocky face when he’d thrown open the closet doors had this brand new year off to a hilariously good start.