If she thinks about it, Riverdale having a playground makes sense. There are children who live in Riverdale, and children need a place to play. Veronica has just never really thought about it, because this town was so dark and so full of secrets and so soaked in blood that children having a little refuge of toys and games seemed almost silly. With all the fog and the mystery, no one expects to see a playground popping up in the midst of it all. And yet, Veronica Lodge has found what could very well be the one truly innocent place left in this godforsaken town, even though it's dark and misty and deserted.
She doesn't know why she's here. She was never really a playground person when little, and she's never felt the need to lurk obsessively around them later in life, like some sort of depraved creeper. But it's been that kind of night, where things she couldn't have imagined happening have come to pass, one after the other. Like breaking up with Archie. Like feeling as if Pembroke is choking her. Like darting out to whatever corner of the night she could, to simply sit and cry. Or stare blankly at the ground, feeling the sadness and the heat and still remain deprived of the tears. At an empty playground, of all places.
"Veronica?" If it hasn't been that kind of night already, it's that kind of night now. She's sitting at the edge of a playground, feet resting on the lower steps, arms wrapped around her knees, chin tucked against her chest, and of all the people in the world, Jughead jones is the one who finds her like this. She doesn't stand, but she does twist in his direction and offer him a tight lipped smile. He's still in the same clothes he was in from the party, just like her. Maybe he has something he needs to escape too.
"Hey," she says softly, palms pressed on the cement. Jughead walks over, towers over her when he refuses to sit. She still refuses to stand. "Why aren't you with your dad at the Wythe Wyrm?" It's such a ridiculous name that, in spite of all her tumultuous feelings, Veronica can't help but crack a smile. Jughead seems to share that sense of humor, because he does finally install himself next to her, stretching his long legs out on the steps below them.
"I had to get away from there," he responds simply. There's a world of unspoken words behind that. Veronica doesn't say anything; she knows that Jughead isn't done speaking. And, true to form, he isn't. "Things got complicated and...some difficult decisions had to be made. Hard ones, with far reaching consequences." Her laugh is acerbic and mirthless.
"Yeah." She wraps her arms around her knees again. "I know all about difficult decisions." This time it's Jughead who's silent, and waits for her to keep on going. Veronica doesn't, not right away, simply turns her head away and stares at the swing set, shifting slightly in the nighttime breeze. Eventually, she turns back to him, and he's clearly lost. "What, Archie didn't tell you?"
"I haven't spoken to Archie since you two hightailed it out of the Wythe Wyrm." Here, Jughead coughs uncomfortably. "Things got hectic." She looks at him from the corner of her eye, just briefly, and then stares straight ahead again.
"We split up." It hurts to say, as if the three little words are each a cluster of needles, pushing on her throat, her tongue, drawing scratches of blood with each syllable. Veronica doesn't look at Jughead when she says this, she just continues to stare in front of her. Even if Jughead doesn't know the situation surrounding the spectacularly unspectacular end of her relationship, she still feels almost ashamed. As if there was something broken in her, some puzzle piece fitted into the wrong slot of her anatomy. As if she was some sort of freak. "I'm surprised he didn't immediately tell you."
"Archie's not like that." Jughead's voice is oddly comforting. "He won't just go and gossip about you to whoever passes him by." Now Veronica feels tears, pricking against her eyes, though they don't fall, not yet.
"He told me he loved me." She isn't the sharing type. Not with a lot of people, and certainly not with Jughead. They haven't even had that many conversations to warrant the admissions she's making now. "And I just...I couldn't say it back." Veronica spreads her hands almost helplessly. "I don't even know why. I don't know why I can't make myself go there with him. Other people can. You and Betty could, multiple times." An awful, bitter sound escapes Jughead's mouth, as if in spite of him. Veronica looks at him, and when Jughead meets her gaze, its with redrimmed eyes.
"I wouldn't use me and Betty as the gold standard to which you measure a relationship," he says harshly. Just like before, Veronica knows there's more to the story than meets the eye, and so she remains silent. Jughead remains silent too, still facing her but not quite looking at her, as if he's looking beyond her somehow. He clearly isn't going to tell her anything, not without some prodding.
"Did something...happen? With you and Betty?" It seems almost unfathomable to imagine, but the look on Jughead's face says it all. "Oh my God." It clearly has been that kind of night. The kind of night where things implode around everyone and the broken had to pick up their own pieces.
"It's what's best," Jughead says, toneless. "She's better off without me." It's eerily similar to what Veronica thought, when she left Archie outside the Wythe Wyrm, and she shivers, rubbing her hands along her arms. Almost automatically, Jughead shrugs off his jacket, and places it around her shoulders. Veronica manages a slight smile.
"Thanks." After a moment, she shifts just the slightest bit closer to him. "And I don't think you're being fair to yourself. About Betty being better off without you."
"Then you're not being fair by banging yourself up over not being able to say the L word to Archie." Veronica looks at him sharply but Jughead isn't even looking at her. Like she was before, he's staring out at the playground, as if looking at it long enough can allow them both to magically reclaim the lost innocence of childhood. It's odd, that Veronica feels so at ease climbing into Jughead's skin, and he into her's. So at ease in their similarities, however much they deny it. They like to think they're polar opposites, the both of them, but if they put a knife to skin the blood would be red. And their hearts both break the same way.
"Looks like we're both screwed then, aren't we?" Jughead chuckles, turning back to her. His hand twitches, as if he was about to reach out to her, but held himself back at the last moment. Veronica resists the urge to lean in, or lean out, or react at all. She stays stone still.
"We forgot the fundamental facts of life," he tells her, looking sardonic and sad all at once. "We're messed up, you and me. Betty and Archie...they're not. They're the purity to our sin." She would laugh if he wasn't so dead on, and instead bites her lip so hard she expects to taste blood. "People like us don't end up with people like them. We should have remembered."
"Yeah." To her horror, Veronica's voice breaks. Splinters, shatters, irreparably damaged. "It still hurts, Jughead." Now there are tears on her face, tears that should have come when she was alone, but for some reason needed a companion to unlock them.
"I know." His own voice wavers dangerously, as if he himself is on the same brink she has passed. And then his arm is around her shoulder, pulling her flush against him, the other wrapping her in an embrace. Veronica's fingers curl against his shirt, and she's not just crying anymore, she's sobbing into the crook of his neck, eyes shut tight and body shaking with the force of it all. But this isn't one sided comfort, because she can feel Jughead trembling fiercely, his cheek pressed against her head, and the hand that isn't clutching him runs through the hair at the base of his neck, hopefully as reassuring to him as he is to her. "I know."
They stay like that for a very long time.