“Uh…Hey, Moose.” Kevin wasn’t quite sure why Moose had approached him, especially alone. By mutual agreement, they only hung out now in group situations if Archie or Veronica or Reggie or anyone else was there, preferably as many people as possible.
“Hey, Kevin. I was hoping we could hang out later, maybe go to Pop’s or something?” Moose suggested.
“Shouldn’t you be going there with Midge?” Kevin asked.
“Hadn’t you heard?” Moose looked puzzled. “Midge and I aren’t seeing each other any more.”
“You’re not?” Kevin hadn’t heard that. “I’m sorry to hear that. Was it…” He broke off before he could mention the shooting. He didn’t really want to get into that subject with Moose. It wasn’t like Moose had ever really asked Kevin anything about his dad’s investigation of cases, apart from when they first met at age six and Moose asked him about his dad catching the bad guys. But he knew that if his father knew anything he would be telling Moose himself, and after the whole thing with Joaquin, Kevin didn’t want to go down that route again.
“Not about the shooting,” Moose replied. “Never that. No, it was my decision, and it was because I realised I couldn’t lie to her any longer.”
“Lie to her about what?” Kevin asked.
“About the fact that it wasn’t her I really wanted to be with. About the fact that I really am into guys. When I was in the hospital, it was you I wanted there with me, not Midge. And I understand it might still be too soon after that Serpent guy, and that maybe you’re not that into me, but I finished with Midge because it was you I really wanted to be with. How about we give us a try, even if it’s just one date? Gotta be better than all those random guys…”
Kevin sighed. “Thank you, Betty Cooper. Did she tell the whole town?”
“Betty didn’t tell me anything. Let’s just say I may have made the same mistake myself. But I’m done with that now. Let’s just go to Pop’s or something, just us, even if it’s only as friends at first, see how we get on.”
Kevin thought about it. It was true about the random guys, and Moose had chosen to be honest with himself, to quit living the lie with Midge. Plus Joaquin wasn’t coming back…Maybe it was time for him to give it a try, to move forward again.
“He likes me. For real.” Joaquin had never even really thought it would get that far. Guys like him and guys like Kevin Keller didn’t mix, everyone knew that. When F.P. had first put the idea into his head, he didn’t even think it would work. Kevin hung out with kids like Archie Andrews and Betty Cooper, and wouldn’t look twice at Serpents like him. Joaquin had gone to the drive in, watched Kevin with Veronica Lodge and Cheryl Blossom, and thought even as he got up to follow him for popcorn that it was never gonna work. Or maybe it would up to a point, maybe Kevin would see Joaquin as a fling, but not boyfriend material. “Then you gotta work harder,” he could just hear the other Serpents saying now. “Get him to really like you, then he’ll want to tell you things. If he does see you as just a fling, he won’t.”
But what he hadn’t admitted to F.P. at the party was that Joaquin was starting to like Kevin for real, too. He hadn’t even asked Kevin anything about his father’s investigation, even though he was getting the feeling that if he did ask now, Kevin might even have told him. Joaquin was finding that the times they hung out, there were lots more interesting things they could talk about.
Joaquin had avoided hanging out with Kevin and the Serpents together as far as he could, dreading the day when one of his friends let something slip. Things were okay when they were alone, or with Kevin’s friends. He’d overheard some comment once at F.P.’s son’s birthday party where Jughead had asked why he’d brought Joaquin, and Kevin had said “Yes, of course Joaquin is inner circle. He’s my boyfriend.” Then Kevin had said to him about how Joaquin was the first guy he could really call his boyfriend, and Joaquin had wondered what the hell he was doing, but it was too late for any other course of action. He was in it up to his neck, he’d already disposed of the Blossom kid, and even if he wanted to turn his back on the Serpents and throw his lot in with Kevin, there was no way he could.
He’d tried to shut the door on Kevin and the growing feelings he was developing for him, known that as the bus took him away from Riverdale, he could never return. But as he boarded the bus that would take him back to Riverdale, back to where he remained an accessory in the death of Jason Blossom, where he knew Kevin’s own father was probably looking for him that very moment, knowing it was a crazy thing to do, he had to go and see if he could give it one more try.
He walked through the streets of the north side, not really knowing where he was heading, wandering through all his and Kevin’s old haunts in the hope of spotting him.
There he was, heading into Pop’s…holding hands with that Moose guy, who Joaquin had met a few times with Kevin but never thought there was anything there.
As Joaquin watched, Kevin turned away from Moose and looked right at him…..
Chapter 2: Meeting at Pop's
Moose wonders if he left it too late, Kevin is suspicious of Joaquin's reasons for coming back to him but also of Betty and Veronica's reaction to his father.
“Joaquin?” Kevin asked. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I know I shouldn’t, and I know what’ll happen if your dad sees me, but I had to come back to see you.” Joaquin began.
“This…kinda looks like the two of you need to talk,” Moose said before Kevin had chance to reply. “What do you say we take a raincheck on that milkshake, maybe find another time which is better for you?”
“Yeah…I feel really awful about that, but you’re right, it would be easier.” Moose tried to ignore what he thought was a relieved look on Kevin’s face at that.
He should have been honest with Kevin so much sooner, Midge too, instead of listening to his stupid doubts. Kevin had even summed up some of it himself, when he’d talked about how someone named Moose, who played for the Riverdale Bulldogs, who hung out with kids like Reggie Mantle and Chuck with his sticky maple bullshit, was hardly likely to end up with someone like Kevin, and maybe should be sticking to girls. In some ways, he’d always thought it would be easier for him to do that.
He knew Archie wouldn’t have cared if he came out. Moose remembered Archie being one of the people, along with Betty, who had been the most supportive of Kevin when he had come out in freshman year. Veronica, Josie…it wouldn’t have been an issue for them either. But ever since the day, not long after they both made the team, when they’d lost a game and Moose had heard Reggie calling the guy who’d won it for the other school a fucking faggot, and even when Jason Blossom’s body was found and Reggie was making all those “tight end” jokes and asking what Moose had been doing with Kevin in the first place, Moose had been sure he could never tell him, and it had been a relief when Reggie had started in on Jughead instead. Once Archie had punched him, that had taken all the focus away from why Moose and Kevin had been together that night, and with the drama of the reveal of Jason’s real date of death and Cheryl’s arrest the next day, no one ever brought it up again. So he thought he’d carry on, living his lie, continue his relationship with Midge, stay under the radar of the likes of Reggie and Chuck. But the experience with the Black Hood had convinced Moose that life was too short, that it was time to be honest with himself, and with Kevin.
Except then along had come Joaquin de fucking Santos, and Moose now realised he’d probably left it too late.
“Give me one good reason why I should be listening to you, Joaquin, instead of turning round and running right out that door after Moose,” Kevin began.
“The fact that you didn’t run after him,” Joaquin pointed out. “You could have told me to get lost and run after him right now. You could even have called your father. But you didn’t. That suggests to me that you’re at least interested in what I have to say.”
“You shouldn’t be here, Joaquin,” Kevin began. “It’s not safe to be here right now. Especially with the Black Hood around.”
Joaquin stared at him. “The Black who?”
“You haven’t heard about it on the news?” Kevin picked up an abandoned Blue and Gold and shoved it in front of Joaquin’s face. “This nut goes round in a black hood, he’s been attacking people. You saw how Moose was walking with a limp? That’s because this guy shot him. He shot Archie’s dad, and killed our old music teacher. See this open letter he’s addressed to the residents of Riverdale? Remain sinless for 48 hours or he’ll strike again.”
“And you’re trying to say that this guy might come after me if I stick around?” Joaquin shook his head. He was a Serpent, he and his gang had come across plenty. This talk about sin sounded like some religious nut to him, not something he should consider leaving town over. He’d already risked everything to get back to Kevin, and he wasn’t going to let some lunatic be the one to drive them apart. Besides, he knew enough about Riverdale to know that that particular demand stood no chance of being met.
“I don’t even know what I am trying to say. There’s that, or you could even forgive me for asking you whether this is some kind of Serpent stunt and they put you up to trying to find out if I knew anything about the investigation from my dad again.” Kevin hadn’t really thought about the possibility of the Serpents having anything to do with the Black Hood, but faced with Joaquin in front of him and remembering what had happened last time, he felt Joaquin couldn’t blame him for being suspicious.
“I haven’t even contacted the Serpents since I’ve been back,” Joaquin tried to explain. “If this is anything to do with them, I don’t know about it.”
“So what are you doing here, Joaquin?” Kevin asked. “Why did you come back?”
“That’s a very good question,” came a new voice. “What are you doing back?”
Kevin looked up to see that Betty and Veronica had walked into Pop’s. “And Kevin, why are you even talking to him? I thought you were meant to be with Moose?”
“So that was you who went and talked to him and set that up?” Kevin shook his head. “Yeah, I did kind of guess that.”
“Maybe this isn’t a good time to talk,” Joaquin began as he stood up. “But I’m not giving up on us. I’m sticking around Riverdale for a while, and I will call you tomorrow.”
As Joaquin walked out of Pop’s, Betty hissed “You’re not seriously going to see him again? He helped dispose of Jason’s body! He was playing you the whole time to get information on your dad’s operation for FP! And then he just took off!”
Although Kevin had been thinking much the same things, he felt irritated again at the thought of Betty interfering again just as she had when she went to his father about the guys he was picking up, and whatever she had said to Moose. “I’m not going to see him again, and when you go to my dad with it, you can tell him that too,” he snapped.
Betty flinched. “Wait, what? Trust me, I’m not gonna tell your dad anything again.”
“Betty!” Veronica hissed, pinching her arm. Kevin wondered what the hell that was all about. Betty looked furious and kind of creeped out, Veronica awkward. Kevin suddenly flashed back to that time when Veronica was sleeping over and he’d walked in on Veronica talking to his dad, who was shirtless and working out. She’d claimed to be getting juice from the refrigerator as there was none in the kitchen, but there had been some when Kevin looked. He’d thought nothing of it at the time, but now…No, that was ridiculous. Veronica was a) one of his best friends, and b) dating Archie. But Betty wouldn’t have looked like that for no reason, and Veronica obviously had some reason for shutting her up…
“Glad to hear it,” Kevin said, cutting the conversation off and asking Veronica something else. But secretly, he wasn’t sure that was the last he had seen of Joaquin…
Chapter 3: Stranded at the Drive-In
Kevin decides to go on a date each with Moose and Joaquin to decide between them, however things don't exactly go to plan. Sheriff Keller's not impressed when he catches Kevin with Joaquin...but Kevin's not the only one caught in a compromising position.
“So what should I do?” Veronica asked. “I ordered this for Archie before I broke up with him, and now I don’t know whether I should give it to him or not.”
“I should give it to him anyway,” Kevin suggested. “What else are you gonna do with a watch with an inscription addressed to Archikins? Search Tinder for a guy with the same first name so you can give it to him instead?” On seeing Veronica’s glare, he hastily continued “Kidding. Seriously, I think you should still give it to him.”
Veronica nodded. “Okay, quickly before Betty gets here, while it’s just us, tell me what you decided to do about Joaquin and Moose?”
“Oh, my God, I thought we were never gonna get to that!” Kevin exclaimed. What with the dramas surrounding the respective breakups of Archie and Veronica, and Betty and Jughead, he was beginning to regret having agreed to organise the Secret Santa. Part of him was actually quite tempted to run out of there and call Joaquin, even though he’d promised Betty he wouldn’t.
“I know her heart’s in the right place, but I also understand how you feel about the way she interferes sometimes,” Veronica began. “So, what are you gonna do? You gonna get back with Joaquin, or see Moose again?”
“I really don’t know…What would you do, Veronica?”
“Old me would have probably dated them both,” Veronica winked, and Kevin said “Maybe you’re on to something. Maybe I should go on one date with each of them, see how I feel at the end of it.”
“Glad I could help,” Veronica grinned before immediately changing the subject to The Matchelorette when Archie and Betty walked in.
Kevin had been right. The Secret Santa was awkward, but not just because of Josie’s gift of a couples massage for Veronica, bought before she and Archie broke up, or even Archie picking the perfect gift for Betty and how Veronica and Jughead reacted to it.
It was a relief that Archie had been the one to walk out when Moose and Midge walked in. With him leaving, and Betty running after him, it took the attention away from Kevin’s own reaction. So, Moose may have claimed that he and Midge were over, but the way they had looked when they walked in…Kevin was beginning to wonder if that was really the case.
“It wasn’t how it looked,” Moose had tried to explain. “Midge…she’s having a hard time, with flashbacks and nightmares, and with the fact that we’re no longer together. I’ve tried to tell her that we’re not going to get back together…but she does need me right now.”
“You know, I had been going to suggest that we try and reschedule that date that got interrupted,” Kevin began. “But it sounds like things are a little complicated for you right now, and it also doesn’t sound like there’s really been a clean break with Midge…Maybe that’s not such a good idea.”
“But if we don’t give it a try, then we’ll never know,” Moose pointed out.
Kevin nodded. “Okay. Meet at Pop’s tonight, take it from there.”
The Serpents were a great bunch of guys, they really were, but sometimes they were a pain in the ass to go to the movies with. All this talking, food fighting, people wanting to change seats so often it was like Musical Chairs without the music…Joaquin frequently ended up biting his tongue so as not to tell them to shut the fuck up so he could concentrate on the movie.
Usually, anyone sitting near them was visibly annoyed with it, but didn’t call them out on it. They were the Southside Serpents, people didn’t mess with them. The day Kevin Keller had actually turned around and shushed them, Joaquin had been shocked and impressed that someone had had the balls to do it. His friend Veronica had let them have it a few minutes later, and all that had achieved was to set them off bitching about her, but Joaquin knew he had to know more about that guy.
He hadn’t recognised him as the Sheriff’s son at first. Why would he? Kevin attended Riverdale High and Joaquin Southside, they didn’t look that much alike, there was no reason for Joaquin to make the connection. When he got up and followed Kevin to the refreshments, Joaquin wasn’t even sure what he wanted to happen, whether it would be just a bit of fun (more likely, considering how little the guys from both sides of town actually mixed) or something more serious, or even whether one would eventually turn into the other.
Then Kevin had given him his number, and Joaquin had realised who he was. And he’d realised that there was no way it could ever work between them.
Joaquin was beginning to wonder whether this had been a good idea. It was beginning to feel like every time he thought he could try and get some time with Kevin, to speak to him, to convince him that this time he really was legit, there would be Moose. Even now, even as he had come to Pop’s in the hope of seeing Kevin there, there Moose was too. It would have been easier to have just stayed in San Junipero, laid low. He was safe there, no one coming after him, and maybe one day there he’d have met someone who he could have a completely fresh start with, no lies or dead bodies or Serpents ever going to come between them. But even though he’d tried, he hadn’t been able to shut the door on Kevin ever since leaving Riverdale, kept wondering how he was doing, whether Kevin ever thought about him.
By rights he should give up, realise it was time to walk away. That certainly seemed to be what Kevin’s friend Betty thought he should do, judging by her reaction when she saw him. But he’d come this far, he wasn’t going to give up.
If all it had ever been going to be was a bit of fun, like Kevin had thought the night they found Jason Blossom’s body, that could have worked. But after having listened to Moose telling yet another story of some “hilarious” thing Reggie Mantle had done in the locker room, Kevin wasn’t sure they had enough in common to make it work as a relationship.
Maybe it didn’t have to be anything serious. Maybe a bit of fun, something lighthearted to take his mind off Joaquin completely, maybe that was what was good for Kevin right now. He’d put his doubts aside, join in and laugh at the stories, and try not to think about how with Joaquin, Kevin never ran out of things to say.
Kevin laughed, tried to follow up with a story of his own, then the next thing he knew, he heard this voice saying “I do not believe this.” As Kevin glanced up, he saw Midge stood there, crying and glaring at them, before turning around and running out.
“Maybe I should go after her,” Moose said before turning round and running in the same direction.
“Yeah,” Kevin said to his empty chair. “Maybe you should.”
“You okay?” Toni asked as Joaquin stormed into the Whyte Wyrm. “Because you don’t look like someone who just spent all last night with some hot guy at the drive-in. Yeah, Sweet Pea told me all about it.”
“Yeah, well what Sweet Pea didn’t tell you is that the hot guy is Sheriff Keller’s son,” Joaquin snapped, instantly regretting it when he saw FP Jones glancing in his direction before turning away again. Toni didn’t know what had happened with Jason Blossom’s body. But she did know how the preppy Northsiders and the Serpents didn’t mix, so a relationship was never going to work anyway, so he could just let her think that was the problem and leave it at that.
“But what does it matter?” Toni asked instead. “You’d be dating him, not his father. And you’d be dating him, not his preppy stuck-up friends. If he had a problem with dating a Serpent, he wouldn’t have given you his number in the first place. And even if it only ends up being a bit of fun, what’s the big deal?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” Joaquin replied. In other circumstances, he’d have agreed with Toni, would have accepted her arguments as a basis to try and make something work with Kevin, but not now. “I’m gonna get a drink.”
“I heard all that,” FP said when Joaquin headed for the bar. “Talk about fate, huh?”
“The fact that I’m the one who helped dispose of the Blossom kid’s body, and then manage to hook up with the kid who found it? Sounds like one of the plots in one of those bad romance novels Toni used to read when she was eleven,” Joaquin snorted.
“While that may be true, it could also be our way out of this,” FP replied. “Maybe you should take Toni’s advice. You should date him. Gain his trust. His father’s bound to share stuff about the investigation, find out what that is, let me know, so we can stay one step ahead.”
Joaquin nodded. He wasn’t sure he liked it, but he knew it was his best way of keeping himself and FP out of jail. “I’ll do it.”
“Is everything okay?” Joaquin asked, watching Moose run out after Midge.
“I get the impression there’s still some more unfinished business there than Moose was letting on,” Kevin shrugged. “But honestly…I’m not sure we have that much in common. Sure, we could have fun together, but beyond that, I don’t think it would ever have worked.”
“Sure it’s not because you were also thinking about me?” Joaquin joked.
“You’re actually right,” Kevin admitted. “I was thinking how we’d never run out of things to say, how we always had so much fun together, how you knew what I was going to say before I’d say it. But I also know how you were only with me to find out more about my dad’s investigation and pass it on to FP.”
“But it wasn’t all about that,” Joaquin began. “I really didn’t know who you were when I first met you. And it is true that FP did ask me to carry on dating you once he found out, but it wasn’t always like that. We had so many other things to talk about that it stopped mattering to me that we didn’t even talk about the investigation. I got to the point of not even wanting to ask. I came back for you, Kevin. And I understand why you don’t trust me, but this time I’m legit. I really don’t know anything about this Black Hood person –“ Joaquin was interrupted by the sound of a text on Kevin’s phone.
“Wait a second…He’s dead?” Kevin asked.
“Funnily enough, the Black Hood. That was my dad. He just shot him. He’s gonna be tied up at the station for a while tonight sorting it all out. But I can’t believe it. It was Mr. Svenson.”
“Who the hell’s Mr. Svenson?” Joaquin asked.
“He’s, or I guess I should say he was, our school janitor.” Kevin shook his head. “It’s a really long story. Look…Even before I knew that, I should have said I’m sorry for accusing you of trying to get information from me about him too. I never really thought the Black Hood was anything to do with the Serpents. He knew too many things that the Serpents weren’t likely to know. I was just shocked at seeing you again, and it brought it all back, and I was lashing out.”
“I understand the reason why you said it,” Joaquin admitted. “Maybe we should have a proper talk about everything, try and work it all out.”
“Well, since Dad’s gonna be tied up at the station for a while, it looks like I’m going to have the house to myself…” Kevin suggested.
Kevin awoke to the sound of his father’s voice, and the light in the lounge being snapped on. With a shock, he realised he had fallen asleep on the couch, Joaquin lying next to him in a similar state of undress.
“Kevin?” his father asked, glaring as he took in the sight of Joaquin. “You’ve got some explaining to do.”
“Really, Dad?” Kevin asked as he took in the sight of Mayor McCoy standing behind his father, frantically doing up her blouse. “Because it kind of looks to me like I should be saying the same thing to you….”
Chapter 4: O Come, All Ye Unfaithful
It's the annual Riverdale Christmas concert, but a lot of people have their reasons for not wanting to be there. Joaquin manages to be the only person who can help Kevin...until he accidentally exposes his father's secret to the while town.
“So are we going to talk about last night?” Sheriff Keller asked. Kevin ignored him and continued reading the funny pages in the paper.
“How long has Joaquin de Santos been back in Riverdale?” his father continued.
“Not as long as you’ve been seeing Josie’s mom,” Kevin retorted. “Does Josie even know about this? Am I the last person to find out? And what about Mom? Or did you conveniently forget her once she got posted to Bahrain?”
“This isn’t the way I intended to have this conversation with you,” Sheriff Keller began. “We were going to wait until she came home, and then tell you together.”
“So she knows about this?” Kevin asked.
“She doesn’t know about Sierra, and to answer your question, neither does Josie,” his father replied. “But we have agreed to separate. Our intention was to tell you together as I said, however events have forced my hand on this. After tonight’s carol concert, I’ll talk to you properly.”
“The carol concert? You’re not seriously suggesting we’re still going?” This event, which was run to raise money for a nominated charity, had been an annual tradition in Riverdale for as long as Kevin could remember. Originally sponsored by the Blossom family, this year it had been taken over by Hiram and Hermione Lodge.
“We are still going, I will still be Santa Claus and you will still be announcing the acts in the talent section. I made a promise to Hiram and Hermione, and we will be honouring that.”
“Yeah, well, you may be honouring your promise to them, but what about that other one you made, remember, the one to Mom in front of the eyes of God?” Without waiting for an answer, Kevin pushed his way out of the door. The mention of Hiram and Hermione Lodge had reminded him of that night when Joaquin had first arrived back in town, the way Betty had said something odd about how she had no intention of telling Kevin’s father anything again and Veronica had immediately shut her up. It hadn’t meant anything to Kevin at the time, but now he was starting to wonder: had his friends known about the affair all along?
“Considering my parents are sponsoring this whole event, I probably ought to know more about it,” Veronica was saying. “I feel bad that I know so little.”
“You’re missing nothing,” Cheryl replied as she walked past. “It’s just an annual borefest. The only reason I’m even going is to support my girl Josie. And Archikins, of course.” Josie and Archie were planning to perform as a duet, as well as separate acts.
“Yeah…the first thing I should probably explain is that before your parents took it over, the Christmas concert used to be sponsored by Cheryl’s parents,” Archie revealed.
“Ugh, now I feel bad. Do you think I should go after her?” Veronica asked.
“Don’t worry. I got this.” Josie got up and walked after Cheryl, to Kevin’s relief. The conversation he was about to have with Betty and Veronica would be easier without her there.
“Bet it’s going to be strange for her too, with the Pussycats performing without her,” Betty pointed out.
“It’s gone a bit too far now,” Veronica agreed. “It’s not that long since Val wanted to do her own thing, and Josie took her back. I don’t know why the Pussycats are being so hard on her. I have tried to talk to them, but they won’t listen.”
“And back to the event, Sheriff Keller usually dresses up as Santa for the kids,” Archie continued. “But maybe this guy’s the person you need to be asking about that,” he gestured towards Kevin.
“Actually, I kinda needed to borrow B and V for a moment,” Kevin said. Archie looked puzzled, but said “Sure, I need to talk to Reggie about football anyway.” Doesn’t look like he knows, Kevin thought, but looking at the expressions on Betty and Veronica’s faces, he knew that they knew exactly why he had taken them aside.
“So I had kind of an awkward moment last night when my dad walked in on me and Joaquin,” Kevin began, “but I wasn’t the only one who got caught in the act.”
“Kevin,” Betty began, “we did want to tell you…”
“So it’s true,” Kevin hadn’t wanted to believe it, even as he’d known that they had to have known. “You did know about my dad’s affair.”
“I really am sorry,” Veronica continued. “I understand you’re upset, but if you want to be angry at someone, blame me, not Betty. Betty did want to tell you, I was the one who persuaded her that we shouldn’t. Maybe your dad would have told you himself, or maybe it would have fizzled out and you wouldn’t have ever needed to know. We saw them kissing once; for all we knew, that could have been the only time. But if we’d had any idea that you were going to find out that way, then yes, we would have said something, tried to break it to you in a better way.”
“Or you could have told me earlier, and prepared me so I wouldn’t find out that way,” Kevin snapped, ignoring Betty’s pleading looks as he walked away. His friends weren’t the people he needed to be around right now. He needed Joaquin.
“So how did it go?” Joaquin asked. At the time, Sierra had thought it best to get out of there and let Kevin and his father talk (although Kevin hadn’t been ready for that yet); Joaquin had followed suit, promising he would talk with Kevin that day.
“Not good. Apparently my parents have decided to end their marriage, but they weren’t going to tell me until Mom got home from Bahrain.”
“So did you have a proper talk with your dad?” Joaquin asked awkwardly.
“I don’t even know quite what to say to him.” Kevin admitted. “Josie, her daughter, still doesn’t know, and I’m supposed to just go to this stupid carol concert tonight where he’s gonna be wearing his stupid Santa suit for the kids, and act like we’re all this big happy family. And my friends are gonna be there, and they all knew all along. Well, Betty and Veronica did. I don’t think Archie knew before, but they probably told him now.”
“Betty and Veronica knew, and they didn’t say anything?”
“Apparently they caught them kissing once. Honestly, I feel like punching something right now, except I know I can’t punch them…”
“I might know just the thing,” Joaquin replied.
The gym wasn’t quite in Serpent territory, but far enough away from Kevin’s side of town that he was unlikely to see anyone else he knew there. “Punching bag,” Joaquin suggested. “Picture any of the faces of any of the people you want to punch, pretend it’s them. That way you get to vent your frustration without actually punching anyone, and as for me, well, it gives me an excuse to check out your muscles.”
Joaquin had done what Kevin had thought would be impossible just a few short hours ago. Not only had he managed to come up with something that might actually help Kevin in the short term, he’d even managed to make him laugh. He really was the only person Kevin could rely on right now.
“Here, take these gloves,” Joaquin tossed them to Kevin. “And pretend it’s them.”
As Kevin threw his first punch, he found he was starting to feel better.
Kevin didn’t even know why he’d shown his face at Hiram and Hermione’s Christmas concert. Although he’d felt better after being with Joaquin, the thought of being there was upsetting him again. Maybe swiping that beer of his father’s before coming out hadn’t been the best idea. Everyone he didn’t want to see was there; his father wearing his Santa suit, Josie warming up for her solo act, Alice Cooper with her smug smirk on her face as she prepared to trash the event for the paper and get digs in at Hermione for good measure, and Betty and Veronica, Betty looking like she wanted to go over and approach him but Veronica putting her hand on her arm and shaking her head. And yes, she had actually dared to do it, Sierra McCoy had turned up in a Mrs Claus outfit.
“Kevin, where the hell have you been?” His father came rushing over, clipped a microphone to his collar. “You’re cutting it a bit fine, we need you to get on stage and announce the first act in five minutes.”
“So what’s the act that you want me to announce, Dad?” Kevin demanded. “O Come All Ye Unfaithful, or I Saw Josie’s Mommy Kissing Santa Claus?”
“What did you just say?” Kevin whirled around to see Josie standing behind him, look of shock on her face.
“Next time you’re gonna confront someone about their dirty little secrets, Kevikins,” Cheryl stepped over towards him, “you might want to make sure you don’t have a microphone switched on so the whole town overhears.” She removed the microphone from his collar, then followed Josie, who was running out of the room; whether to confront her mother or to get the hell out of there, Kevin didn’t know. And as he looked around, Kevin could see that Cheryl was correct and everyone had indeed heard what he had said; Betty and Veronica looked like they were trying to make their way towards him, Mayor McCoy looked mortified, Alice looked like she didn’t know whether to be scandalised at the affair or smug at the fact that Hiram and Hermione’s event had been ruined and the hatchet job she was already preparing mentally for the newspaper.
There was only one thing he could do.
Chapter 5: Cold Hard Light
When Joaquin is forced to call Archie to help him deal with a drunken Kevin, he's also forced to face up to his own feelings about facing the Serpents again.
Joaquin had been expecting a call from Kevin to let him know how the Christmas party had gone, but he’d been expecting a long rant about who did his father think he was prancing around in the Santa suit, how awkward it was being around Josie because she still didn’t know, how Betty and Veronica were still trying to talk to him even though he wasn’t ready to speak to them yet.
What he wasn’t expecting was a Kevin so drunk as to be just about unintelligible.
“Just tell me where you are, Kevin, and I’ll come and get you,” he said, as Kevin named a bar where they used to go on dates when they first got together. The Wolf was in a part of town that wasn’t quite Serpent territory, but wasn’t quite Northside either, which had been a large part of its attraction to Kevin and Joaquin in their early days because neither the Serpents nor the preppy kids Kevin hung out with tended to go there. The Bettys and Veronicas of the world didn’t get to look down their noses at Joaquin; those of the Serpents who were in the know wouldn’t accidentally let anything slip to Kevin, and those who didn’t know had already been giving Joaquin grief for dating someone on the north side of town; it was easier to spare Kevin that.
Fangs used to ask Joaquin why he’d never got the chance to meet this Kevin, since Joaquin talked so much about him, and sometimes Joaquin did consider it. He’d considered Fangs his best friend since they were five years old, and Fangs knew nothing of Joaquin’s arrangement with FP. As far as Fangs was concerned, Kevin was just the hot new guy Joaquin had met at the drive in; it was safe to be around him without anything being let slip about Joaquin spying for FP to find out about the sheriff’s investigation. But most of the time, it was easier to stay away from the Serpents.
“Kevin?” Joaquin asked when he got there finding Kevin slumped over his pint.
“Is he okay?” the barman asked.
“I got this. Maybe don’t serve him any more,” Joaquin suggested before taking the seat next to Kevin and asking what happened – he didn’t feel he’d got the sense of it from what Kevin had said when he called.
As Kevin told the story of how he had inadvertently exposed his father’s affair to the whole town, including Josie McCoy, Joaquin thought about how if this had happened on a TV show, he’d be able to see the humour in it. But not here, not with Kevin in this state.
“Kevin? Do you think you’re okay to get out of here?” Joaquin asked. But Kevin shook his head before pushing his empty glass away and slumping in his seat, resting his head upon the table.
Okay, time to get some help. Joaquin picked up Kevin’s phone, scrolled through all the contacts before deciding that from the sounds of things, Archie Andrews was probably the person Kevin would be least unhappy to hear from right now. Luckily, Archie answered almost straight away.
“No, it’s Joaquin. I have Kevin with me at The Wolf, but he got really drunk and I need help getting him home. I thought you were the best person to call.”
“I understand. Just getting in Dad’s car now, I’m on my way.”
Kevin had begun to sober up by the time Archie arrived, as Joaquin had been encouraging him to drink water, but as soon as Archie arrived, Kevin immediately became upset again and started crying about having ruined the Christmas show and how he’d ruined things for Josie.
“Kevin, the night wasn’t ruined,” Archie tried to explain. “Everything went on as planned. Hermione Lodge dealt with the show, and Veronica did the duet with me instead.”
“He needs to get out of here,” Joaquin explained, “but he keeps saying he doesn’t want to go back home.”
“Kevin can stay with me tonight,” Archie suggested. “A few days more, even, if he needs some space from his dad. I think my dad will be okay with it. He was happy for Jughead to stay. You come back with us too, Joaquin, I think he needs you tonight.”
Joaquin nodded. “Come on, Kevin,” he said as he and Archie supported Kevin out of the bar and towards Fred Andrews’s car, “we’re getting you out of here.”
Once Kevin was finally put to bed on the spare bed on Archie’s floor, Archie and Joaquin looked at each other and shook their heads. They’d just spent the last three hours locked in the bathroom as Kevin had alternated between vomiting and getting upset about ruining the Christmas show. Archie had reassured him over and over again that the show had gone on, that Hermione had acted as announcer herself, that Veronica had stepped in for Josie so their duet could take place. Then he’d reassured Kevin that Josie was okay, that he’d spoken to Cheryl before he came over and Cheryl had said that Josie was upset but not with Kevin any more, that she thought it best for everyone to just leave Josie with Cheryl for that night but she’d be okay. Joaquin had winced at the mention of Cheryl Blossom’s name, but had tried to hide it.
“Well, that was some night, huh?” Archie asked eventually, to which Joaquin could only nod. “Gonna get a drink of water, you want anything?” Joaquin accepted.
“You know, I was thinking about something,” Archie began as he walked back into the room. “I know what happened when Betty and Veronica first saw you were back. And I know everything that’s happened in the past. But I can also see that you genuinely care about Kevin. You were there for him tonight, you did the right thing in calling me and getting him somewhere he could get some space. And your friend Fangs was telling Kevin how you used to talk about him all the time. It’s obvious to me that whatever your reasons were for getting together with him at the time, you did come to care about him.”
“You know Fangs?” Joaquin asked. Hearing the name of his best friend made him realise that he missed the Serpents, and he really should try and make contact with them again. Maybe some of them, like Sweet Pea, wouldn’t want to see him right now. But he hoped that Fangs and Toni might understand.
“He’s more a friend of Jughead’s than mine, since Jughead joined the Serpents, but yeah, I know him,” Archie replied.
“Wait a minute. Jughead joined the Serpents? I never got the impression he was into all that.” Joaquin flashed back to that time at Jughead’s birthday party where Kevin had insisted that as his boyfriend, Joaquin did count as inner circle. Now this guy who had looked down his nose at Joaquin and acted like he wasn’t good enough to be there was in the Serpents? Joaquin couldn’t picture that.
“Yeah…let’s just say we weren’t expecting it.”
“And I guess Betty wasn’t too happy.” Joaquin replied.
“Wait a second.” Archie said instead of answering that. “If you didn’t know Jug was a Serpent now…have you not met up with them since you got back?”
“Honestly…I’m not sure any of them would want to see me again. We have the Serpent Law…”
“I’m not familiar with it exactly, but I know it exists,” Archie replied.
“First law is that a Serpent never shows cowardice. In their eyes, it must look like I ran away with only a thought for myself and left FP to take all the fall. Or there’s the fifth. A Serpent never betrays his own. They could argue that by leaving town I betrayed FP.”
“I don’t really understand all this Serpent Law stuff,” Archie admitted, “but I do know that you won’t ever know for sure until you talk to them. Your friend Fangs seems a nice enough guy, and from what he said to Kevin, it sounded like he still thought of you as a friend. Some of them might take a little time, but you should talk to them.”
It sounded so easy hearing it from Archie. Joaquin knew he was right, and he should face the Serpents, but something told him it wouldn’t be as easy as Archie thought…
Chapter 6: Into the Serpent's Lair
Kevin reconciles with Betty, but things aren't looking as easy with his father. Joaquin faces the Serpents and his reception isn't what he hoped for.
Kevin awoke, feeling like his head was about to explode, wondering why he was in a room that wasn’t his own. At first he wondered whether he’d ended up going home with one of those closeted guys again and needed to make a hasty escape. Then he realised the bedroom he was in was Archie’s, and Archie and Betty were sat beside his bed, and he remembered everything that had happened.
“We got you some water,” Betty said. “We thought you would probably need it.”
“Joaquin was here with us all night,” Archie went on. “He said he’d come back later on.”
“What about my dad?” Kevin croaked.
“He did call around your friends, but he spoke to my dad and he explained,” Archie explained. “Dad said you can stay with us for a bit of space if you need to, until you’re ready to talk to him again.”
“About that,” Betty began, “I really am sorry that I didn’t say anything to you when I first found out. I should have gone with my instincts instead of listening to Veronica.”
“I know, Betty,” Kevin reached out for her hand. “I know you were looking out for me.”
“And Archie told me about Joaquin, and how he looked out for you and called Archie when he needed to,” Betty went on, “so I promise I won’t interfere in that any more, unless there’s a time when I really need to.”
“I don’t think that’ll ever happen,” Kevin replied, “but I appreciate it. We’re good, Betty. Maybe I’ll let Veronica stew for another day or two…”
Betty and Kevin looked at each other and started laughing.
“What the hell is he doing here?”
Joaquin flinched at the sound of Sweet Pea’s voice as he took his first tentative steps into the Whyte Wyrm since his return. All the old familiar faces were there; Tall Boy watching and glaring at FP because he wanted to take over as Serpent leader and thinking no one else had noticed, Fangs and Toni smiling as they saw Joaquin again, and Sweet Pea glaring and looking menacing. But all Joaquin could think was of the time when he had first mentioned Sweet Pea to Kevin, and Kevin had burst out laughing at the idea of this guy, thinking he was tough because he was in a gang, and he was using the name of Kevin’s grandmother’s favourite flower for a nickname.
“Joaquin.” Fangs had walked away from Sweet Pea to clap him on the back, Toni at his side. “Great to see you again.”
“Are you back for good?” Toni asked.
“Not if we have any say in it,” Tall Boy growled. “The kid broke Serpent law about a hundred times over and then just took off.”
“Which I understand why he did, and I told him to do,” came a new voice. Joaquin turned around to see that FP Jones had walked in. “Dumb kid. You could have had a whole new life there, turned your back on all this, and you choose to come back here to play Romeo and Romeo?”
“If he sticks around here any longer, he’ll be playing at Prison Break,” Tall Boy snapped.
“Speaking of, where’s Penny?” Joaquin asked. “Because it’s true, I am planning on sticking around here, for Kevin, but I know Tall Boy’s right, and I do have to sort out my legal issue.”
“Penny?” came a voice from behind him. “I don’t think we’ll be seeing much of Penny around here for a while.”
Even though Joaquin had found out from Archie that Jughead Jones was now a Serpent, it was still a shock to see him walking into the Whyte Wyrm as though he owned it, wearing the Serpent jacket, walking right up to Sweet Pea and greeting him as an old friend. He’d seen Jughead greet Kevin as though he was someone he hardly knew and didn’t much like at his 16th, even though they had apparently been in more or less the same friendship group for years. This guy who had looked down his nose at everyone who wasn’t considered “inner circle” at his 16th birthday party, and who had never shown any interest in mixing with the Serpents before, was suddenly better friends with Joaquin’s friends than he was.
“Jughead?” Joaquin asked.
“Hello, Joaquin.” Jughead greeted him in that manner of his that had always made Joaquin feel slightly uncomfortable.
“What are we even doing talking to this ass?” Sweet Pea demanded. “How many Serpent laws has he broken now? A Serpent never shows cowardice. What do you all call running off the way he did? And leaving FP to take all the rap for getting rid of the Blossom kid’s body.”
“Yeah, there’s another law, Sweet Pea,” Fangs pointed out. “No Serpent stands alone. Maybe you should remember that one before you and Tall Boy start talking about casting Joaquin out.”
“Maybe I should just go,” Joaquin began. It had seemed so simple to think about going back when he was talking to Archie, but now faced with the looks on some of their faces, he was beginning to think that maybe it had been a mistake.
“Hold on there,” FP began. “If you could just get off your high horses for one moment. I was the one who roped Joaquin in to helping me dispose of the Blossom kid, I caused this situation. And if he hadn’t left, I’d have done what I could to keep him out of jail. But I’m hearing what you’re all saying. So we’re gonna put it to a vote. I’ll tell you the decision myself.”
“Come on,” Fangs said, walking over to Joaquin, “let’s go somewhere so we can properly catch up.” He led Joaquin out of the Whyte Wyrm.
“I’m beginning to wonder if I made a mistake coming back,” Joaquin said as the two walked away.
“Nah,” Fangs shrugged. “They’ll come around. Being acting leader just went to Tall Boy’s head, FP won’t let them kick you out. And besides, I always kind of expected you to come back. The way you always used to talk about Kevin before you left…I never believed that about you only dating him to get intel on the Jason Blossom murder investigation. It was obvious to me how you felt about him. I always thought one day you’d come back for him.”
That reminded Joaquin of something. “Yeah, Archie Andrews told me you said that to Kevin. I never realised you knew them.”
“I don’t know them very well yet,” Fangs replied. “But Archie and Kevin and Veronica were about the only people who were decent to us when we all started at Riverdale High.”
“Wait. Back up. Riverdale High?”
Fangs stared at him. “Kevin didn’t tell you? Southside High just got shut down. We all got sent to Riverdale High. If you are sticking around, you and Kevin are gonna be going to the same school.”
“Maybe I should come back later,” Joaquin said when he met up with Kevin later at Archie’s. He could hear an argument from downstairs which sounded like Sheriff Keller trying to persuade Archie’s dad to send Kevin home, and Fred Andrews trying to say that if Kevin still needed a little more space he was happy to let him stay.
“The whole town knows all about how your son and Jughead Jones were sneaking out of your house and running wild in the streets, what does that say about your supervision?” Sheriff Keller was ranting.
“And I seem to remember your son was sometimes a part of that, Tom,” Fred Andrews replied. “What does that say about yours?”
“He started in about Archie’s dad and Veronica’s mom at one point, about how that was no different, and Archie’s dad said that it was since he was separated at the time and wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Kevin rolled his eyes. “For which I am sorry,” he turned to Archie. “Considering the Stepford Coopers, the sinister Lodges and I am not even gonna go there with Clifford Blossom, I think you actually did the best out of all my friends on the parent front, and my dad has no right to start in on yours.”
“So he’s been shouting at Mr Andrews and hasn’t really talked to you yet?” Joaquin asked.
“That’s about it, but I’m sure we’ll talk eventually,” Kevin went on. “I wonder how Josie’s getting on talking to her mother. But I don’t like to ask her.”
“They’re still at it down there,” Archie rolled his eyes, gesturing downstairs. “Sounds like your dad just brought up Mrs Lodge again.”
“Well, it is different, Tom, because I never moved Hermione in,” Fred Andrews’s voice floated upstairs.
Kevin stared at Joaquin and Archie. “Did I just hear that right?”
That had looked like it was going to be an intense scene, Joaquin thought as he left the Andrews house, thinking it might be better to let Kevin and his father have that particular conversation alone. He took out his phone, meaning to send a text to Kevin telling him to contact him when he was ready, but was interrupted by a knock on the door, which turned out to be FP and Jughead.
“I tried to talk to them for you,” FP began, “but Tall Boy wouldn’t budge. Says you leaving town counts as deserting. They agreed that you can come back to the Serpents, but on one condition: you have to redo the initiation again and then you’re allowed back in…”
Kevin talks things through with Josie and his father; Penny offers to help Joaquin with his legal issue...but at a price.
“Joaquin de Santos. Never thought I’d be seeing you here again. Word was you took off. Stupid boy, shoulda come to me in the first place, then maybe you wouldn’t be so fucked right now.”
Joaquin had deliberately chosen the Wolf bar again for the same reason he used to meet Kevin there; while he still didn’t know what exactly had gone on between Penny and the rest of the Serpents, it had obviously sounded bad from what Jughead had said, and he guessed it was probably best that they didn’t run into each other right now. If the likes of Tall Boy and Sweet Pea knew he was meeting with her right now, it would do him no favours with his attempt to return to the Serpents; however she was the only member of the legal profession he knew who might actually be able to help him with his case.
“Penny.” Joaquin caught a glimpse of her arm; Penny hastily pulled her sleeve up, but not fast enough that Joaquin couldn’t see the scars from where her Serpent tattoo used to be. He’d heard stories of people having their tattoos forcibly removed before, but never known of it actually happening to anyone since he’d been a member and had eventually concluded it was just an urban legend made up by the elders to scare them off breaking Serpent law. Joaquin’s had automatically went to the site on his own arm where his Serpent tattoo was, wondering whether if things went wrong with his initiation, someone might cut off his own one day.
“So, I looked over your case, kid,” Penny immediately changed the subject, “and seems to me I can argue that you were coerced by FP into dumping the body. They got nothing on you for murder, or even for anything else.”
Joaquin was unsure whether he wanted to go down that route. FP had been the one who was willing to defend him against those of the Serpents who wanted him out, who’d argued that the first fault was his in the first place. And he’d not long been released, was rebuilding his relationship with Jughead again. Joaquin didn’t know exactly what had gone on before, but he did know that Jughead had lived at Archie’s for a while, and had only just moved back in with FP. While Jughead wasn’t exactly a friend, Joaquin didn’t want to be the person to do that to him. Yet Penny was the one who could keep him out of jail, and another part of Joaquin felt he should listen to what she had to say.
Kevin knew he should say something to his father, ask him if it was true that he was moving Sierra McCoy into the family home, into his mother’s home, as Fred Andrews seemed to have been implying. But right now he wasn’t sure he was ready yet to talk to him, to hear the words from his father’s own mouth. He could convince himself still that Fred Andrews had the wrong end of the stick and had just got hold of some gossip or something.
“Kevin?” Archie said, walking into the room. “You have a visitor.”
Josie stepped out from behind Archie, who said he would leave them to it and left the room.
“Josie,” Kevin began, “I am so sorry you had to find out about them that way. It wasn’t for me to tell you, or to accidentally tell the whole town, and I’m sorry.”
Josie nodded. “I don’t blame you, Kevin. You were upset about it, and I know how I reacted in the moment, but I know that was aimed at your father, not about me finding out. I’m upset at them, and the situation, but not with you.”
“I still should have handled it differently, maybe gone to you and told you privately or something,” Kevin went on.
“You know that was actually gonna be my song at the concert?” Josie asked. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. Is that screwed up or what?”
Kevin and Josie laughed despite themselves.
“So, Archie’s dad said something to my dad, about how it was different from when he was dating Hermione Lodge because at least he never tried moving her in,” Kevin began. “Do you know if that’s true? I kinda haven’t talked to him since then.”
Josie looked awkward. “My mother did talk to me this morning, they are talking about it,” she began. “And it probably shouldn’t be me telling you. I think your dad did say they wouldn’t commit to it until you were definitely okay with it…”
“Thanks for being honest with me, Josie,” Kevin replied.
“I figured the two of us should probably stick together,” Josie smiled.
Kevin kept this in his mind as he walked back in through his own front door later that day.
“Kevin?” Sheriff Keller glanced up at the sight of him.
“You know, I always used to look up to you,” Kevin began. “You were the guy I always wanted to be like. But I’ve seen a side to you recently that I really don’t like. Now everyone in Riverdale seems to know that you’re moving Mrs McCoy in here before I did, and I know I haven’t been here, but you could have made sure I knew before it got back to people like Fred Andrews.”
“Kevin…that was a mistake, and I’m sorry I handled it that way,” Tom Keller replied. “While it’s true that Sierra and I have discussed it, what I also said was that I wasn’t happy for her and Josie to move in until I’d talked about it with you first and knew that you were definitely okay with it. As long as you’re not happy to have them living here, they won’t be moving in. But I should have communicated that better, and I’m sorry.”
“Can we have a few more days, just us, try and work it all out properly first?” Kevin asked. “Then once we’ve got back on track again…”
“That sounds like a plan to me,” his father said.
Things weren’t back to normal, not by a long way. But they were trying, and that was enough for Kevin for now.
“So I had a think, kid,” Penny said, “and I still think I can get you off. But in return, I’m gonna need you to do something for me.”
“What were you thinking?” Joaquin asked.
“So I want back in the Serpents,” Penny began. “But I know there’s a few of them not gonna want me back. Tall Boy, he was always quite sympathetic to my cause. And I know he’s had enough of FP, the way he just walked back and thought he could take straight back over where he left off. He said he was gonna retire, and that job as leader was in the bag for Tall Boy. But then his son’s stupid girlfriend went and made a fool of herself pole dancing at his retirement party –“ (Betty? Seriously? Joaquin thought) and FP decided he was putting his retirement on ice.”
“So what are you saying?” Joaquin asked.
“I think I’d stand more chance of getting back into the Serpents with Tall Boy in charge,” Penny went on.
“Penny, I have no influence with them,” Joaquin began. “I told you on the phone, I have to redo the initiation myself. If it was up to Tall Boy, he’d probably kick me out.”
“Not if you tell him you’re willing to help him shaft FP,” Penny argued. “He’ll be letting you back in with open arms. Besides, FP’s the one who got you into this when he called you for disposal in the first place. If it wasn’t for him, you wouldn’t even be facing a legal issue right now. Can you really tell me you don’t feel even a little pissed at him?”
Joaquin wasn’t sure he should admit it to Penny, but there was some truth in that. There had been moments when he had wished FP had found someone else to call on that day, that Joaquin could have been hearing about it all in the Whyte Wyrm and been just as shocked as Fangs and Toni, and he’d wondered what his life would have been like. But FP had been the one to defend him against those of the Serpents who had argued against taking him back, and he had always had his back the whole time Joaquin had been a Serpent. Tall Boy was invoking Serpent Law against Joaquin, yet he was planning to commit a serious breach himself. And there was the fact that if FP had not chosen to involve him, Joaquin would never have become involved with Kevin…
“Well, Joaquin?” Penny asked. “What’s it gonna be?”
Joaquin's first day at Riverdale High doesn't go smoothly thanks to Cheryl.
When Kevin had first asked Joaquin to be his date to Homecoming, Joaquin had initially wanted to burst out laughing. Homecoming wasn’t a thing at Southside High. Everyone pretty much got the hell out of there and never came back, and any attempt at a school dance would have been met with mocking from the students. But he knew FP would tell him to go, that maybe that would be the day he got some more useful information out of Kevin about the ongoing murder investigation.
In the event, they’d pretty much talked about everything and nothing, from some annoying contestant on The Matchelorette to why exactly so many people had voted for Donald Trump, via some speculation from Kevin as to why some of his friends were acting weird, but they never even touched on the investigation. Joaquin was getting to the point where he was thinking about bringing up the investigation himself, just to shut FP up, when Kevin started talking about how he’d never brought a boyfriend to one of these events before and had usually just ended up with closeted hook-ups. Joaquin had noticed the way the guy named Moose had looked at Kevin when his date wasn’t looking, and had wondered whether that guy was one of the people he was referring to, but decided not to ask. Kevin would tell him if he wanted to talk about it.
Then he’d said it. Kevin had told Joaquin he was the first person he had ever really been able to call his boyfriend. And in that moment, Joaquin understood that it was no longer about getting information for FP, that maybe it never really had been, that he did genuinely have feelings for Kevin. He opened his mouth – to tell him that he felt the same, and then when he got chance, call FP and tell him to piss off? To confess all about what FP had asked him to do? To say he was sorry but he had to go, and then run out the door and never come back? Joaquin would never know, because Jughead had interrupted at that point and asked if either of them had seen Betty or Archie. Kevin had said no, before making some joke about his friends needing tracking devices, (it hadn’t been the first such interruption) and seemed to forget about it. But then Joaquin had spotted Kevin’s dad walk in and go and say something to the Mayor, and in that moment he had known it was something to do with the murder investigation. Kevin hadn’t noticed when Joaquin backed away, so anxious was he to talk to his father, find out what had happened. But Joaquin couldn’t be there with Kevin, or anywhere near the sheriff, when it all came out. He had to go and hide out, wait for one of the Serpents to contact him with news, and then once he knew what was happening he’d know what he had to do.
The memories of the Homecoming dance, the only time Joaquin had ever set foot in Riverdale High, flashed over him as he walked towards the entrance, Kevin on one side of him and Fangs on the other for moral support. He wondered if Kevin was thinking about it too, but didn’t want to ask in front of Fangs.
Archie waved and walked over to them as they entered, with Veronica close behind, and greeted him “Welcome to Riverdale High.”
“They won’t all be as friendly as this guy,” Fangs warned him, but Joaquin barely heard him. He knew that, had been prepared for it, but Archie was here now, talking to him, checking his schedule and saying that they were in the same first period history class, along with Kevin and Fangs, and he’d show him where to go.
By the time it got to lunchtime, Joaquin was beginning to think that maybe it wasn’t going to be as bad as he thought. Either Kevin or Fangs, often both, had been by his side the whole time, and the obligatory irritating freshers who’d stared at Joaquin in the corridors had usually cowered under a glare from Fangs. As Kevin and Fangs led Joaquin to a table where they were soon joined by Archie, Jughead, Josie and Betty, Joaquin thought that while this was an unlikely little gathering, it actually seemed to be working.
“What the hell is this?”
As the piercing shriek was heard from the entrance to the cafeteria, Joaquin realised he had relaxed too soon. He hadn’t seen Cheryl Blossom since that time she invited the whole school to Jughead’s party, but he’d seen her in the news coverage of her father’s death, heard her mentioned by Archie to Kevin, known all along in the back of his mind that the day was going to come when they came face to face.
“What is that piece of trash doing here at Riverdale High, where decent law abiding people have to go to school with him? Where I have to see him every day?”
“He has to go somewhere, Cheryl,” Toni was trying to point out. “Since Southside High got shut down, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of other options.”
“Weatherbee has the option to throw him out,” Cheryl screamed in her face. “With the trash. Just like the trash he treated my brother as when he threw him into Sweetwater River, as though he didn’t matter to anyone.” She picked up a can of Coke – (“Hey! I was drinking that,” Reggie said, but she ignored him) and looked for one moment as though she was about to throw it at Joaquin, but Toni took it from her and handed it back to Reggie before she could, turned and led Cheryl out of the cafeteria before she could say any more.
For once Kevin was lost for words.
“It was the shock of seeing you again,” Archie tried to explain. “I don’t think she knew you were coming here,” and Josie nodded her head.
“I think she’ll eventually calm down,” Josie agreed.
“And Toni was out of order,” Fangs replied. “Calling you ‘he’ this and ‘he’ that, when you’ve been one of her best friends since we were six years old? Whatever happened to no Serpent stands alone?”
“Cheryl happened,” Jughead replied.
“This was a mistake,” Joaquin began. “Maybe I should just get out of here.”
“Want me to come with?” Kevin asked, but Joaquin shook his head, said he’d talk to him later before getting up and walking away.
Joaquin turned round to see Jughead approaching him.
“Just wanted to make sure you were okay after Cheryl,” Jughead began.
“Maybe it was a mistake thinking it could ever work out for me being at this same school as her,” Joaquin sighed. “Weatherbee even tried to arrange things so that we’re mostly not in the same classes, but it’s not that big a school. She’s friends with Kevin, and Archie and Veronica, and who the hell knows what she is with Toni,” Joaquin let that drop, realising that Jughead may not be the best person to discuss Cheryl and Toni with. “We have people in common. I can’t completely avoid her.”
“You know, right before I started at Southside High, right after my dad was arrested and Cheryl thought he’d killed her brother, she screamed at me in much the same way,” Jughead began. “And I thought at the time I was going to have to leave for my own safety. It got to the point where Weatherbee was going to make me finish out the year being homeschooled.”
“So are you saying I should look into that?” Joaquin asked.
“Not at all. I’m saying that it got better, she accepted me as part of her friendship group, and I can’t quite believe I’m referring to her as a friend here, because you know that until recently I only considered Archie and Betty to be inner circle and everyone else was merely tolerated. I still tolerate Cheryl, and have essentially nothing in common with her.”
“The difference is that you had nothing to do with what happened to Jason, so she hasn’t really got a reason now to hate you. I did help with dumping the body in Sweetwater River.” Joaquin pointed out.
“She reacted the same way to my dad when he first got out,” Jughead went on. “When he first started working at Pop’s, she’d do things like deliberately throw her milkshake on the floor and make him clean it up just because she could. And he’d do it, because he wanted to keep his job, to make things right for us, and because he did feel bad about what he’d done. But he chose to rise above it, to not let himself be pushed out of his job by Cheryl Blossom. And that’s what I’m suggesting for you. You shouldn’t have to be pushed out of this school. And I know we didn’t really see eye to eye when we first met, but I know Fangs and Toni always thought a lot of you, and Archie is my best friend. If he sees something in you, that counts for something for me. Besides, Serpent law, remember? No Serpent stands alone.”
That was possibly the longest speech Joaquin had ever heard Jughead make, but he was grateful that he had said it. “Does it still apply, since I have to do my initiation again?”
Jughead waved this aside. “That’s just a formality. You’ll get back in. It might be easier the second time around anyway. But my dad won’t let anyone throw you out. Anything you need, call me.”
Joaquin was still thinking about this conversation the next day as he dialled a number. But it wasn’t Jughead’s.
“Tall Boy? Joaquin de Santos here. I was having a very interesting conversation with Penny Peabody a few days ago, and she seemed to think we might be able to help each other out…”