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the promises are made if you just hold on

Chapter Text

“If we’re not out in fifteen minutes, call your dad.”

 

minute one. 

Their shoes slap against the concrete, splash water up around their ankles as they sneak up through the tunnels, flashlights bouncing off the walls. Both of the dressed in all black, dark jacket and dark jeans and a dark catsuit, they slink through the tunnels.

 

minute two. 

They find a ladder, and they descend it to the next floor. They stay silent, barely looking at each other, and they sweep their lights over the area around them. The floor is still gross, and wet, but they can tell they’re closer. They both pause, taking in the sight, before-

“When we get to the main building, what happens then?

“We search each-”

 

minute three.
 

“And every damn room until we find her.”

Veronica nods, her breathing loud in the quiet space, and they keep heading deeper and deeper into the Sisters of Quiet Mercy.

They don’t walk, because walking is too slow. Instead, Veronica and Toni jog down the long hall they’ve emerged in

Eventually, dark concrete gives way to actual flooring, and walls that probably seem yellow in actual lighting, but in the dim glow of their flashlights and the moon outside, it comes off a sickly pea green.

 

minute four.

 
“Okay, let’s split up. We’ll cover twice the ground.”

“Okay,” Veronica agrees. “But be careful.”

Toni, after a moment, turns left, and Veronica spares her a glance before going straight down the hall. Distantly, she hopes Toni won’t get herself caught, but more than that, she hopes she can find Cheryl.

 

minute five. 

Toni decides she hates this place. She’s only ever heard of it in whispers and passings, never knew enough to care about it, but standing inside, she hates everything. She hates the gross colors of the wall, the ugly art on it, everything. Her shoes click, just slightly, against the floor. All she can hear is that little noise, overlapped with her own breathing, and she hates how quiet it is.

So she opens her mouth, and-

 

minute six. 

“Cheryl?”

She calls her name again, and again, and prays to something she doesn’t even believe that she’ll hear a voice calling back to her, even if it’s faint and quiet and heartbroken.

God, right now? All Toni wants is to hear her voice.

 

minute seven.

Veronica moves quieter through the halls than Toni does, opening creaky doors and moving slower, creating less noise. Her heartbeat is a distant roaring in her eyes as scours the building for any sign of bright red hair, anything signature Cheryl Blossom that she can follow back to find the girl.

All she finds is the dead silence along the hallway.

 

minute eight.

The longer she goes without finding Cheryl, the more worried Veronica gets. Her head starts spinning question after question. What if they’re looking in the wrong place for Cheryl? What if she’s on another floor? What if Toni’s already found her and they’re both already heading back outside to meet Kevin.
She thinks about turning around.

She doesn’t.

 

minute nine.

Veronica has to duck inside a classroom when she hears distant footsteps. She takes shelter behind the door, and through the crack between the wood and the wall, she watches a nun walk by, her steps slow and steady, like they’re practiced.

As she holds her breath and waits, she thinks about what Cheryl must be going through. She wonders if the other girl has been beaten, wonders if she’s covered in dirt and bruises. Or, will she find Cheryl sitting on a bed, her lips red and her hair perfectly tousled over her shoulders, and she’ll say ‘took you long enough, didn’t anybody ever teach you not to make a lady wait?’

Veronica has a feeling that is not the version of Cheryl that she’ll find.

 

minute ten. 

“Cheryl?”

Toni sticks her head into room after room, but she finds no Blossom daughter in any of them. The longer she looks, the more anxious she gets, the more her stomach twists.

They have to find her.

“Cheryl?”

There’s a door with golden cross on it, partially translucent. Toni only thinks for a second before she throws her weight against it, shoving it open.

As the minute turns, she finds-

 

minute eleven. 

-not Cheryl.

 

...

 

minute fifteen.

Kevin checks his watch. Once, twice, three times, and as the seconds tick by, he starts to get nervous. The thin line of the longest hand on his watch slips past the numbers on the face of the small clock with a soft clicking noise that sounds impossibly loud in the empty forest. 57, 58, 59…

 

minute sixteen. 

Kevin decides to give them a little more time. Calling his dad because his friends are running late isn’t a good look, especially if it gets them in trouble for trespassing. Instead, he leans back against one of the trees, tapping his foot against the ground. He bites down on his lip, almost drawing blood, as his nerves continue to creep up on him. He’s been with boys who’ve snuck out from the Sisters, has heard them mention the things that have gone on inside, but he’s never really thought past it. It’s never really occurred to him.

Now, standing outside waiting for three girls instead of one boy, he can’t quite tear his mind away from the what ifs of what goes on behind the closed doors of the Sisters of Quiet Mercy.

 

seventeen. 

 

eighteen. 

 

nineteen. 

They haven’t come out yet. Not Veronica, not Toni, and certainly not Cheryl Blossom.

His nerves tightened, a long line etched into his brow, Kevin dials his father. The phone rings, and rings, and when his dad picks up, Kevin spills everything to him.

Sheriff Keller sounds shocked, and a little bit appalled, as he promises his son he’s jumping in the car right now.

So Kevin sighs, hangs up, and keeps waiting, keeps hoping.

 

 

minute twenty-two.

Veronica stumbles out of the door to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. Against her side is Cheryl Blossom, in a stained dress and an almost blood red cardigan, her hair down her back in one long ponytail. There are tear tracks marring her cheeks, and she looks nothing like the Queen Bee that Kevin knows her as.

“You are way past fifteen minutes,” he breathes, but his tone is more relieved than anything. Veronica, however, only seems more tense as she glances around the forest and doesn’t find what she’s looking for,

“Where’s Toni?” She asks, and Kevin’s eyes go wide.

“She isn’t with you?”

Veronica shakes her head, and Cheryl suddenly seems more alert, pulling away from the other girl. “We have to go back,” she insists, heading for the door, but Veronica grabs her wrist.

“Cheryl, we can’t-“

“Let me go!” The redhead demands, shaking off the hand stopping her. “We can’t leave her with them, we have to go back!”

Kevin reaches out, but Veronica moves faster, getting her arms around Cheryl’s waist and pulling the other girl back into her. Cheryl thrashes, protests falling from her lips for several moments before she slumps back against Veronica. defeated.

Somewhere behind them, blue and red lights flash against the trees of the forest, and a siren wails in the distance. Kevin turns to Veronica, holding the underfed and weakened Blossom daughter against her chest, and their gazes meet with panic.

As minute twenty-two passes into minute twenty-three, the same thought passes through their minds

Where the hell is Toni?

Chapter Text

It takes an incredible amount of pleading and explaining from Kevin to convince his dad not to call Penelope Blossom the moment he sees the state Cheryl’s in. Even still, Sheriff Keller wants to call the girl’s mother until Cheryl herself looks up at him, and with something vacant in her eyes, tells him that her mother would probably be disappointed she didn’t look worse.

It takes even more explaining to go over what’s happened. It’s kind of impossible to gloss over the fact that Kevin, Toni, and Veronica were literally breaking and entering in order to gain access to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy.

“Toni never came out,” Veronica informs him. “And we’re really worried.”

“And you want me to go in there, and find your friend?” He repeats, blinking in shock. “Your friend who got lost while breaking into what is essentially an orphanage?”

“She could be in trouble, or danger,” she protests.

“You kids do realize you’ve committed a crime, right?” He asks. “Breaking and entering is a crime. You could be charged-”

“Dad,” Kevin cuts in, and his voice is a quiet kind of serious. “They’ve been running conversion therapy in secret.”

Sheriff Keller stills, eyes widening. “Isn’t that where…?”

“Where they stab needles into your body and try to convince you that loving the same sex is wrong, and deviant?” Cheryl finishes, bitterly. “Yeah, that’s the one.”

He freezes, and he seems to think for a minute before clearing his throat. “That… that would certainly be a big claim,” he says. “Something like that would warrant an investigation.”

“Do you not care that Toni is still in there?” Cheryl bites, and the look on her face goes from emotionless to angry in seconds. “Do you know what they could be doing to her right now? Aren’t you going to help her?”

“That’s what I’m trying to do, Cheryl,” he replies, and it’s clear that he’s trying to be patient, even though he’s growing annoyed. “But I’m a police officer, there’s protocol I have to follow.”

“So you’re not going to look for her?”

“I am,” he repeats. “Look, I’ll call for backup, get as many of my guys as I can, and we’ll search this place top to bottom. But that’s about all we can do for you.”

Cheryl opens her mouth, but Veronica jumps in before the redhead can speak, placing a placating hand on the other girl’s elbow. “Thank you, Sheriff Keller,” she says. “We appreciate your help.”

Cheryl bristles, clearly not as appreciative as Veronica has made her out to be, but she doesn’t protest. Instead, she watches in silence as the man takes a few steps away, begins speaking into his walkie in a tone to quiet for them to here.

After a moment, Cheryl deflates. “What if… what if they don’t find her?”

The hand on her elbow squeezes, Veronica’s attempt at being comforting. “They will,” she assured her. “There’s nowhere else she could be.”

After several minutes, the trio of teenagers begins to hear more sirens approaching in the distance. Sure enough, a small fleet of police officers are with them soon enough, surrounding Sheriff Keller. They make a small, huddled circle, like a football team in the middle of a time-out, and even though Cheryl can’t hear what they’re saying, she can feel the tension that seeps into the quiet night air.

When the officers break apart, Sheriff Keller turns to them. “We’re going to go in, some through the front and some through the back, to talk to the nuns and search the place,” he tells them. “But, it’s going to be a while. You three should go home and wait.”

“I am not leaving,” Cheryl replies. Keller opens his mouth to argue, but he only sighs instead. The look on Cheryl’s face is the kind that leaves no room for discussion, her arms folded over her chest and her mouth drawn into a thin line.

Eventually, they manage to come up with a compromise, and that’s how the three of them find themselves sitting in a police car parked in front of the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. Veronica and Cheryl curl up in the back, while Kevin sits in the passenger seat and flips through radio stations until he finds something he deems quiet and soothing.

Both he and Veronica doze in and out, neither really succumbing to any sleep. Cheryl, however, sits with her head against the window, and as she stares up at the moon above her, she hopes.

(To many, the Blossoms would seem to have bad luck. Some, like Nana Rose, might call them cursed.

Cheryl thinks that neither is the problem with the Blossom family line. She’s never said it out loud, only ever though it in her private moments, but she thinks that the Blossoms, at their core, are sinners. That they carry tainted blood, and any horrid thing that happens to them is simply atonement, payment for the crimes of their past.

Cheryl thinks about her own tainted blood, and she wonders how she could have ever dragged Toni down with her. The thought sickens her.)

Save for the soft music coming through the speakers, the car is silent. The air between them all is strained, leaving no real room for conversation. None of them feel like speaking, anyway, not when they don’t have anything to say.

Veronica and Kevin are both half asleep when there’s a tapping on one of the windows. Right away, they both snap to attention, as does Cheryl. Sheriff Keller is standing outside, and he opens the door to the backseat so the girls can slip out while Kevin climbs out of the front.

As soon as her feet touch the pavement, Cheryl is looking around, frantic, for any sign of Toni, but she isn’t there. Looking crushed, she turns back to the older man, and his face seems somber.

“She wasn’t in there,” he says.

Cheryl scoffs, but her eyes are still wide, a little afraid. “That’s impossible.”

“We didn’t find her-

“Then you have to go back!”

“Cheryl, there’s nothing else we can do,” Keller says. “We searched that basement looking all over for her, and then the other floors. She’s not in there, maybe she found her own way out-”

“There’s no way she could have gotten out,” Cheryl protests. “She’s- she’s in there!”

“Cheryl, I’m sorry,” he repeats, stressing the last word as if that will drive his point home. “But there’s nothing else we can do tonight. Technically, we shouldn’t have even gone inside anyway. The Sisters consented to the search.”

“What about the conversion therapy?” Kevin pressed. “Dad, that’s illegal!”

“There’s no proof,” the Sheriff tells them. “It’s not that I don’t believe you, because I do. But the records, they line up. There’s no evidence we can pursue, not at this time.”

The teenager scoffs, shoving his hands deep in his pockets. “That’s bullshit,” he mutters.

“Yeah, it is,” Veronica echoes, folding her arms over her chest and glaring at Sheriff Keller. Under her gaze, he seems to falter just a bit, running a hand through his hair. After a moment, he sighs.

“Come on, Kev, I’ll drive you home,” the Sheriff offers, reaching out for his son. Kevin blinks, opens his mouth to say something, before shaking his head. He and his father stare at each other for a moment before the older man concedes. Quietly, he bids them all goodbye and climbs back into his cruiser, throwing the three of them one last glance before pulling away, sirens and lights absent.

Kevin, Veronica, and Cheryl stand there, in a long silence. Defeat hangs in the air around them, even as the sun starts to rise in the distance, the sky turning from black to blue as the morning starts to trickle in.

“What do we do now?” Veronica asks. Cheryl takes in a deep breath, squares her shoulders back. Her hair has been let down from it’s long ponytail, tousled and falling over the cardigan-and-dress combo imposed on her by the Sisters. Even if the clothes she’s wearing aren’t within typical Bombshell fashion, the way her chin juts out as she sets her jaw is unmistakably her.

“Sheriff Keller has to abide by the law, follow the rules?” She says. “Then we’ll just have to go to someone who doesn’t care about the rules.”

Veronica blinks, almost as if the confusion has her taken aback. “Who?” She asks.

Cheryl turns to her, and the redhead’s eyes almost seem to blaze. “The Serpents.”

-

The sky is pale when they arrive at the White Wyrm.

Cheryl’s never really been here before. In fact, Cheryl almost never goes to the Southside anyway. She knows of the Wyrm, knows the Serpents run most of the business through the bar. Knows that a lot of the members pick up shifts behind the counter for a little bit of extra cash, Toni included within them.

She also knows that Jason was murdered in the basement.

It’s funny, because in Cheryl’s mind, the Wyrm is just another building. A little grimy, a little worn down, just like every other building on this side of town. It’s just a place.

Or at least it was, until Cheryl was suddenly standing in the parking lot, unable to go inside.

“Cheryl, are you okay?” Veronica asks. When Cheryl turns to look at the other girl, she can see a sort of understanding in her eyes. It’s then that Cheryl remembers that Veronica and Kevin are best friends with (or were, Cheryl never knows what’s going on with them) Betty Cooper.

“You’ve seen the video, haven’t you?” She asks. “Of my father shooting Jason.”

Kevin swallows and turns away, while Veronica nods. “You don’t have to go in,” she assures the redhead, placing a soft hand on her shoulder, but Cheryl shakes her head.

“No, I do,” she decides. “If Toni can walk into a building full of angry nuns for me, I can walk into a bar.”

With that, she squares her shoulders back, tilts her chin up, and steps inside.

The doors swing open when she pushes on them, and instantly, all the eyes in the room snap to her. It’s quite a sight to see Cheryl Blossom striding into the White Wyrm, after all, especially when she’s still draped in the relatively conservative outfit the sisters gave her instead of something typical from her closet.

(God, the second Cheryl gets something else to where, she’s going to burn this stupid dress.)

She wonders what they must think. Not only of her, but of Kevin and Veronica, too. Together, the three of them might be the least likely trio to ever step foot inside the Wyrm, but yet, here they are.

As if she doesn’t see any of them watching her, she storms right up to the bar, slapping her hands on the wood and leaning forward. Behind it is a taller guy, clearly older, wearing a leather jacket.

“You lost, little darlin’?” He asks, his tone mocking.

“We need your help,” Cheryl states, but it sounds more like a demand coming from her lips. The man all but snarls.

“Why would we help you?” He replies. “We’ve got ourselves into plenty of hot water the last time we helped a Blossom out, sweetheart. No offen-”

“It’s about Toni,” she cuts in, clearly growing restless. There’s a moment before recognition passes over his face, and he rolls his eyes.

“If you’re looking for Toni, try the trailer park,” he replies, waving a hand as if dismissing them. “Or come back later, she has a shift at six tonight-”

“We aren’t here looking for her, you numbskull,” Cheryl hisses. “We’re here because she’s in danger.”

He stops. “And if she is, how would you know about that?”

“Because she got herself into danger trying to help me,” she explains. “Now, are you going to gather all your little snake friends, or are you going to listen to me?”

He sneers, but she can something flicker in his eyes, something like belief, and he sighs. “Alright,” he mutters. “Go take a fucking seat then, while I make some calls.”

-

The bartender, who Cheryl learns is called Moth, spends a lot of time on the phone, making various calls. Cheryl finds herself impatient, tapping her nails on the scratched wood of the table she, Veronica, and Kevin have claimed.

Soon enough, though, it starts to pay off. Serpents trickle in through the front door, and a few emerge. There’s some Cheryl recognizes, vaguely, but the only ones she can even name are Fangs and Sweet Pea.

And F.P., of course, but she tries not to look at him for too long.

(Jughead is, a little suspiciously, absent. Honestly, Cheryl doesn’t even care that much.)

Finally, when there’s quite a crowd gathered around, the questions start. Cheryl does her best to answer them while keeping herself calm, but the reality of the situation starts to sink in on her the longer she sits there.

Toni’s been kidnapped, for all that you know, her mind whispers. And she got herself kidnapped for you. You. As if you’re worth something.

With the help of Veronica and Kevin, she explains the events of what is now last night, and what exactly happened at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. Along the way, she glosses over the part about conversion therapy, choosing instead to blame her presence there on her mother and uncle’s money-hungry nature.

By the time she’s done, all the Serpents are staring at her in various states of boredom, shock, or surprise. Some of them, however, seem almost amused.

“Let me get this straight,” somebody says, an older man with a scruffy looking beard. “You want us to trust a Blossom, a Lodge, and the Sheriff’s son?”

“Trust me, you can’t hate the Blossoms more than I do,” Cheryl hisses. “And right now, I am not the Sheriff’s biggest fan, either.”

“And why does what happens to Toni matter to you?” Fangs asks, a little suddenly, and she bristles.

“Does it matter?” She bites, and he laughs, but it sounds hollow.

“It does, if you want us to trust you,” he tells her. “How do we know you don’t have her?”

“I would never-”

“Never what?” He interupts. “Do something so vile? As if your father didn’t tie up your brother in this very building? As if your mother didn’t send you away in the first place? As if you haven’t been mocking, insulting, and berating the Southside since the second you learned how to talk? As if your family-”

“I care about her, okay?

Everyone looks up at Cheryl’s outburst. The redhead is on her feet now, scowling, but there’s an open sort of vulnerability in her eyes. For the first time Cheryl, Veronica, and Kevin have gotten there, Sweet Pea opens his mouth.

“You care about her?” He repeats, but his words lack malice. They’re quiet, uncharastically so. “Like, as in…?”

He trails off, but it’s obvious what he means. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Cheryl nods.

“Toni is- she’s Toni ,” she explains, and her voice falls into something defeated. “She believed me, even when nobody else did. Even when I didn’t believe in myself. And when I… went missing, she was the one who noticed. Then, she got caught trying to rescue me. I can’t just leave her, I-”

The emotions start to well in her chest, and she cuts herself off, trying to school her face into a more neutral expression. Only moments pass before the murmuring starts. The men in the bar talk over each other, debating whether or not to believe her, what happened to Toni, but F.P.’s voice cuts through them all.

“Listen up!”

As if on cue, all the Serpents turn to look at him, falling silent. There’s a hard line etched into his brow, and he clears his throat once before addressing them all.

“It doesn’t matter how any of you feel about Cheryl, or the Blossoms,” he starts. “It doesn’t matter what you think of her family, or the other two, either. What matters is Toni is in trouble, either way. What’s the first law, people?”

“A Serpent never stands alone!”

The call comes from almost every Serpent in the place, with enough passion that Cheryl almost finds herself taken aback. It’s odd for her, to be able to hear in all of their voices how much they clearly care about this rule, and by association, Toni.

As if he can hear her thoughts, F.P. turns to Cheryl, and they make eye contact for the first time since she set foot in the Wyrm. “The Serpents are a family,” he tells her. “Toni is our family, and we stand with our family. Whatever it takes to get her back, we do.”

Cheryl blinks. Normally, this would be the moment when her shoulders would sag, where she would whisper a thank you. Instead, her body stays stiff as a board straight, and she finds herself unable to form any words. As if unbothered, F.P. cranes his head over his shoulder. “Moth, call Jughead, tell him to haul ass here,” he demands, and Moth reaches for the phone on the wall. “Tell him to bring Betty, too.”

Before Cheryl can question it, he turns back to her. Cracking his knuckles, he closes some of the distance between them, and leans in. He looms several inches above her, and from this close, she can catch a whiff of the cigarette smoke-smell that clings to him.

“But if I find out you’re trying to play with us, or if you’ve hurt Toni in any way,” he threatens. “Then your brother won’t be the only Blossom whose blood was shed in this bar.”

Instead of being intimidated, she stands taller, tilts her chin higher and meets his gaze. “I’d sooner die.”

Satisfied, he takes a step back, and his lips quirk up at the corners as if he’s amused. “Glad to see we’re on the same page,” he says. “Now, tell us everything you know about the Sisters of Quiet Mercy.”

Chapter Text

Cheryl’s already finished explaining everything she learned about the Sisters of Quiet Mercy during her time there, and Kevin’s filling them in on what he knows, when Jughead steps into the bar with Betty at his side.

“What’s going on?” He asks, before his eyes land on Cheryl, Veronica, and Kevin. If possible, the lines in his forehead get deeper. “What the hell are you guys doing here?”

Instantly, Cheryl feels herself tense up, hands curling into fists on her dress. She keeps her mouth snapped shut, even as her jaw clenches. Jughead seems somewhere between confused and agitated, but Betty only glances back and forth between Veronica and Kevin a few times before she looks at Cheryl. Right away, the redhead can see the cogs in the other girl’s head turning, and Cheryl remembers exactly what she’s wearing in that moment.

“Jughead, sit down,” F.P. says, somewhere between demanding and fatherly. The boy blinks at his father a couple times before stepping forward to join the gathering of Serpents, Betty trailing behind him.

“What’s going on?” He repeats. “Why is- what?”

“There’s been some developments-” F.P. starts to explain, but he’s interrupted again.

“Developments?” Jughead repeats. “Ones that involve a Blossom and a Lodge?”

“We need each other’s help-”

“Since when have we ever needed the help of a Blossom? Do you want to go back to jail, dad?”

Sweet Pea sits up taller in the chair he’s sitting in. “Jesus, Jones, if you would just listen-”

“Listen? To what, another plan to get us all in trouble-”

“Jug,” Betty whispers, her quiet voice cutting through the air as she grabs his sleeve. He falters, turning to look at her, and she meets his eyes. “Cheryl’s clothes.”

He seems almost taken aback, but he glances over at the redhead anyway. There’s a long silence before recognition passes in his eyes. “Is that…?”

“The Sisters of Quiet Mercy uniform?” Cheryl finishes, but her voice lacks any real bite to it. “Congratulations, detectives, Now, can we get back to the matter at hand, or would you like to keep asking questions first, and listening second?”

Jughead bristles, but Betty places a hand on his shoulder. It’s clear that she’s either curious, or maybe even concerned, but either way, she keeps her grip on him, and he stays silent. If the situation itself wasn’t so awful, Cheryl might even laugh at the way the boy seems to resemble a well-trained dog.

“Thank you,” F.P. grumbles, shooting a glare at his son. “Now, since you apparently can’t listen without being scolded first, maybe you’d actually be interested in hearing what we have to say?”

Jughead huffs, but he nods. F.P. sighs, swallows, and when Cheryl glances up at him, she can see that he looks unhappy, but underneath that, nervous, like he’s… afraid for Toni, maybe?

(She thinks about earlier. ‘The Serpents are a family,’ he’d said . ‘Toni is our family’.

Cheryl doesn’t really have any good experience with family, outside of her brother, but in that moment, she hopes F.P. is a far better father than her own was.)

F.P. swallows. “Miss Lodge, would you care to elaborate on the situation?” He offers, and Cheryl thinks it’s really only so he doesn’t have to repeat what’s happened to Toni. She can’t blame him.

Veronica clears her throat. “So, last night, Toni and I broke into the Sisters of Quiet Mercy to… rescue Cheryl,” she starts, wringing her hands together on the table in front of her. “Kevin watched the door in case he needed to call his dad, and Toni and I went in through the tunnel out back. We split up, and I found Cheryl.”

She swallows, cutting herself off, and Jughead leans forward a little bit. “And?”

“We tried to find Toni, but we couldn’t,” Veronica continues. “So we thought that maybe she’d already escaped, so we got ourselves out. And when we hit the forest… she wasn’t there.”

“And then what?” He demands. “You just left her?”

“We called my dad,” Kevin explains. “And we were able to convince him to call for backup. They searched the entire building, but they couldn’t find her.”

By now, most of his irritation seems to have faded into concern, and Cheryl can see that there’s fear lurking in his eyes. “So what?” He asks, his voice the softest it’s been since he walked into the White Wyrm. “So she’s…?”

“Kidnapped,” Kevin finishes. Jughead swallows.

“Are you sure she didn’t just get out?”

Veronica glances over at Cheryl, before shaking her head. “She wouldn’t have left without us,” she tells him. “Not if… not if she didn’t know Cheryl was safe.”

The other girl’s words cause something to seize in the redhead’s chest, and her head falls forward as she curls her hands into fists in her lap. You did this, you did this, you did this, the voice in her mind hisses, and it sounds all the familiar. It sounds just like her mother.

(-once again, it’s what you want-

-never known love, except to rip it apart-

-no one would have you-

-jealous, spite-filled, starving emotional anorexic-

-you bring this deviance into my house, the house your father and i built for yo-)

There’s a hand closing over her fist, and when Cheryl glances up, Veronica is looking at her with wide, concerned eyes. With a distant sort of recognition, she realizes that she also has the attention of most of the room.

“Are you okay?”

Cheryl exhales, in a soft huff, sets her jaw, and nods. “I’m fine,” she says, and it comes out sounding way stronger than she feels. Veronica doesn’t really seem to believe her, but she squeezes her fingers once around Cheryl’s before letting go and leaning back into her seat.

After a long silence, F.P. exhales, loudly. “We’re going to get her back,” he states, conviction in his voice as he  tips his chin up, his jaw a hard line. “We’ve faced worse things than a bunch of angry nuns. This is nothing.”

Jughead swallows, nods, and Sweet Pea coughs to clear his throat. When Cheryl looks over, she can see Fangs standing behind Pea’s chair, hand gripping the other boy’s shoulder, the two of them wearing matching somber expressions. From where she’s sat, Cheryl can see the indents on the leather of Sweet Pea’s Serpent jacket where Fangs’ fingers dig in. They both stare at F.P. with wide, unwavering eyes that all but leak determination. She must watch them for longer than she thinks, because Pea turns his head and catches her eye. Instead of scowling, or turning away, he offers her a single, firm nod before turning back to F.P..

“So here’s what we do,” the man continues. “We break this meeting here for the day. We do some recon while school is still in session, and when the sun starts to set, we go inside, try and shake some nuns down for information. If all goes well, we could have Toni back by tonight, maybe tomorrow morning.”

He makes it sound easy, and maybe it will be, but something in Cheryl’s chest knows it isn’t. She thinks he knows the same thing, but there’s a sort of false confidence radiating from him. It makes her believe him.

At least, she wants to.

From there, the Serpents disperse. Even from within the White Wyrm, Cheryl can hear rumbling as several motorcycles are brought to life, the squealing sounds of tires on pavement as they all pull out of the parking lot. Fangs murmurs something to Jughead before heading out, and Sweet Pea moves to follow him before stopping, turning on his heel, and bee-lining right for Cheryl.

He comes to a stop in front of her, and for a moment, they’re both silent. After a few seconds tick by, she finds her voice again.

“Can I help you?” She asks, but there’s none of her usual venom.

Sweet Pea clears his throat, scuffing the heel of one of his boots on the bar floor. Cheryl doesn’t think she’s ever seen him this unnerved. In fact, she’s quite sure she’s never seen him unnerved before. After a moment, he shoves his hands deep in the pocket of his Serpent’s jacket, raises his head to meet her eyes.

“Listen,” he starts. “I won’t pretend that I’ve always been a fan of yours, or that I’m particularly fond of Northsiders, but… Toni’s my best friend, and I know- I know how she feels about you. If you need anything… I can handle it.”

Almost taken aback, Cheryl can’t help but stare at him, almost shocked. It is, perhaps, the most awkward ‘I’m here you’ that she’s ever heard, but it strikes a chord in her chest, and she nods.

“Thank you,” she whispers, and it’s sincere. He offers a small smile in response before turning and walking away, his footsteps heavy in the empty room. With him gone, it leaves only six of them gathered around. Outside, the sky is a soft blue, and just by looking at it, Cheryl knows school will be starting soon.

(Hah, school. She hasn’t been there in days.)

F.P. seems to notice this, too, and he leans against the table, one hand on the wood to steady himself . “You kids should be heading out soon if you’re going to make it to class on time,” he tells them, before turning to Betty at Jughead. “At least, the two of you.”

Betty shuffles, almost nervously. “Is there anything I can do?” She asks. “For Toni?”

F.P. studies her for a moment. “Yeah,” he says, finally. “Do some research on the place. I know you did some when Polly was there, but look deeper. About the shadier goings on of the place.”

“The shadier goings on?” Betty repeated, earning herself a nod.

“The stuff they keep off the records,” F.P. explained. “What goes on in the basement. Every place has secrets; find theirs.”

Growing a little uncomfortable, Cheryl shifts in her seat. Veronica glances at her before turning back to the Serpent’s leader. “And us?” She prompts.

He studies them for a second. “I’d say just go to school, and we’ll talk tomorrow once we see what we can manage to pull from the Sisters, but I doubt school will do anything for you today,” he sighs, glancing at Cheryl. “So... go clean up, get something else to wear, maybe something to eat? Just… take care of yourself.”

There’s something almost caring in his eyes, and Cheryl has to look away, unable to meet his gaze. Her head is a swirling mess, because Toni was kidnapped and Jason was murdered and nothing has felt right or okay in her life for a long while.

Sensing the tension sweeping into the room, Jughead and Betty make a quick exit, and after a moment of gathering themselves, Veronica, Kevin, and Cheryl follow. Outside, the air is just starting to grow warmer, and they all climb into Veronica’s car, Kevin taking the back so Cheryl can have the passenger seat.

Once they’ve all buckled in, Veronica hesitates as before putting the keys into the ignition. “What now?” She asks.

Eventually, they all come to an agreement. Kevin, who’s already likely to be in hot water with his dad after the events of last night, will be going to class, while Veronica stays with Cheryl.

“Aren’t you going to be in hot water with your parents, too?” He asks. “After all, you did sneak out last night, and you weren’t there this morning.”

Veronica shrugs it off. “It is what it is,” she replies, and finally turns on the car, the engine humming to life beneath them.

After they drop Kevin off at school, it leaves Cheryl and Veronica trapped in a sort of awkward silence. Without speaking, Veronica pulls out of Riverdale’s drop-off lane, and away from the parking lot. For a while, they just drive, and Cheryl isn’t even sure if the brunette knows where she’s driving; she’s just moving forward.

“Do you… need anything from your house?” Veronica asks, breaking the quiet, and Cheryl realizes that, in the vaguest of senses, they’re heading towards Thistlehouse. They aren’t taking the fastest route, or the most direct, but with a few turns, they could be there in a little more than ten minutes.

Cheryl huffs, before shaking her head. “And risk running into the hellbeast that is my mother?” Cheryl points out, and scoffs. “I’d rather not.”

There’s another long pause, before something in Veronica’s face shifts. “Oh, fuck it,” she mutters, as she pulls a u-turn on the middle of the empty road. Cheryl turns to her, brows furrowing together, and the Lodge turns to meet her gaze.

“You’re staying with me,” she explains, something final in her tone. “At least for tonight.”

Cheryl blinks. There’s something in Veronica’s tone that doesn’t really leave room for argument, but Cheryl still remembers Hermione’s reaction the last time she stepped foot in the Pembrooke, and despite herself, she snorts a little bit.

“Are you sure your parents would be okay with that?” She asks, allowing sarcasm to seep into her tone. She says it casually, but there’s an unusual fluttering of nerves in her stomach. She thinks the other girl can sense it, just a little bit, but maybe that’s just the events and paranoia of the past few days finally catching up with her.

“I- honestly, right now, who cares?” Veronica replies, flicking her hand out to the side as if brushing the question off. “If they’ve got a problem with it, they’ll have to deal with it. Right now, we’re going back to my house, you’re going to change into the most red outfit I can find in my wardrobe, and then we’re going out to get you more clothes, a new phone, and something to eat, because I’m starving.”

Cheryl finds herself a little surprised by Veronica’s near outburst, but instead of letting her jaw drop, she only arches an eyebrow, staring at the other girl. After a few seconds, Veronica turns to meet her gaze.

“What?” She questions.

“Nothing,” Cheryl replies, and thinks for a moment before: “Thank you.”

Veronica smiles. “Of course,” she says, reaching over to turn on the radio. “What are friends for?”

(Cheryl can’t remember a time when she and Veronica were ever friends, but she thinks she’d like to try.)

-

Veronica and Cheryl make a quick stop at the former’s Pembrooke apartment, which is thankfully empty, to grab a quick change of clothes for Cheryl. She’s several inches taller than the other girl, but she manages to find a decently fitting skirt, and a shirt that’s likely a little large on Veronica, but fits her well enough.

From there, they climb back into the car and head to the mall. Veronica whips her credit card in the effortless way that Cheryl used to. It makes her a little uneasy, how quick Veronica is to smack her it down to pay for a pile of red and black clothing in the other girl’s size.

(Cheryl’s never been one to take handouts, not from anyone in this crazy murder town, but there’s not a lot of choice in the matter right now, not when Penelope and Claudius Blossom are still looming over Thistlehouse.

They’ll be more time for a long term solution when Toni is safe. Right now, they’re working with what they’ve got.)

Veronica gets her a phone, too, and Cheryl gives up on any protesting, makes some snarky comment when the other girl puts the device in her hand, if only to mask how touched she actually feels. Judging by the way Veronica smiles, Cheryl is pretty sure she can see right past the façade, but she tries anyway.

They end up at Pop’s after that, drinking milkshakes and chowing down on diner food. Logically, Cheryl knew the Sisters of Quiet Mercy hadn’t been feeding her very well, but she didn’t realize how hungry she truly was until there was a burger in front of her, complete with cheese and a side of fries.

She inhales it faster than she’s probably eaten anything in her entire life, but Veronica doesn’t comment on it, only grins as she eats her own food. Cheryl wonders if this is what normal friendships are like, if this is what it’s like for Betty and Veronica, for normal girls. Sure, she’d had Josie, but Cheryl had ruined that with her obsession. And sure, there’d been times when Cousin Betty was kind to her in the cafeteria, or Veronica was nice to her in the locker room after cheerleading, but they were never really friends, were they?

They hang out at the Chocklit Shoppe until school lets out, when they bounce before other students start showing up. After all, Cheryl is not in the mood to answer questions from the population of Riverdale High at this time.

For a while, Veronica just drives, music coming through the speakers. Cheryl thinks that neither of them has a particular desire to go back to the Pembrooke at this particular moment, so instead, Veronica helps Cheryl fill her new phone up with contacts. Kevin, Jughead, Betty, even Archie all get plugged into her phone. Following that, she gets more contacts from the ‘Serpent Prince’ himself, rounding out her cell’s address book with Sweet Pea, Fangs, and of all people, F.P.. Honestly, it’s the most empty her contact have been in… well, ever, but she finds she can’t really think of anything else she might need. It’s not like Reggie’s going to be inviting her out to parties, or Josie’s going to want to meet up for a meal at Pop’s. At there’s no way she wants to bother exchanging words with her hideous mother, so the Scooby Gang and the Serpents will just have to be enough.

Eventually, when the sun is threatening to start setting, they finally head back to the Pembrooke. On the elevator ride up to Veronica’s apartment, she informs Cheryl that her parents are most definitely home by now, and they probably aren’t pleased with her, either.

She’s right, of course, because when they open the door, the entire atmosphere of the room feels off. Taking a couple steps into the living room, they glance over to find both Hiram and Hermione sitting on the couch and staring back at them. To her credit, the latter seems to be a little shocked upon seeing Cheryl there, but she takes it in stride.

“Veronica, you’re home,” she greets. “We wondering if you’d ever make it back, considering you weren’t here when we woke up. And that you missed school today.”

“Sorry, mom, something came up.”

“‘Something came up’ is not a reasonable excuse for missing out on your studies,” Hiram tells her. Veronica shifts, obviously a little uncomfortable.

“Can we talk about this later?” Veronica asks her father, gesturing towards Cheryl. Her father sits up a little, arching an eyebrow, as if his daughter’s answer had surprised him.

“You didn’t tell us you were inviting a friend over,” He says, in a tone too neutral to be friendly.

“And a Blossom, no less,” his wife chips in.

“Cheryl’s been going through a lot lately,” Veronica explains. “I told her she could stay here for a while, until things resolved themselves.”

Mija , that’s very kind of you, but she should be at home, with her family,” Hermione says, in that kind of tone where someone is trying to sound nice, even though they feel anything but. Cheryl laughs, bitter.

“Which ones are my family, exactly?” She asks, keeping her gaze on the ceiling instead of looking at them. “The woman who has never loved me, has gone out of her way to tell me she doesn’t care about me, or the crazy man who shares my father’s face, sleeps in the man’s pajamas, and tries to break into my room at night? I wouldn’t consider either of them family, not after they pushed my nana down the stairs and tried to ship me off to a torture chamber for ‘deviant’ children who dared to love someone of the same gender, all to try and lay claim to the Blossom family fortune in its entirety.”

The Lodges, all three of them, are shocked into silence, and Cheryl turns to them with an almost bored expression, even though her throat is thick with emotion and her heart hammers in her chest. “The only people in my family who ever loved me are either dead or laid up in a hospital,” she informs them. “So tell me, the cemetery at Thornhill or the geriatrics ward at Riverdale General, where should I be sleeping tonight?”

Neither Hiram or Hermione has a response to that, so Veronica shoots her parents one last glare before grabbing Cheryl’s hand and leading the other girl up to her room.

“I’m sorry about them,” she apologizes, shaking her head. “Since my dad came home, they’ve been… ugh.”

“It’s alright,” Cheryl says with a wave of her hand, trying to slip back into the unaffected personality she tries to keep up. “I’m no stranger to parental third degree.”

That actually earns her a little bit of a smile. “Still, you can stay here,” Veronica assures her. “I don’t care what they do, they are not forcing you out of this house. At least not tonight.”

“Well, if all else falls through, maybe I can run off to that farm Polly did,” Cheryl jokes, taking a seat on the edge of Veronica’s bed. “Maybe then I could finally meet my niece and nephew.”

Stunned, the brunette blinks down at her. “You haven’t met the twins?”

Cheryl shrugs. “No, not yet,” she answers. “Though, from what I’ve heard, Cousin Betty’s only seen them a handful of times, too. And who can blame Polly for not wanting to bring the babies over anywhere near my mother.”

“So you’ve never seen them?” Veronica asks.

“I’ve seen pictures,” Cheryl replies. “And I know their names. Figures, you run off to a farm in the middle of nowhere, you come back with two kids named Juniper and Dagwood.”

When she glances over at the other girl, Veronica is just staring back at her, almost seeming stunned. Under the weight of her gaze, Cheryl shifts a little, but doesn’t falter. At least, not until-

“I… Christ, Cheryl, are you okay?”

(Nobody ever really asks Cheryl if she’s okay anymore. Nobody really cares enough about her to wonder, except-

Toni did.)

Cheryl swallows the lump rising in her throat at the thought of Toni, and nods. “I’m fine,” she replies, but she feels anything but fine the more she thinks about her current situation. Her brother is dead, the only living pieces of him are locked somewhere far away by a girl who likely hates Cheryl and everything about her; she may never meet her niece or nephew at this rate. And her mother doesn’t love her, never has, and would burn Cheryl to the ground in a heartbeat. Her nana could very well be in danger over at Thornhill, and Toni-

Oh God, what has she doomed Toni to?

Veronica reaches over, and like she had at the White Wyrm, rests her hand on Cheryl’s. “Hey,” she murmurs, interrupting the trainwreck of emotions crashing in Cheryl’s head. “Everything’s going to work out. We’re going to find Toni and get her back, and then we’re going to fix everything else, too.”

Cheryl tries to swallow again, but a sob catches in her throat and forces it’s way up. As it escapes her, Veronica reaches out, wraps both her arms around Cheryl, and hugs her, tight.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” she whispers.

For the first time in a long time, Cheryl believes it.

Chapter Text

After having dinner in Veronica’s room, but before they start getting ready for bed, Cheryl gets a text from one of the few numbers saved into her new phone.

 

Sweet Pea > You ; 8:38 PM

hey its sweet pea, got ur number from jughead. jst letting u kno we went to the sisters and did some recon. going to get info from them tmrw

 

She reads over it, debates on not replying, before she sends him a quick ‘thank you’, because at the end of the day, she is glad he’s sending her updates, if only so she doesn’t drive herself crazy with worrying. Almost as soon as she’s sent it, Veronica’s cell dings from across the room. When the brunette picks it up, she smiles, just a little bit.

“It’s Archie,” she explains, as if Cheryl can’t tell by just seeing the silly love struck expression on her face. Still, Veronica seems unbothered, scooping up her phone and replying to her boyfriend in seconds. Cheryl busies herself with scrolling through Instagram, flicking past photo after photo she missed after she disappeared, and pretends to care about any of it. She doesn’t, really, but it’s a little unexpected when she feels a sting in her chest.

Life went on without you, Cheryl, her mother seems to hiss in her ears. It always does, doesn’t it? The town turned itself upside down when Jason went missing, but for you? The only one who noticed was Toni, and look what you did there.

“Hey, Cheryl?”

Veronica’s voice snaps her out of her thoughts, and she glances up. The other girl still has her phone in her hand, but now her attention is on the redhead.

“Yes?”

“Archie wants to know if you’re going to school tomorrow,” Veronica says. Cheryl arches an eyebrow, wondering if it’s just the brunette who wants to know, but there’s something honest in Veronica’s face that she chooses to trust her. Humming, Cheryl stops to think for a moment.

“Probably not,” she decides. Veronica pauses, as if waiting for an explanation. None comes, so after a moment, she shrugs.

“Fair enough,” she replies, before shifting in place a little bit. “I… probably have to go. I don’t think I can get away with skipping two days in a row.”

Cheryl shrugs. “That’s fine,” she tells Veronica, watching the other girl relax a little bit out of the corner of her eye. “Besides, no offense, but I might see if I can find somewhere else to stay. No offense; I don’t want to get you into more trouble than you’re already in.”

“Cheryl, it’s fine, really-”

“Veronica,” Cheryl interrupts. “Don’t worry about it. You’ve already helped me enough, it’s okay.”

She can see that Veronica clearly wants to protest, but after a few moments, she just sighs, giving in. “If you’re sure,” she says, and Cheryl nods.

Not too long after that, they start getting ready for bed. Pajamas are the one thing that she and Veronica had managed to forget at the mall, so she borrows a shirt and a pair of soft shorts from the other girl before they climb into bed. Veronica’s bed is big, enough so that when they each curl up on one side, there’s plenty of space in between them. Still, Cheryl can’t help but be reminded of the sleepover she’d had with the River Vixens right before her mother had shipped her away. How she and Toni had laid there, staring up at the ceiling. The way Toni had looked at her, how all she could think was this isn’t close enough. How they’d almost kissed.

God, Cheryl thinks, everything is such a mess.

On the other side of the bed, she can hear Veronica’s breathing even out, and when she glances over, the other girl is clearly out, relaxed against the mattress and curled up on her side, back to the other girl in the bed. Cheryl stares at her for a second, before she sighs, reaching for the phone on the nightstand.

 

You > Sweet Pea ; 10:04 PM
Remember when you asked if I needed anything?

 

Sweet Pea > You ; 10:05 PM
whats up?

 

You > Sweet Pea ; 10:05 PM
Do you have somewhere I can stay tomorrow night?

 

Sweet Pea > You ; 10:06 PM
consider it done.

 

You > Sweet Pea ; 10:07 PM

Thank you.

 

Despite herself, her lips tug up at the corners, and she sets the phone back down on the nightstand, settling into the pillows once again. A couple of minutes pass, during which Cheryl tries to fall back asleep, before a soft ping! fills the quiet of the room. When her eyes crack open, the device is lighting up in the darkness, and she reaches for it.

 

Sweet Pea > You ; 10:11 PM

r u going to school tomorrow?

 

You > Sweet Pea ; 10:11 PM

No, why?

 

Sweet Pea > You ; 10:12 PM

fangs nd i r ditching. going to check out the sisters, do u wanna come to the wyrm???

 

Cheryl pauses. Something about the offer resonates in her chest. Maybe it’s her want to find Toni, maybe it’s the odd way Sweet Pea’s made her feel almost… included, by giving her the chance to come to the bar, but she finds that she wants to.

Odd, considering that earlier today, she was having trouble with the idea of even stepping foot into the White Wyrm, caught up in the idea of bodies in the basement, the horrors of her past.

After a moment of consideration, her mind is made up, and she types out a reply.

 

You > Sweet Pea ; 10:13 PM

Yes.

 

-

The next morning, Veronica needles Cheryl into eating a full breakfast before they head out for the morning. Hermione and Hiram Lodge both hover around the apartment in the morning, to the point where Veronica begins to get noticeably frustrated,

“Can you two calm down?” She bites, glancing at her parents over her shoulders. “Don’t worry, you’ve already driven her out, she’s leaving. You can stop watching us.”

“We’re just worried, mija,” her father says, but she only rolls her eyes and brushes them off.

Archie, their ride, shows up shortly after that. Together, Veronica and Cheryl pack the exploits of their shopping adventure from the day before into a duffel bag.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay here?” Veronica asks again. “I know my parents are… my parents, but…”

“I’ll be fine,” Cheryl replies, doing her best to keep her tone at least somewhat lofty. If she’s being honest with herself, she already feels a little uncomfortable accepting anymore help from Veronica. Maybe that doesn’t justify a self-imposed exile to the Southside, persay, but she’s working with what she’s got.

The car ride with Archie is… a little awkward, in the end, and the redhead fumbles over his words a couple times trying to speak to her. Eventually, they settle into relative silence, but she can’t help noticing the way he seems to tense up as they drive over the border between the northern and southern sides of Riverdale.

When he pulls up outside the White Wyrm, gripping the steering wheel like it’s his lifeline, Cheryl can see both Sweet Pea and Fangs leaning against the side of the bar. She’s quick to thank the redheaded boy, eager to climb ou of the car, but Veronica cranes back in her seat and wraps a hand around Cheryl’s wrist.

“If you need anything, anything, call me,” she says, something empathetic and earnest in her eyes. “I mean it.”

Cheryl nods, and with that, Veronica releases her. Bidding them both one last goodbye, the youngest Blossom slides out from the backseat, grabbing the duffel bag on her way. As she makes her way over to Sweet Pea and Fangs, the car hesitates, before peeling out of there faster than Cheryl’s even known Archie to drive before. Judging by the look on the two teenage Serpent’s faces, they aren’t all that sad to see him go.

“That your stuff?” Sweet Pea asks, nodding down to the bag dangling from Cheryl’s grip. She nods, finding herself unable to speak.

“You can stash it in the back of the Wyrm,” he continues. “Follow me, I’ll show you where.”

Stepping inside the bar isn’t as hard as it was the first time, and she trails after Sweet Pea as he leads her inside, weaving a path between tables and through the door behind the bar. Fangs accompanies them, a few paces behind Cheryl, as they step into the back room.

It’s fairly sparse, a couple of couches and chairs, a coffee table or two. In the far corner, there’s a desk with an older computer on top, and what seems to be an aged printer beside it. At Sweet Pea’s instruction, Cheryl drops her stuff in the corner, next to another bag. It’s a little bigger than hers, in a khaki green sort of military style. On the side, there’s two patches sewn on. Each one is a letter, the same letter, and is presumably a pair of initials.

T.T.

The boys must notice her staring at it, and Sweet Pea coughs to clear his throat. “It’s, uh… it’s Toni’s,’ he says, clearly understanding what’s on Cheryl’s mind. “She leaves it here so she has things to wear when she crashes here.”

“When she crashes here?” Cheryl repeats, the first words she’s said since she stepped out of Archie’s car.

“Toni’s uncle locks her out sometimes,” he explains. “A lot, actually. He’s kind of a dick like that.”

Cheryl blinks several times, glancing back down at the bag on the floor as what he says starts to register. Behind her, Fangs huffs.

“Asshole probably hasn’t even noticed she’s missing yet,” he mutters, and she can hear just how bitter about it he feels in his voice. It resonates in her chest, and she finds herself a little angry. Toni is one of the best people she knows, probably the best, and the idea that her own family would lock her out at night is infuriating for Cheryl.

Sweet Pea clears his throat again, snapping Cheryl out of her thoughts. “Anyway,” he continues. “The plan is to head over to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. Some of us are going to go inside, pull some of our usual Serpent tricks, and get them to cough up Toni. There’s no guarantee it’ll work, but if it does…”

“We get Toni back,” Fangs finishes.

“That’s the hope,” Sweet Pea adds. “Or, at the very least, we show them that Serpents aren’t somebody you want to mess around with.”

“I want to come with,” Cheryl demands, and Sweet Pea’s brow furrows together.

“Yeah, you can,” he says. “That’s why you’re here-”

“No, inside,” she interjects, and both boys go from confused to protesting.

“That’s not-”

“No way-”

“You two get to go inside,” she huffs, folding her arms over her chest. “Why can’t I?”

“First of all, Fangs isn’t even going inside,” Sweet Pea explains. “He’s part of the group waiting outside, in case we need back up. And second, you aren’t a Serpent.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“It means that you shouldn’t be put in danger if it’s not necessary,” Fangs tells her. “We’re obligated to this. Not just because we’re Toni’s friends, but because we’re family. We took an oath to protect each other, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

“And, if anything happens to you, Toni will personally murder us,” Sweet Pea throws in. “Believe me, she might be all sweet and lovestruck with you, but she could eviscerate us in a heartbeat.”

Fangs nods, and if Cheryl didn’t feel so indignant about the whole thing, she’d probably laugh. Instead, she just sighs, giving in.

“Fine,” she agrees. “But I’m still coming with.”

“As you wish,” Sweet Pea says with a shrug, before something seems to register with him. For the first time since Toni’s gone missing, she sees a smile creep up on his face.

“Tell me, Red, you ever rode on a motorcycle?”

-

The answer, of course, was no. However, that didn’t last very long, because in order to get to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, Cheryl had to catch a ride with one of the boys, both of whom were taking their bikes.

Which, twenty minutes later, is how she finds herself on the back of Sweet Pea’s motorcycle, her arms around his waist and the wind rushing past them.

She’s loathe to admit it, but it’s not nearly as bad as she thought it would be. It’s kind of freeing, with the air whipping by them. And there’s something comforting, a feeling that almost tastes familiar, about riding with a pack of bikes. When she looks to her left, she can see Fangs breezing down the road. F.P. rides on her other side, no helmet on his head, and in front of her, Cheryl can see the Serpent staring back at her from everyone’s jackets.

A quiet, often ignored part of her, whispers that she could get used to this.

When the Sisters of Quiet Mercy appears in the distance,  Cheryl feels the nerves jump back into her stomach. She didn’t think she’d be coming back to this place so soon. A part of her hoped that she would never have to see it again, but here she was anyone, of her own volition.

F.P. pulled his bike to a stop on the side of the road by the bus stop, the rest of the Serpents following suit. When Sweet Pea cut his engine, she climbed off the motorcycle with as much grace as she could manage in the moment, trying to dust herself off. If they had been anywhere else, he likely would have made some stupid joke, a smug grin on his face, as she would have fired back with something snarky in reply. Instead, they both stare up at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, just up ahead.

“Alright, Serpents,” F.P. started, drawing all the attention to himself. “Everyone aware of the plan, or do we need to go over it again?”

Cheryl is, in fact, only half aware of the plan, but she doesn’t speak up. Instead, she lets the Serpents split off into groups. Sweet Pea offers her one last look over his shoulder before he turns away and, with the rest of the first group, stalks up to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy.

“This is going to work,” Fangs assures her, but she isn’t sure if he’s saying it for her or for himself. Either way, she takes his words and tries to hold on to him.

Three minutes pass. Then four, then five. After that, five turns into ten, and ten turns into fifteen. Logically, Cheryl knows that this will take time, that they aren’t going to march inside, and then waltz back out with Toni right away, but her stomach still churns, and she feels incredibly on edge. So much so that when the sound of another motorcycle approaches, she almost jumps, having not even noticed the sound until it had grown into a roar.

When she glances in the direction of the sound, she sees Jughead speeding towards them on his bike. Behind him is a slim figure, a helmet over their head, but she’d bet good money that it’s Betty. She’s proven right when they pull to a stop and they both jump off, the blonde tugging the helmet off her head to reveal wide eyes.

“Got a good reason to be speeding over here, Jones?” Someone asks.

“Yeah,” he says, a little breathless. “We found something out about the Sisters.”

“What?”

“The Sisters do conversion therapy in the basement,” Betty says, all her words coming in a rush. Cheryl can see from look on Fangs’ face beside her, he knows exactly the kind of therapy Betty’s talking about. Unlike Jughead and Betty, however, both of them too caught up in the discovery to put the pieces together, he glances over at Cheryl, and she can tell from the look on her face that, all of a sudden, he understands why she was there.

“Conversion therapy?” One of the older Serpents repeats, obviously a little confused.

“It’s ‘therapy’ to try and brainwash gay kids into being straight,” Jughead explains. “But we could use it against them. We can threaten to go to the Sheriff with what we know if they won’t turn over Toni. Conversion therapy, in it’s vaguest sense, is legal. But according to what we’ve found, the way the sisters do it involves drugs, and needles, and near on torture, which isn’t nearly as legal as they make it sound. Especially since most of their patients are minors, opening them up to possible accusations of child abuse.”

“That won’t help.”

Both Betty and Jughead swirl around to look at Cheryl when she speaks. “Why not?” Betty asks.

“They aren’t afraid of the Sheriff, not anymore,” she answers. “There’s nothing he can do about it.”

“How do you know that?” Jughead demands, clearly a little frustrated.

“Sheriff Keller already investigated them for it, and everything came up clean,” Cheryl replies. “Their records lined up, their files were clear, and there was nothing he could do.”

All of Betty’s enthusiasm seems to dissipate, but Jughead only tilts his head, staring at her. “How do you know this?” He asks,  less accusing and more curious.

“He looked into it because Kevin, Veronica, and I asked him to,” she admits, turning her chin up to meet his gaze even as something in her chest cracks. “Because that’s why my mother sent me to the Sisters in the first place. And you’re right, it’s not legal. I knelt on rice for hours, repeating bible verses, and when I got them wrong, they thumped me on the back with the damned book and made me start over. I carried sandbags across the basement for hours, stacked them in corners over and over only to have to move them all again. They forced me to throw up meals, forced me to take whatever drugs they pumped through me. I barely ate. I slept even less.

And when the sheriff came, when the police searched the entire building, they didn’t find anything. The records were clean, their money wasn’t dirty. Everything seemed right as rain. There wasn’t anything he could do.

“So no,” she finishes. “The Sisters aren’t scared of what we know.”

There’s a long, stunned silence. Cousin Betty looks almost physically pained, and her eyes almost seem to water. Some of the other Serpents, the ones she doesn’t know by name, are stunned into silence. But Cheryl only stares at Jughead, who stares right back. She’s used to seeing indiginance in his eyes. Or anger. Or even pity, that day at Sweetwater River. Now, though, she only sees understanding.

(For the first time in their lives, Jughead Jones understands Cheryl Blossom. The world might as well explode.)

Her jaw clenches, and tears churn below the surface. She doesn’t give in, though, keeps her jaw tipped up and her hands curled into fists into her pockets.

Jughead takes a step towards her, something hard flashing in his eyes. “We will get Toni back,” he tells her. “And then we will burn this place to the ground, whatever it takes. I swear it to you.”

Cheryl opens her mouth to respond, to say something, but what, she isn’t sure. It doesn’t matter in the end, because the sound of police sirens start up in the distant. Right away, all the Serpents seem to be on alert.

“What do we do?” Betty asks, “Do we run?”

“Not while there’s still Serpents inside,” Fangs replies. “We stand together, no matter what.”

Within moments, they can see the cop cars approaching, three of them. They all come to a screeching halt outside the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, and the officers begin to climb out. Among them is Sheriff Keller, and he glances over at Cheryl. She can’t tell if it’s disappointment in his eyes or not, but either way, she only meets his gaze until he looks away. One or two of the cops throw them dirty looks before they turn away, clearly more concerned with what’s going on inside than the group gathered by the bus station.

They didn’t have to wait long for the police to reappear, all but dragging out the rest of the Serpents. Even from where she was standing, she could see the anger playing out on Sweet Pea’s face as one of the officers shoved him. Several of them wear sneers, and a few of them bristle, but they allow themselves to be escorted to away from the building and to the bus stop, where the other half of their members wait with their bikes.

“Don’t come back here,” Sheriff Keller threatens, eyes sweeping over a few of the men gathered before they come to rest on Cheryl. “Next time, arrests will be made.”

One of the men shoves at Sweet Pea, and he snarls even as he stumbles into Fangs. She can feel the frustration and anger rolling off of him in waves, even as the police climb back into their cruisers and drive off, sirens silenced.

As Cheryl glances around, she can tell immediately that Toni isn’t with them, and she isn’t going to be coming out after them. Along with the irritation, there’s also an intense feeling of disappointment in the air.

“You don’t have her,” Cheryl states, and F.P. shakes his head.

“They don’t have her,” he informs her. “Not anymore.”

“They don’t have her?” Jughead asks.

“No,” Sweet Pea hisses. “They got rid of her. Said they pawned her off.”

“Pawned her off?” Betty repeats.

“To who?” Cheryl demands. Both Sweet Pea and F.P. turn to her, regret in their eyes.

“We don’t know.”

(Something inside Cheryl’s chest cracks.)

Chapter Text

The revelation, for a moment, sucks out all the air in the space between them. Nobody moves, nobody speaks, nobody breathes. And then-

“How do we not know?”

“The Sisters called the cops when we stormed in,” Sweet Pea explains. “We tried to get what we could out of them, but all we could get them to admit before the police charged in was that they got rid of Toni.”

“What does ‘get rid of’ mean?” Jughead asks.

“She’s not dead,” F.P. assures him. “They said they handed her off to someone else alive. The Sisters may be pretty messed up, but they aren’t that messed up.”

“Okay,” Cheryl says, folding her arms over her chest and digging her nails into her skin. “So what do we do now?”

“We have to find Toni,” Fangs replies. “She has to be somewhere in Riverdale, right?”

“Or Greendale,” Jughead sighs. “Or maybe even Centreville. God.”

“We’re going to find her,” F.P. states. “But right now, we need to head back to the Wyrm and regroup. The last thing we need is for them to call the police on us again for trespassing.”

From there, they all climb back onto their motorcycles and start to take off for the bar. Sweet Pea, Fangs, and Jughead all clap each other on the shoulder before splitting apart.

“Ready?” Sweet Pea asks, turning to Cheryl, as if she isn’t ready to drive away from this nightmare place. Arms still crossed, she gives a sharp nod. He takes that as an answer enough, jerking his head towards his bike. She follows after him, swinging one leg over the vehicle and settling in behind him.

(Months ago, even weeks ago, she would have never seen herself getting on one of these. If you’d even suggested it, she probably would have laughed right in your face.

But Toni happened, and then the Sisters. Cheryl wasn’t the same person she used to be.

She might never be again.)

They ride back to the White Wyrm, this time with Betty and Jughead trailing behind them. The former was once again wearing a helmet, and peeking out of the bottom, Cheryl could see the blonde had pulled her long hair back into a low ponytail. In hindsight, Cheryl kind of wished she’d had the foresight to at least tie up her own locks. Instead, the whipped past her face with the wind, and the strands of red over her eyes almost made it seem like the world around her was on fire.

In a way, it felt like it was.

Considering they were near the back of the pack, Sweet Pea and Cheryl are one of the last ones to pull up, along with Jughead and Fangs. When they finally come to a stop and climb off, they can see the older Serpents gathering by the door the bar. None of them are going in, however, and are instead crowding around something out front.

Toni?

Cheryl starts for the pack, the other teenagers on her heels. When she starts to nudge through the older Serpents, they part for her, and she can see exactly what they’re all looking at.

Recognition, and a dim sense of horror, passes over Cheryl when she realizes it’s a Serpents jacket. It’s on the smaller side, clearly not meant for any of the taller men in the gang.

It’s Toni’s.

“Does this… mean?” She asks, and a deadly sort of fear churns in her stomach. She thinks, in that moment, if they have bad news for her, she might vomit.

“It doesn’t,” F.P. states, steel in his voice, as he picks it up and inspects the leather. “There’s no blood on the jacket, no threats. It’s a message. Whoever has her, they want to show us they know who she is.”

Gently, he turns it over several times, before folding it over his arm. “The Sisters have started a dangerous game,” he declares, his voice almost a growl. Cheryl takes one look at the logo on the back of the jacket, the snake staring back at her with something like a challenge in her eyes, and suddenly, she knows.

“I have to go Thistlehouse,” she says, and the moment it falls from her lips, she can see the moment it hits him. Jughead and Fangs both turn to her, questions in their eyes, but behind them, she can see understanding in the faces of Sweet Pea and Betty. Several other Serpents seem to have caught on to her line of thinking, but some of them still appear to be lost. She looks around at the crowd gathered, swallows the lump in her throat, and opens her mouth again.

“We need to talk to my mother.”

-

They take the discussion into the bar, and while everyone is quick to agree that yes, Penelope Blossom does need to be spoken to, a disagreement quickly breaks out about how.

“We could all charge in there,” Fangs suggests. “Show her we’re not a force to be messed with. Shake her down.”

“And what?” Jughead replies. “Get the cops called on us again? Do you really think Keller’s going to let us go again?”

“Who cares about Keller?” Fangs spits. “This is about Toni . We can’t just back down.”

“Jughead’s right,” Sweet Pea cuts in, and from the dim shock on everyone’s faces at his words, Cheryl can guess that him agreeing with Jughead over Fangs is not a common occurrence. “Keller was pretty clear that we won’t be getting off with just a warning again. And we won’t be of any use to Toni if we’re all sitting in a cell.”

They’re this close to an argument breaking out when F.P. silences them all. It takes a few seconds but they all quiet down, and once they have, he turns to Cheryl.

“She’s your mother,” he states. “You know her best. What should we do?”

Cheryl hums, tapping her fingers against one of the bar tables to try and create some sort of noise to fill the room. Much like yesterday, when she was explaining her escape from the Sisters, she can feel everyone watching her, the weight of their gazes bearing down on her. She doesn’t let it bother her, though, and she leans back in the chair.

“Storming in there wouldn’t work,” she says, finally. “Mother would never give anything up to a group of Serpents, even if they threatened her. And with Uncle Claudius there… there’s no telling what could go wrong.”

“So?” F.P. prompts, and Cheryl swallows.

“I have to go in alone.”

There’s less than a second of pause, before the protests start. A few of the older Serpents seem more skeptical than anything, leaving their entire plan up to a teenage girl. A few others, namely Sweet Pea and Fangs, are more concerned for Cheryl herself.

“You can’t go alone-”

“Didn’t she send you to that hellhole in the first place-”

Since when did you care? She wants to shout. Since when did anybody care? Since when did anybody besides Toni give a damn about how I felt?

(She doesn’t say any of that. Instead, she says:)

“She won’t listen to any of you. It has to be me-”

“That doesn’t mean you should go alone-”

“-And she won’t listen if any of you come in with me,” she finishes. “Though it may only be through marriage, the woman is a Blossom. The only person she will listen to, the only person she will show any semblance of respect to, is another Blossom.”

At her words, the commotion in the bar seems to settle down. Maybe it’s the hard line of her jaw, or maybe it’s what she’s said, but they seem to accept her words. Sweet Pea and Fangs, despite the fact that neither seems all that pleased, the former especially, both lean back in their seats.

“I don’t like this,” Sweet Pea says, and Cheryl shrugs, tipping her chin up.

“It’s not up to you,” she bites.

“Cheryl has a point,” F.P. cuts in, even as the younger boy seems to bristle a little bit, probably due to the amount of attitude she’s let seep into her voice. “If this is what she thinks will work best, then it’s what we’re doing.”

“Great,” Cheryl replies, but her face doesn’t change. “Let’s go, then. Who’s giving me a ride over?”

She glances over at Sweet Pea, who seems to sigh before nodding. They both turn to head for the door when F.P. speaks

“Hey now, slow down,” he interrupts, putting his hands up. “We just got back from the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, you don’t need to jump right into a confrontation with your mother. Do you even know what you’re going to say yet?”

“I am not waiting,” Cheryl fires back. “Toni could be anywhere and you want me to slow down?”

“As much as I want to agree with you, dad, Cheryl has a point,” Jughead jumps in. “The longer we wait to do anything, the longer it will be until we get Toni back.”

F.P. sighs, clearly seeing that he’s not going to be able to convince Cheryl of anything. “Fine,” he agrees. “But there’s something else.”

He clears the room out after that, shooing people out until it’s just the two of them left behind. She finds herself a little unnerved as she watches all the other Serpents dissipate, some behind the bar and some heading out front to smoke.

Once they’re alone, he reaches for Toni’s jacket, laid out of the table. The double-headed Serpent stares back at them from the patch sewn on. In big letters, somehow both imposing and elegant, is SOUTHSIDE SERPENTS .

(Cheryl has known, from the moment she first saw Toni at the drag race, that the other girl was a Serpent. She can remember, very clearly, standing with her arms crossed on one side of the hallway of Riverdale High, staring at Toni standing among the rest of the gang.

But with her, Toni was never what she pictured a Serpent to be like. She was soft, and warm, and kind. She’d held Cheryl’s hand at the will reading, had sat beside her at the dinner table after Uncle Claudius showed up. It had been Toni standing at her side when the ambulance came to take Nana to the hospital. Ever since she’d met Toni, it was her, her, her, always her.

At some point, she’d grown to separate both pieces of Toni. There was Serpent Toni, and there was Cheryl’s Toni. But now, here, staring at this snake that seems to meet her gaze, almost challenging, she gets it. There aren’t two different Tonis, because they’re one in the same. Serpent Toni has always been Cheryl’s Toni.)

F.P. reaches out and places the Serpent in her hands. The leather is still firm under her grip, in good condition, but it’s a little worn. Months ago, maybe even weeks ago, she would have never held this jacket, not with such reverence. Now, she only clutches tight, glances up at F.P. with wide eyes.

“If somebody has to hold onto it for now, she’d want it to be you,” he tells her. She doesn’t reply, too caught up in drawing circles on the fabric with her thumbs. When she finally looks up at him, there’s a silent question in her eyes. In response, he nods once, and Cheryl swallows before slipping her arms into the sleeves.

The jacket is warm when she slips it over her shoulders. She’s worn leather before, but never like this. It’s warm, fitting, and oh, it still smells like Toni. An unexpected flash of emotion hits her as she rolls her shoulders, shifting.

Once it’s settled over her back, she takes a deep breath in and turns back to F.P.

“I know Penelope is a righteous bitch, and always has been,” he says, folding his arms over his chest. “But I don’t doubt that you’re stronger than you think.”

She raises an eyebrow, and he laughs a little, a low sound. “Toni has a thing for strong women,” he informs her, as if he’s letting her in on a secret. It takes a moment for his words to register, but once it does, her cheeks grow a little warm, and she’s quick to change the subject.

“I’m wearing this,” she states, very matter-of-fact. “To my mother’s.”

She’s not asking permission, but there’s a little bit of relief that sinks into her bones when he offers her half of a grin. “Give her hell,” he tells her.

She nods, and he returns the gesture. There’s a fraction of a second where Cheryl hesitates, before she walks away.

Shrugging the jacket further up her shoulders, she shoves open the doors to the White Wyrm and strides out, heading right for Sweet Pea. He doesn’t seem all that surprised to see the leather on her, but his lip quirks up at the corner.

“Ready?” He asks.

“Ready?” She replies.

(If bringing hell to the doorstep of Thistlehouse it what it takes to get Toni back, she’ll do it. In a heartbeat.)

Chapter Text

The air seems to go deadly still when Sweet Pea shuts off his bike in front of Thistlehouse. For a moment, neither of them seems to have the will to move; Cheryl doesn’t even unwrap her arms from around SP’s waist.

After a second or two, however, she exhales, releasing the breath held in her lungs, and begins to pull herself up onto her feet. Sweet Pea climbs off next to her.

“You’re ready for this?” He asks, like he hadn’t asked her before they’d left. She sighs.

“I have to be,” she replies.
“Still, you don’t have to go in alone-”

“I think we both know that I do,” she interrupts, and he falls silent, knowing she’s right. He huffs, once, before leaning back against his bike. Bracing herself, she turns towards the house and starts up the walk.

She knows there’s no use in announcing herself or calling out. Her mother must have surely heard Sweet Pea’s motorcycle roaring up the driveway. There’s no way they don’t know she’s here, so she simply pushes the door open and strides right inside.

Finding her mother isn’t all that hard. Despite the massive size of Thistlehouse, Penelope is predictable, and usually prefers to stick the several of the rooms on the first floor near the entrance, unless she’s in her bedroom. Cheryl only has to look around for a minute or two before she finds her mother sitting on the couch in one of the parlors. The same parlor, of course, where her mother had stared her in the eyes and tried to tear her apart.

(-jealous, spite-filled, emotional anorexic-)

“Hello, mummy,” she greets, leaning against the doorway with her arms folded over her chest. The woman doesn’t seem at all surprised to see her, simply lifts her head up from where she’s sat on the couch, sets down the glass she’s holding, the content of which is most certainly wine.

“Cheryl,” her mother deadpans. “I’d heard of your dramatic escape from the Sisters. I was wondering when you’d decided to make your grand re-entrance.”

Cheryl huffs a laugh: quiet, but bitter. “See, the Sisters. That’s actually the thing I wanted to talk to you about.”

Her mother arches an eyebrow. “So, that’s why you’ve finally decided to come home?” She asks. “You tear up on the back of a motorcycle so we can talk?”

“I’m not just here to talk, actually,” Cheryl corrects. “I’m here for information. About Toni.”

“That Serpent girl? What about her?”

“The Sisters told me they gave her away,” she hisses. “That they ‘pawned her off’. Sounds exactly like something you would say, doesn’t it, mummy?”

Penelope scoffs, rolling her eyes. “I don’t have her,” she says, shrugging. “I don’t know what you want me to say. I simply don’t have enough interest in your scummy little lover to hold her captive.”

“You had enough to send me to the Sisters,” Cheryl spits, and her mother actually laughs. The woman has the audacity to laugh out loud.

“Oh, Cheryl,” she murmurs, and her voice has a sickening level of sweetness to it. “I sent you there, not that girl. In fact, I didn’t even tell that snake where you were, your nana did. Why would I be bothered to try and get rid of her? I know you, Cheryl. You didn’t care about her, you cared about what she was. A girl, a serpent, someone who would get under my skin. Why would I put effort into getting rid of her when I knew you’d just find another one to rub in my face?”

Cheryl’s hands curl into fists. “You don’t know anything,” she hisses. “Not about me, not about Toni, and you don’t know anything about how I feel.”

She gets no reaction. Penelope’s face, as usual, stays impassive, unreadable. She almost wishes in that moment that she was a more physically violent type of person, just so she could have the satisfaction of throwing one good punch into the woman’s jaw. Instead, she steels her shoulders and continues.

“I know the Sisters had to have notified you about what happened,” she accuses. “With all the money you gave them to keep me there? I know they wouldn’t have left you in the dark about the fact that I’d escaped. And if they’d told you that, then they must have let you know they had Toni.”

She pauses, giving her mother a chance to respond, and she doesn’t say anything, Cheryl only becomes more frustrated. “Well?” She prompts, leaning in.

Her mother shifts in her seat, and when she locks up at Cheryl, something in her eyes flickers. Not quite excitement, but more… interest.

“Do you really want to know what I know?” Penelope asks, and when she leans in, she seems more interested than she has since Cheryl’s walked in the door. “What would you give for it?”

Cheryl grits her teeth. “Anything.”

Her mother laughs. “Pathetic,” she mocks. “You really do care for this snake. Do you think she cares about you, really? Do you think this is worth it?”

Cheryl opens her mouth to argue, anger seeping into her bones, but her mother raises one finger in the air. “You were right,” she continues. “The Sisters did notify me. They also asked me about what… should be done with that Serpent of yours, and if I would like her. They wanted to be rid of her in case the police came back to do more digging. I told them I had no real desire to have in my possession.”

“But?” Cheryl presses.

“But I did mention that the a few different groups might have a particular interest in her,” she finishes, in a way that makes Cheryl’s blood freeze. “I informed them that the serpent on her back could make her quite valuable to people who might want something from her precious little gang.”

“People like who?” Cheryl demanded, and her mother’s lips curled into a deadly sort of grin.

“The Ghoulies.”

(For a second, she forgets that Jason is dead. She forgets, because her heart whispers this is the worst thing that could happen, will ever happen to you.

But then she remembers, and the world kicks into place, because as awful as this is, it is not the worst thing that has ever happened to her. This is just another addition onto the long, long list of terrible things that have occurred into her lifetime.

That damn tainted Blossom blood.)

Cheryl’s heart jumps into her throat, her pulse taking off like a racehorse. There’s an overwhelming urge to cry that creeps up on her. Instead, she sneers. “Dealing with gangs was always Daddy’s game, mummy,” she spits, and Penelope manages the most uptight shrug Cheryl has ever seen.

“Desperate times,” her mother replies. “Now, are we done here? Are you satisfied?”

“Am I satisfied?” Cheryl repeats, gritting her teeth. “No. I won’t be satisfied until Toni is safe. But yes, we’re done. I’m done.”

The woman doesn’t dignify that with a response, and Cheryl takes that as her cue to leave. In the doorway, however, she pauses, one hand on the frame, and she glances back at her mother over her shoulder. “I’ll be back,” she warns. “ With Toni. And I swear, if Nana’s been harmed in any way, if you’ve done anything to hurt even a hair on her head, you will live to regret it for the rest of your days. However short those days would be.”

Before Penelope can respond, Cheryl stalks away, pulling the door behind her. It all but slams in her wake, and the noise draws the attention of Sweet Pea, leaning against his bike in the driveway. He jumps up when he notices her storming towards him.

“What?” He asks, likely when he notices the way she’s digging her fingernails into her arms, or grinding her teeth together. “What happened? Did you find out where she is?”

“No, but I know who has her,” she spits, the fury she was trying to hold down finally rising to the surface. “The Ghoulies.”

“The Ghoulies?” He repeats, incredulous. His face quickly changes from surprise to anger and, frustrated, he turns on his heels and kicks at his bike. The helmet balanced on the seat topples to the ground, but Sweet Pea pays it no mind, one hand clenching into a fist while the other grabs at his own hair.

She backs up, gives him his space. For a few moments, she can see him rage, albeit it quietly and to himself, before he seems to regain some composure. His shoulders slump, and his arms drop down to his sides, fingers relaxing.

“I- this is- not great,” he says, after a while, voice coming out in an exhale. “This isn’t great, but we can- we can work with this. We know where she is, we can work with this.”

“We can work with this,” Cheryl repeats, more to placate and calm him more than anything else. The adrenaline from confronting her mother is still thumping through her veins, and her thoughts feel sharp and clear, untinged by the panic that’s sure to set in soon enough.

“We need to tell the others,” she says, interrupting how clearly shaken Sweet Pea still is. He looks u at her, and it seems to register on him what she’s saying.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “You’re right. You’re right.”

It takes a few more moments for both of them to settle, the two of them climbing back on the bike and setting off. The longer they drive and the closer they get the White Wyrm, the more Cheryl can feel the horror starting to dawn on her, the pieces connecting together in her head.

Toni’s a Serpent. The Serpents are a gang. The Ghoulies are a gang, a violent and ruthless gang that used to do dealings with her father, and the Serpents and the Ghoulies hate each other.

Oh my God, Toni’s being held by a rival gang, some of the craziest people in this messed up town.

She swallows, hard, and clutches a little tighter to SP’s waist. If he notices, he doesn’t say anything, not that it’s really easy or ideal to make conversation on a motorcycle.

When they finally arrive at the Wyrm, there’s a row of bikes lined up outside, and a few Serpents smoking outside. A couple glance up when the two of them roll in, and when they notice who it is, they nudge each other until everyone’s watching, and one makes his way inside the bar. By the time Cheryl and Sweet Pea are off the bike and have gotten to their feet, FP himself is already coming out to meet them, and several other people are trailing behind him, the most notable of which are Fangs and Jughead.

“How did it go?” FP asks, and although he’s gruff, there’s something like concern in his voice. Somehow, as her head starts to fill with panic, that only makes Cheryl feel worse.

Sweet Pea, obviously still frustrated, huffs. “We know where she is,” he answers. “The Ghoulies have her.”

Jughead and Fangs both go wide-eyed, but for a moment, FP doesn’t react. Then, his eyes seem to flash, first with shock, and then with anger.

“The Ghoulies have her?” He repeats, voice raising. “How the hell did the Ghoulies get their grip on her?”

“Mummy Dearest tipped off the Sisters, told them to pawn Toni off to the Ghoulies,” Cheryl bites, crossing her arms over her chest and tipping her chin up, clenching her jaw.

(If she focuses on being angry, it almost feels productive, like she can do something with it. At the very least, focusing on being angry keeps her thoughts from spiraling, keeps her from losing it then and there.)

Silence falls over them for a long second, before Fangs speaks. “What do we do?” He asks, and he sounds almost scared.

FP doesn’t answer for a moment, before he curses, loudly, and kicks the wall of the bar hard enough the Cheryl winces, sure the man must have hurt himself. He seems unphased, however, and simply curses again, running a hand through his hair.

“Dad?” Jughead prompts, after another moment or two of waiting for the man to do something. “What do we do?”

FP looks up, and his brown eyes seem almost black.

“Whatever we have to do to get her back.”

Chapter Text

“Where do we go from here?”

This is Sweet Pea’s question, once all of the Serpents have gathered in the bar after he and Cheryl have returned from Thistlehouse. It’s much like the first time, after Cheryl, Kevin, and Veronica came charging in after rescuing the redhead from the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. Only this time, there’s far more agitation and anger in the air. Sweets has been pacing back and forth between the tables, while Jughead sits at one with his hands firmly clasped together on the wood, grip so tight that his knuckles are white. And this time, Cheryl doesn’t have Veronica or Kevin by her side, and even if they aren’t that close, having someone else here, someone that wasn’t a Serpent, like her, would be at least some comfort.

FP doesn’t say anything for a second, only taps his fingers on the edge of the bar he’s leant against. His face is still etched into a hard scowl, lines in his forehead and his jaw a sharp line.

“We get her back,” he answers.

“How?” Fangs blurts, and immediately seems to regret it the second the other man turns his eyes on him.

“However we have to,” FP bites, and after a second, slams his hand down on the bartop with a swear,

“Alright, Moth, Byrdie,” he calls out, and both the named Serpents look up, already serious and at attention.

“I want you combing the edge of Ghoulie turf,” he orders. “Troll the edge of their hotspots, do some digging. Moth, I know you’ve got some contacts, Ghoulies that are willing to spill for things the right price. Find them, find that price, get something out of them, alright?”

Both men nod, and after a moment, FP gestures pointedly at the door, prompting them both to climb to their feet and head out, Byrdie grabbing his jacket from where it was slung over the back of the chair.

“Fangs, Cricket,” FP calls. Fangs nearly trips over himself to get up when he hears his name, and from the other side of the bar, a short boy with messy hair seems to straighten up, pay a little more notice. Cheryl only recognizes him vaguely, hasn’t spoken to him before, but it’s safe to assume that this is the Cricket that’s being spoken to.

“Do some snooping of your own. You went to school with the younger Ghoulies. They’re dumber, more vulnerable. See what you can get out of them.”

Fangs and Cricket both start for the door, when FP calls out after them.

“Whatever force you may have to use,” he adds. “Do it. Just be smart about it, and if you get in too deep, call for backup.”

Cheryl sits in her chair, toying with her thumbs, while FP continues to pass out assignments. Slowly, different Serpents begin to file out, some in pursuit of Toni, some to take care of other business, until it’s just her left alone in the bar with FP and Sweet Pea.

“What about us?” The latter asks.

FP seems to consider the two of them for a moment before deciding. “Take Cheryl home,” he says, finally. At the way she seems to stiffen, he continues. “Back to your trailer, I mean. Let her shower, feed her some food.”

“I’m right here,” Cheryl interrupts, a little put off by the way they’re talking about her like she isn’t right in front of them. “And I can take care of myself.”

“Well, you at least need a place to take care of yourself at,” FP interjects, before Cheryl can get herself any sort of fired up about it. She huffs, ready to protest, before FP starts to shoo them both out of the door. She considers arguing anyway, but she’s beginning to realize not only how panicking this whole ordeal has been, but how tired she feels, how drained. Instead of fighting, she follows Sweet Pea to the back room of the bar to grab her bag, before following him out to his bike.

The ride from the bar to SP’s trailer is quick. Things in the Southside tend to be close together, and considering that the Wyrm is a fairly central location for this side of town, it’s not too far from anything. So after less than ten minutes or so, when they pull into the rundown drive of a trailer in Sunnyside Park, Cheryl doesn’t expect to be surprised.

And yet, she is.

Logically, she’s always known that the Trailer Park was here in the Southside. And it’s not like she’s spent her whole life living under a rock. She knows what a trailer park is, knows what it looks like, but seeing one in person? It’s different. Rows and rows of trailers with dingy white siding dot the park. Several of them hae motorcycles parked around them, and there are bicycles outside of a couple of them. Even from the outside, she can tell some of them are kept up better than others, but even the nicest ones, well… they’re still trailers, and for someone who’s spent her whole life growing up in the lap of the luxuriously rich, it’s almost like a shock to her system.

(It reminds her that, even with all the hardships that’ve happened to her, she was still privileged enough to grow up with money. Yes, there have been horrible things that’ve happened to her, but still.

She could’ve had it worse.)

“This is me,” Sweet Pea says, helping Cheryl onto her feet and grabbing the duffel bag from her. She follows after him as he pulls the keys out from the ignition of his bike, and uses the another key from the same ring to unlock his door. The lock clicks and the hinges of the door creak when he pushes it open, but he pays it no mind as he steps inside, Cheryl behind him.

“Home sweet home,” he remarks, setting her duffel bag down on the couch. He seems to go from cavalier to something almost nervous as he turns back to her. “I know it isn’t much, but… Southside earnings, you know?”

“I know,” she replies, even if she doesn’t know, not really. If her statement bothers him, however, he doesn’t say anything, only leads her further into the trailer.

Even if Sweet Pea says it isn’t much, it’s more than Cheryl was expecting, if she’s honest. Trailers are small, yes, but something about the way the space is being used makes it seem so much bigger. There’s a painting or two hanging up on the pale wallpaper, and muted teal curtains patterned with gray and pink leaves. The couch, while clearly on the older side, is still peach and plush, and there’s a fraying rug in the center of the room. It’s nothing like any room Cheryl would ever see in Thistlehouse, would’ve ever seen in Thornhill.

That’s probably why she likes it so much.

When he looks over and notices Cheryl looking around. Sweet Pea seems to tense. “I know it’s probably nothing as nice as you’re used to,” he mumbles.

“No, no, it’s… nice,” she replies, feeling almost nervous. “It’s nice, really, it’s just…”

She trails off, and Sweet Pea turns to face her, one eyebrow arched. “It’s just?” He repeats.

“I’m not used to houses feeling… well, like homes,” she admits. The second after it slips from her mouth, she almost wants to take it back, as if she just let something slip she didn’t mean to, like she just gave Sweet Pea a tiny piece of herself that she can’t take back.

He blinks once at her, before taking it in stride. “Well, regardless, welcome to my place,” he says. “It’s just me and mom here, and she works a lot, so… just make yourself at home.”

“She won’t mind me staying here? I mean, I’m… a Blossom, after all.”

“Jeez, ever let your reputation get to your head?” Sweet Pea teases, before he waves her off. “But nah, my mom won’t mind. She’s good like that. Besides, she adores Toni, at the very least, so-”

He cuts himself off when he realizes what he’s just said, and any semblance of happiness in his face drains away as he remembers exactly their situation. Cheryl sinks down onto the couch beside her bag as he leans against the counter of his kitchen with a sigh.

“How did we get here?” He mumbles.

“It’s my fault,” Cheryl whispers, surprising herself. Suddenly, she finds herself unable to even look up at him, let alone meet his gaze.

“It’s not,” he replies, but she shrugs.

“Isn’t it, though?” She bites. The words come out harsher than she means, and she takes a deep breath before calming herself down. “Toni got tangled up in this because of me, she was there to rescue me. This was my mess that she was dragged into, and that’s why she’s in danger. That’s how we got here. Because of me.”

“Hey,” Sweet Pea cuts in, and his voice is gentle, moreso than she’s ever heard from the usually tough Serpent. It’s enough to get her to look up, and when she meets his eyes, there’s understanding in them.

“You can’t blame yourself for this.” he tells her. “None of this is your fault because you didn’t ask for any of this. You didn’t create any of this. Your mother sent you there; that was her choice. The Sisters kept you there, that was their choice. And coming to rescue you? That was Toni’s choice.”

“She chose that-”

“Because she is reckless and stupid and brave,” he interrupts. “And yes, she did it because she cares about you. There’s no doubt about it. But she chose to do it. You didn’t force her to, didn’t tell her to, didn’t even ask. Coming to rescue you was Toni’s choice. She knew there were risks, and she decided it was worth it, but you can’t blame yourself for that.”

She swallows, hard, at the sheer earnesty in his eyes, because there’s something so damn believable about the way he says it. Maybe it’s what he said, who he is, or a combination of the two, but either way, Cheryl finds that, in that moment, she believes him.

“Okay,” she agrees. “So now what?”

“Now?” He repeats. “We get dinner.”

She blinks, but he only begins to rummage through the cabinets, pulling out pots and cans and a loaf of bread. It takes him pulling out a pack of sliced, processed cheese for her to release what he’s making.

“Is grilled cheese and soup alright?” He asks. She nods, deciding not to mention that the last time she ate grilled cheese was more than a year ago, and said grilled cheese was not only made by the chef her family kept on retainer, but it also contained ham, apple, and arugula.

Sweet Pea gets to work right away, and after a moment of hesitation, Cheryl gets up and crosses the minute distance from the living room to the kitchen. When she was a little bit younger, maybe eleven or twelve, Cheryl used to love watching the chef cook, fascinated with the way she was able to make such delicious things from ingredients that could seem so basic.

(And, looking back, maybe she was also fascinated the woman herself, watching her work with her hands, the way she was so gentle, yet confident, with every move she made.

It didn’t hurt that she was beautiful, either.)

“Do you need any help?” She offers. He glances over at her for a moment, considering her, before he passes over the bread and the butter, along with a knife.

“Can you butter these?” He asks, and she nods.

They work in relative silence, and the closer they get to being done, the more Cheryl starts to realize just how hungry she is. By the time she’s sat down on the couch with two sandwiches in front of her, she’s ready to devour them in two bites each. Still, even despite her hunger, she still has most of her wits about her, so she takes her time eating them. She’s just finished her first one when the door to the trailer opens, and an older woman steps inside.

Right away, she can tell this is Sweet Pea’s mother. They have the same dark hair and round lips, and and the same brown, almond-shaped eyes. There’s differences, too, however, like that face that she stands several inches shorter than where her son does, and that her skin is a few shades darker than his.

She’s tired, obviously, dropping her bag and kicking her shoes off by the door. At first, she doesn’t even seem to notice the two teenagers on the couch, but when she does, confusion flashes across her face.

“Frankie?” She questions. “Who’s this?”

“Ma, this is Cheryl,” Sweet Pea replies, and after a second, it seems to dawn on her.

“Cheryl… Blossom?”

He nods. “Yeah,” he agrees. “She needed somewhere to go, so I told her she could stay here a couple of days.”

When his mother arches an eyebrow, he gives her a pointed look. “She’s Toni’s friend,” he adds on.

That’s what really seems to hit home with her, because she relaxes, face softening instantly. She’s still clearly on her guard to an extent, but much less so before. She can’t place why, but it makes Cheryl feel something akin to guilt, and she glances away, focusing instead the spot near the corner of the ceiling where the wallpaper is beginning to peel off.

“Okay,” she hums. “Cheryl, you’re welcome to stay as long as you need.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” she replies, feeling oddly meek. She isn’t really used to kindness from parents, her own or otherwise. In fact, she’s gotten used to the apathy or straight up dislike she tends to receive from adults, in general. Even with the small bit of distrust she can still sense from the woman, she feels almost… humbled.

Sweet Pea’s mother bids them goodnight before disappearing up the hall to her own room, after grabbing the extra grilled cheese her son had made and left on the counter for her. It isn’t until her footsteps have disappeared into her bedroom that Sweet Pea turns to her.

“Sorry if she came off as, you know… rude, I guess,” he apologizes.

“It’s fine,” she assures him. “After all, I am a Blossom. I’d be skeptical of me, too, if I were in her position.”

Sweet Pea studies her for a moment, almost sadly, before shrugging it off. Neither of them say much of anything as they finish off the rest of their dinner. Once they’ve finished, Sweet Pea hops up to throw away their trash, and when Cheryl glances out the window, she takes notice of just how dark the sky’s gotten.

“It’s late,” she murmurs, just loud enough for Sweet Pea to hear. He glances over at her, before turning to the clock on the microwave, where it says 9:57 in bright green letters.

“Ready to head to bed, then?” He asks. Any other night, Cheryl might shrug it off, but tonight, she just nods.

“Okay,” he says. “Just let me grab some pajamas from my room and then you can head in and settle down.”

“Wait, I- I don’t want to take your bed,” she protests, but he waves it off.

“No, seriously, you will,” he tells her. “I’m taking the couch.”

They go back and forth about it for a bit, but in the end, Cheryl concedes. Clearly proud, he heads into his room and comes out a minute later, this time wearing sweatpants. It takes a little a little more coaxing, but eventually, he manages to get her to take his duffel bag and set up shop in his room.

She does, however, pause in the doorway. After a second, he looks up at her just in time to see the hint of a smile crossing her face.

“So,” she drawls. “Frankie?”

His eyebrows narrow, but she can tell he’s fighting to keep his lips from quirking up at the corners. “Shut up.”

(She laughs as she pads into his bedroom.)

-

(“Hey Sweet Pea?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

“Anytime.”)

-

The next morning, when she blinks awake, there’s sunlight coming in through the thin curtains, drawing fine, pale lines across her stomach. It’s clearly still morning, somewhere in the middle of the space between dawn and noon. It’s not the sun or the time that’s woken her, however, but Sweet Pea, leant over and using one hand to shake her awake. His dark hair falls around him, looking longer and unkempt in the morning, but that’s not really what she notices in the moment, because what she’s really paying attention to is the urgency in his face.

“What?” She asks, already moving to sit up. “What?”

“You need to get up and get ready,” he tells her. “We have to go.”

“Why?” She asks. “Where?”

“To the Wyrm,” he answers. “All Serpents are being summoned there ASAP.”

“Does that mean…?”

He nods. “Probably.”

(As Cheryl all but shoots off of Sweet Pea’s couch to grab her clothes, she hopes that, whatever the reason they’re gathering at the Wyrm, it’s good news.)

 

Chapter Text

Sweet Pea basically speeds the whole way to the Wyrm, shorting the journey to just over four minutes, rather than the seven it should have taken. He’s quick to park in the first empty spot he sees, and he doesn’t waste any time rushing into the bar, Cheryl right on his heels.

Seeing the Serpents gathered around the center of the bar isn’t a new sight to Cheryl at this point, but it still makes her heart jump just a little bit. By now, most of the faces have started to get familiar, even if she can’t put names to all of them.

Some of the faces, however, are a little different. Two of them, really, being those of Fangs and Cricket. They both look roughed up, and it’s easy to tell that they’ve been in a fight or two, both sporting a black eye each, while Cricket has a cut on his cheek and Fangs has a busted lip.

(Something’s happened.)

As if he can read her thoughts, Sweet Pea turns his gaze right onto FP. ”What happened?” He asks.

FP leans forward, drumming his fingers along the table closest to him. “Fangs, Cricket? ”He prompts. “Would one of you care to enlighten us?”

Fangs and Cricket both glance at each other, before the latter clears his throat. “To make a long story short, we had an… encounter with some of the Ghoulies while we were trying to get some information on Toni,” he explains.

“I take it that it didn’t go well, then,” Jughead pipes up from a few tables over. If she’s honest, Cheryl didn’t even notice him when she walked it, but looking back, it’s hard to miss him with how he’s hunched over in his chair, as if he’s trying too hard to be casual and failing at it.

“It went well enough,” Cricket fires back, lip curling up just a bit. “Considering we know what they want now.”

That’s enough to suck the air from the room. A couple of Serpents shift in their seats, and if they weren’t giving their full attention before, they were now.

After a few moments of silence, Sweet Pea jumps in, clearly frustrated. “And?”

FP sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face. “They want control of more land,” he tells them. “Ever since Southside High was shut down, the Ghoulies have been pushing for more and more of our territory. Getting more violent, more aggressive. And now that they’ve got Toni as a bargaining piece, well…”

“They’ve got us,” Sweet Pea finishes. “How much do they want?”

“A lot,” FP answers honestly. “The area surrounding Southside High, for the most part, and some of the space between that and what’s already theirs.”

“So… we give it to them,” Sweet Pea says, like it’s obvious.

“It’s not just land,” Fangs adds. “They want money, too.”

“Money?” Someone else speaks up.

“Well, they wanted drugs, and our clientele,” Cricket starts. “But ever since Jingle Jangle started hitting the streets, the Ghoulies have gotten far deeper into the drug trade than us. We didn’t have enough drugs, or enough people buying, to satisfy them.”

“So they want what they would’ve gotten in money instead,” Jughead summarizes, and Cricket nods.

(Cheryl feels like she’s missing an important part of the puzzle here. Like there’s an option, right on the tip of her tongue, something just beyond her reach. She feels like there’s something here, another choice, a different path to take, so why can’t she just put the pieces together?)

“How much?” Sweet Pea asks. “How much do they want?”

“More than we have,” FP replies.

“So we get it,” Sweet Pea says, like it’s easy, but even rich girl Cheryl Blossom knows it’s not as easy as it sounds.

“If there was money to be gotten around here, don’t you think we would’ve gotten it by now?” FP bites. “Face it, boy. We barely have enough money to keep roofs over our heads, where are we going to find enough to defuse a hostage situation. The only person in this room who comes from money is Cheryl, and considering the situation, do you really think we can get a cent of Blossom money from Penelope?”

“Then what do we do?” Sweet Pea demands. “We can’t just- just give up on her.”

“We won’t,” FP assures him, voice hard. “Toni’s a Serpent. Serpents are family.”

“So then, what do we do?” Sweet Pea repeats, sounding more urgent that mouthy. It’s clear now that he realizes just how deep in they’ve gotten.

“That’s what we’re here to figure out,” the older man says, before turning to address Cheryl

“Blossom, I know you and your family are not on the best of terms right now,” he starts. “But is there anyway you think you could squeeze some money out of them.”

“Maybe,” Cheryl says, almost distracted, too busy caught up in her thoughts. It’s funny, almost, because for the first time in her whole life that she’s ever needed money, and now she doesn’t know how to get it. “But I don’t know how I would convince my mother to give me even a cent of our money.”

“Your mother isn’t the only one in the house, though, right?” Jughead asks, seeming to straighten in his chair.

“No, she’s not,” Cheryl says, shaking her head. “But I doubt my Uncle Claudius would be any more agreeable.”

“What about your nana?” He prompts. “Didn’t Veronica say that your nana was the one who called Toni to tell her where you were? Isn’t she on your side?”

“She is, but she doesn’t really have any money of her own,” she explains. “My mother and uncle control all of the money in that house, Nana Rose doesn’t see a penny of it unless they want her to.”

Jughead seems a little deterred, but instead, Fangs perks up. “Okay, but what if you could get something else from here?” He suggests. “True, she may not have direct access to any bank accounts, but she’s still a member of the family. And, she’s been in that house for decades. She might not be able to get money, but she might be able to get information.”

Cheryl blinks. “That… you could be right. After all, my father was into a lot of… shady dealings, there might be a paper trail somewhere that leads to money.”

“Or dirt,” Sweet Pea points out. “After all, your father did work with the ghoulies. If we can find something to implicate them among all his papers…”

“Then we can blackmail them into giving us Toni,” FP finishes, flashing just the hint of a grin, lips tugging up at the corner. “Either way, Cheryl, your nana is the best idea we’ve got.”

“Great,” she says, folding her arms over her chest. “How do we pull this off?”

-

They pull it off like this:

Jughead and Fangs take up camp in bushes on the very edge of Thistlehouse, their bikes ditched half a mile behind them in the woods beside the road. They hunker down, just out of sight within the trees, in a spot with a direct view on the front door, and they wait.

They’re there, of course, to watch for Penelope and Claudius, waiting for them both to leave. From there, the rest of the plan is simple: get Cheryl in and out of Thistlehouse before they return. In the end, the plan isn’t hard; the worst part is waiting for both Penelope and her brother-in-law to file out. There’s no telling when they’ll both leave, and there’s a chance that if they both leave, they might take Nana Rose with them, but the odds of that happening are slim to none.

They catch a break maybe two hours in or so. Jughead’s head snaps up when he hears the faint sound of a door opening, and sure enough, Claudius Blossom comes striding out, heading for one of the cars sitting in the driveway. Both the boys wait with baited breath until finally, they see Penelope come out about half a minute later, trailing after the man. The two of them don’t waste much time in setting off, and after watching their car disappear down the road and away from Thistlehouse, Fangs reaches for his phone to text Sweet Pea, and from there, the plan really kicks in.

Cheryl and SP come roaring in a good twenty minutes after Fangs gives the all clear, parking the bike around back, just to be safe.

“Okay, where’s the spare key?” Sweet Pea asks, and a hint of a grin pulls at her lips as she reaches down into the bushes beside the house, digging through until she pulled out a false rock, one made for hiding keys.

(Her mother and father never had need for hiding spare keys around the house. They’d considered the idea dangerous, that anyone could just snoop around until they found it, and so, they’d never gotten one.

Jason, however, as smart and talented as he was, could be prone to losing and forgetting things. Therefore, he’d gone out and made his own copies of the house keys, for both Thornhill and Thistlehouse, and had hid them well enough that neither their mother nor their father had discovered them.

It had been his and Cheryl’s little secret. One of the many they’d shared, anyway.)

Cheryl makes quick work of pulling out the key and slotting it into the lock. It clicks, and when she turns the knob, the door swings open. At the sight, both she and Sweet Pea let out quiet sighs of relief.

“We just have to find my nana,” she says. “Most likely, she’s in the parlor.”

Cheryl turns out to be right, because when she leads Sweet Pea through the halls and into the aforementioned room, her grandmother is sitting inside. Something inside of Cheryl’s chest goes soft at the sight of her, and it’s then that she realizes just how much she’d missed her grandma. Nana Rose had been the only person in her family besides Jason to show her kindness, to show her love. She used to take Cheryl to the market, back when she could walk. She would help her with her hair in the mornings, play records for her in the evenings.

She was the one who had helped Toni free her. She wouldn’t even be here without the woman.

“Nana,” she breathes, crossing the room. At the sound, Nana Rose looks up, and a smile draws across her weathered face.

“Cheryl,” The older woman says. “I’m so glad to see you’re okay.”

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Cheryl echoes, dropping into a squat in front of her grandmother, placing a hand on each of the woman’s knees. Nana’s hands come up to cover her own, trembling just a little with age, and Cheryl’s smile turns bittersweet.

“I don’t have a lot of time, Nana,” she tells her. “But I need your help. Toni’s in danger, and we’ve got to help her.”

Nana Rose glances up at Sweet Pea, hovering awkwardly in the doorway, before looking back at Cheryl. “What do you need?”

“It’s… hard to explain,” she starts. “But we need to know if there’s anywhere Daddy might have kept his… secrets. Anything that might have tied him to something illegal. Anything he would have kept hidden.”

Nana pauses to think. “Your father… he kept most things in his home office, at Thornhill, which would have burned in the fire,” she points out, her voice shaking. “But some of it, he kept here.”

“Okay,” Cheryl says, nodding. “Do you know where he would have held anything else?”

After a moment, Nana Rose blinks, as if remembering something. “He had a- a secret office in Greendale,” she recalls. “Somewhere off of… Dunston Street, maybe? It’s under a false name, something with his same initials. He kept a spare set of keys here, in his study.”

Cheryl lets out a breath of relief. “Thank you, Nana,” she murmurs, standing up and pressing a kiss to her grandmother’s cheek. “Thank you so much.”

“Anytime dear,” Nana Rose replies, before attempting a small gesture with her hand, as if shooing Cheryl off. The redhead smiles, knowing it’s her grandmother’s way of telling her she’s free to go without outright saying, so she squeezes the woman’s hands once more before turning and leaving the parlor, Sweet Pea right on her heels.

“We’re going up to his study,” she explains, heading for the stairs. He nods instead of speaking, and they make right for the office of the late Clifford Blossom, heading down a long hall until they reach a set of double doors, large and wooden. There’s obviously a slot where a key should fit, so Cheryl crosses her fingers as she turns the doorknob. After a long second, she pushes, and the door opens without resistance.

“Unlocked,” she whispers. “Thank God.”

The air in the room is stale, and just from stepping inside, Cheryl can tell nobody’s been in here for a while, a long while. There’s a layer of dust on most of the furniture, and even just being inside the room, it makes her feel stiff.

“Now what?” He asks.

“Start going through all the drawers,” she declares, already moving for the closest file cabinet. “Grab anything that looks suspicious, and see if you can find those keys to his office.”

They stop talking after that, except when Sweet Pea calls out to let her know that he’s found the keys. Every once and a while, one of them will stumble upon something that looks a little odd, and they grab it, folding it up and tucking it inside the inside pockets of their jackets. Cheryl is, of course, still wearing Toni’s Serpent jacket like a safety blanket, somehow unable to take it off, but right now, the extra storage space is coming in handy.

After a while, they both start to step back, having torn through basically every box, every drawer, every folder in the office. They take a few moments just to tidy the space up, and step back to admire their handiwork. For a moment, there’s a distinct feeling of triumph in the air.

And that’s when they hear the front door open.

Chapter Text

The sound of the front door opening freezes them both in their tracks, and Cheryl looks over to Sweet Pea with wide eyes. He mutters a curse under his breath.

“What do we do?” He asks her.

She blinks, her mind rushing to catch up with her, before an idea hits her. “My room, now,” she demands. “Quickly.”

She grabs his hand, pulls him down the hall, both of them doing their best to keep their footsteps quiet. “What are we doing?” He whispers.

“We’re going to grab a bunch of my stuff,” she explains. “Clothes, my school bag, so it looks like that’s what we came for. We can’t avoid her, but we can at least throw off as much suspicion as we can.”

He doesn’t have a chance to say anything before she tugs him into her room. “Quickly,” she demands, rushing to grab her schoolbag by the bed, and moving over to her drawers. Sweet Pea digs through her closet before he finds another backpack, and starts shoving random clothes into while she starts shoving things from her desk into the bag she’s holding. Once they’ve deemed it enough to look reasonable, especially considering both bags are full to the brim, they turn to each other.

“Why hasn’t anyone come up here yet?” He asks, and Cheryl laughs, a little bitter.

“It means they’re waiting for us to come to them,” she tells him. “My mother prefers to have confrontation brought to her, rather than the other way around. It makes her feel powerful, like people are bending to her.”

Sweet Pea doesn’t have a chance to respond before another voice rings out. “Cheryl,” her uncle calls, sounding so similar to her father that it makes her sick to her stomach. “We know you’re here, you can come on down.”

She sighs, and when she glances over, Sweet Pea is clearly giving her a ‘what do we do’ look, so she takes a moment to steel herself, and swallows one last time before she speaks.

“Well,” she says, finally. “That’s our cue. Are you ready to meet my mother?”

(From the look on his face, it is clear that no, he is not.

She doesn’t blame him.)

Clenching her jaw, Cheryl heaves her bag over her shoulder and heads down  to face the music.

It doesn’t take long to find her mother. The woman is waiting near the bottom of the staircase, and her uncle is sitting in a chair nearby.

“Cheryl,” her mother says when she sees her, disappointment clear in her voice. “Are you really so naïve that you didn’t consider the fact that we have security cameras at the front door? They went off the second you stepped onto the porch.”

(She hadn’t, in fact.)

“Mother,” Cheryl replies, doing her best to keep herself grounded and her tone even. “I just wanted my things. My bookbag, my clothes. Would you deny me that?”

Penelope raises one eyebrow, skeptical, but if she has an issue with the story, she’s clearly got something more pressing on her mind, turning her gaze from Cheryl’s face to the jacket she’s wearing.

“Are you one of those snakes now?” She demands, glancing back at Sweet Pea, who bristles under her attention. “I knew you were keeping some of them for… company, but joining them? That’s something I consider low, even for you.”

Cheryl huffs, fighting the urge to curl her hands into fists. “Not that I care for your opinion mother, but I haven’t,” she bites. “The jacket is Toni’s.”

“Ah, the Serpent bait,” Penelope mocks, and her eyes almost seem to light up when both Cheryl and Sweet Pea become visibly irritated. “So I take it that you haven’t rescued that… girl yet?”

“Not yet,” Cheryl spits, finding her anger starting to rise. She takes a moment to calm herself, and she feels Sweet Pea take another step down the staircase, coming to a stop directly behind her. His presence, the gesture of support, helps to ground her, and after taking a breath to regain her composure, she opens her eyes and tips her chin up, folding her arms over her chest.

“As much as I love to catch up with you, Mother,” she says, sarcasm dripping from her voice. “I really am tired of these games. Do you have anymore questions for me, or am I free to go?”

Penelope rolls her eyes, but she waves her hand off, towards the door. “Go, if that’s what you wish,” she replies. “But, just so you know, you don’t have a free pass to wander in and out of her at your leisure, and it’s in your best interest to learn that.”

“Oh, with pleasure,” Cheryl mutters, before climbing down the rest of the stairs. Neither her mother nor her uncle move to stop her, so she heads straight for the door, making sure to wave once to her Nana as she passes. Once they’re outside, Sweet Pea pulls the door shut behind them, and Cheryl takes a long inhale.

“Are you okay?” He asks, concerned, and she nods.

“I’m fine,” she assures him. “But that’s not what’s important right now. What’s important is that we have an office to go investigate.”

-

As it turns out, there is no Dunston Street in Greendale, so the two of them rally up a team of Serpents to start tracking down the office. Fangs and Jughead are quick to help out, the latter bringing Betty along with him, and after a well-placed phone call, Veronica, Kevin, and even Archie are all ready to lend their support. Sweet Pea seems somewhat tense about the redheaded boy coming along, but considering they need all the help they can get, he doesn’t put up a fight over it.

It’s Betty and Jughead who eventually find what they’re looking for: an old, red-brick building off Dunsborough Road, with a plaque on the front door listing all the names of the people who own the offices. Among them is Cloyd Baldwin which, while not the most appealing of names, carries the initials of CB, the same as her late father, so the eight of them come together on the sidewalk outside

“This has to be the place,” Fangs declares once he arrives, being the last one to make it to the building. “I mean, where else would it be, right?”

“Well, we’ll see,” Jughead says. “Who has the key?”

“I do,” Sweet Pea announces, shoving his hand into his jacket pocket and digging around for a few seconds before he pulls it out. It’s attached to a fairly large ring, despite being the only key on it, and he jingles it once or twice.

“Alright then,” Veronica says, clapping her hands together. “Let’s start looking then.”

The front doors to the office building are unlocked, thankfully, and together, the eight of them start wandering through the hallway until they come upon a door with a sign reading Cloyd Baldwin attached to it. Nudging his way to the front of the teenagers, Sweet Pea slides the key in the lock and opens it.

Inside, the office is well-kept and tidy. Much like Clifford’s office back at Thistlehouse, it’s very obvious that this place isn’t visited often, even less than the home office. Just the opening of the door dislodges enough dust for Kevin to sneeze several times before regaining control of himself.

“Okay, just to be clear,” he states, once he’s gotten a hold of himself. “Remind us all of what we’re looking for again?”

“Obviously, my father was not a good man,” Cheryl starts. “So right now, we’re looking for either some sort of paper trail that will lead us to some slew of cash, or something connecting him to the Ghoulies, hopefully something that we could use against them.”

“Like blackmail?” Archie questioned.

“Exactly like blackmail,” she confirmed, glancing over at him. “So let’s get started.”

The office isn’t the biggest, especially for eight teenagers, but they do their best to spread out across the room. Veronica and Archie start combing through the papers and drawers of the desk, Betty and Kevin go through the books on the bookshelves, while Cheryl and the Serpents start looking through the file cabinets. Occasionally, someone will call out something they’ve found, but more often than not, it’s rather useless. Several papers seem to lead to nowhere.

(What does engross Cheryl for a short period of time,  

After a good while of searching, however, Archie clears his throat. At the noise, a couple of them look up to see both him and Veronica bent over the same file, Ronnie’s brow furrowed in concentration.

“Did you find something?” Betty asks, and Veronica looks up, raising the file.

“Yeah,” she replies. “I think so.”

Everyone comes to crowd around the desk, and wordlessly, Veronica hands it over to Cheryl. She begins to flip through them, Sweet Pea reading over her shoulder, and the more she sees, the more she begins to realize what this means.

“Is this what you needed?” Veronica asks, and Cheryl nods, lips pulling up at the corners.

“This?” She repeats. “This is exactly what we need.”

“Does this mean we’ve got enough to get Toni back?”

“Yes,” Cheryl says, feeling something like hope swell in her chest. “In fact, I’ve got a plan.”

-

After stopping back at the Wyrm to debrief and go over their newly formed plan with FP, Cheryl and Sweet Pea head back to the latter’s trailer. It’s too late to set up a meeting with the Ghoulies today, and not enough time to prepare, so they drive back to settle in for the night.

Still, though, it’s hard for both of them to sleep when the thought of having Toni back so soon is hanging over them. Instead, they end up agreeing to watch a movie or two before turning in.

Even with all the time they’ve spent together lately, things still feel a little weird between them. To be fair, however, they hadn’t even exchanged more than twenty words until a week ago, and here she was now, sleeping in his trailer and watching movies with him late at night.

(A month ago, if you had even deigned to tell Cheryl that she would willingly spend time with a Serpent in his trailer, and sleep in his bed, she would have scoffed at you.

Here she is, though, sharing popcorn with Sweet Pea and watching some old eighties movie, both of them unable to keep from pointing out every unrealistic thing that happens.)

“Do you think we’re ready for tomorrow?” She asks, rather suddenly, as they switch the DVDs out from Weird Science to The Breakfast Club. Sweet Pea shrugs.

“I think no matter what happens, we’ll handle it,” he replies. “No matter what, once he has them in person, FP won’t let them go until they give her over. We’re either leaving the meeting with Toni, or with some deadbeat Ghoulie’s head on a pike.”

It’s a little bit of a gruesome metaphor, but she gets his point. He glances over at her.

“Are you?” He echoes.

She has to think about it for a moment.. Cheryl has done a lot, has seen a lot, has been through a lot, but this is different than anything she’s really ever done. There’s no comparison back to her life to be made here, so instead, she shrugs, looks over to meet his gaze.

“I know I’m ready to have Toni back,” she replies. “And anything else, well, I’ll make myself ready for it.”

“Good answer,” he says, raising the can of soda in his hand. “Cheers.”

She taps her glass of water against his drink, and he wastes no time in downing the rest of the Coke before tossing the can in the trash. As she watches him get up to grab another, she can’t help but smile.

(Sure, her mother is a heinous bitch, and the Ghoulies may still have Toni, but somehow, Cheryl feels like everything is going to work out.)

Chapter Text

The preparations they make before they meet the Ghoulies is where the tension curling inside Cheryl really starts to hit its peak. She feels like she’s spring loaded, ready to snap like a rubber band, and she has to fight to keep her emotions in check.

Even still, she feels like she doesn’t do the best job of managing it. Everyone around them can tell she’s beginning to grow anxious. It gets to the point where Sweet Pea himself steps in, disappearing into the back room and emerging a few moments later with Toni’s old duffel thrown over his shoulder.

“Come with me,” he says, passing the bag off to Cheryl. “We should at least bring her stuff over so she’ll have it tonight, so she can change and shit.”

He leaves no room for argument, and while Cheryl has never been one to take orders, she follows him out to his bike anyway, and climbs on the back like it’s normal.

(These days, considering how much time they’re spending together, it is becoming normal, but Cheryl tries not to think too hard about that. For Blossoms, closeness and friendships led into debts, and owing people, and since Heather left, nobody has ever wanted anything from Cheryl that didn’t have to deal with her last name.)

Once they pull up to Sweet Pea’s trailer, another place that’s beginning to look frighteningly familiar to her, he tosses Toni’s duffel bag into his bedroom before stepping back into the living room where Cheryl is standing.

“You’re nervous,” he says, a statement rather than a question. It’s true, and hard to deny, but she still bristles like it’s an accusation.

“And?” She prompts. He shrugs.

“I’m nervous,” he adds, like it’s that simple. Maybe for him, it is, but for her-

“I’m a Blossom, I don’t get nervous.”

“Really?”

“Do you have a problem with that?”

“Do you?” He repeats. “No offense, Cheryl, but why are you so determined to let being a Blossom affect who you are? You keep saying, you keep showing, that you don’t stand but what they’ve done, what they still do. You don’t seem like you want the Blossom name anymore, and yet, you keep letting it define you. Why is that?”

Cheryl opens her mouth to respond, and has to stop from sputtering when she realizes that she really doesn’t have anything to argue that. Considering that she’s known him for less than a week, he’s managed to read her like a book. Read her well enough to point out something she hadn’t even noticed herself.

“I was raised a Blossom,” she replies, almost defensive. “It’s what I am.”

“It’s what you were,” he corrects. “It doesn’t have to be who you are.”

Cheryl doesn’t say anything back, not for a good minute or two. When she finally looks back up at him, there’s no anger in her eyes, but there is something thoughtful.

“We should head back to the Wyrm,” she tells him

“You’re right,” he agrees, heading for the door, but he stops, glancing back over his shoulder.

“Just… think about it, okay?”

(And she will, later. But now? Now is about Toni.)

-

The sun is gone from the sky when they set off from the Wyrm.

Cheryl can feel the anticipation churning in her stomach, and it grows as they get closer to the rendezvous point. She tries to keep herself calm, steady, closing her eyes and letting the wind tug at her hair.

If she opens her eyes and glances behind her, over her shoulder, she can see several Serpents trailing after them. Most of them she doesn’t know well, but she can name several of them, and at least recognize the rest. Most noticeably is Fangs, riding right beside them, and Jughead, a few feet off their rear. FP, of course, is riding ahead of them, leading the pack, with Cheryl and Sweet Pea right on his heels. There’s a few others Cheryl can name off the top of her head, like Moth, Byrdie, and Cricket.

When they start to slow down, turning into an old parking lot on the farther side of the Southside, Cheryl feels her nerves jump up into her chest. As they pull in, she can see headlights in the center of the lot, and hazy outlines of figures passing through them.

They follow FP’s lead as he parks his bike twenty yards or so away, and dismounts, making his way over to where the Ghoulies are hovering. Sweet Pea climbs down and follows him with no hesitation, so Cheryl steels herself and strides after him, trying her best to exude the HBIC energy she worked so hard to cultivate. Toni’s jacket is still wrapped around her body, and she shoves her hands deep in the pockets, curling her hands up into fists as she tips her chin up.

It’s not like Cheryl’s never seen a Ghoulie before. She’s ran into a few several times, including the drag race where they’d faced off against the Serpents, but something about seeing them in the low light makes them look so… menacing. The spikes on their jackets, the ripped sleeves? It may look a little silly or overdone in the daylight, but here?

It’s working for them.

With the lights from the bikes of both the Serpents and the Ghoulies, it’s easier to see. The Ghoulies begin to circle up when they spot FP approaching, and one of the Ghoulies in particular seems to come to the front.

“Well, if it isn’t FP Jones himself,” the man says, as if he’s delighted. “I didn’t think you’d show up for a hostage trade-off, of all things.”

FP seems to bristle. “The Serpents are a family, Malachi,” he spits. “Not that you or your ilk would ever be able to understand a concept like that.”

The man, Malachi apparently, doesn’t even falter at the insult. In fact, he only seems to grow more excited, his lips curling up to reveal his teeth. His smile seems almost like that of a predator, and it only widens when he glances over and sees Cheryl standing there.

“Well, if it isn’t the young miss Blossom,” he says, clapping his hands together in front of them. “What would your Daddy say if he saw you out here with Serpents, huh?”

“Frankly, I don’t give a damn about my father’s opinion,” she bites back. “And considering he dealt with the likes of you, I’m not sure I have any trust in his taste.”

Malachi laughs. “You’ve got some anger there,” he remarks. “But hush now, it’s time for the grown-ups to talk.”

Cheryl’s nostrils flare, but she keeps her mouth shut tight as FP clears his throat and takes a step forward, directing the attention back onto himself.

“We’re willing to give you the land you’ve asked for,” he states, and at that, Malachi grows more serious, knowing that business is on the table now.

“And the money?” He asks.

“You know we don’t have funds like that,” FP tells him.

“And you know we’ve got your girl,” Malachi counters. By now, any hint of a grin has fallen from his face, and he takes a step towards them. “And it’d be a real shame if something happened to her because you couldn’t figure out how to pay up, hmm?”

“Is that a threat?” FP asks, and the other man grins.

“I don’t know, Jones, is it?”

Silence falls over the parking lot, and after a moment, FP turns back to Cheryl, giving her a small nod. She takes that as her cue, coming forward until she’s standing shoulder to shoulder with FP, and reaches into her jacket to pull out a file.

“I believe we have a better offer than money,” she says.

Malachi scoffs. “Oh, do tell.”

“Well, I’m sure you remember my dear old father, Clifford Blossom,” she starts. “After all, he did a lot of dealings with you all. He gave you jingle jangle to sell, he kept you in business. And, I’m sure he did dealings with you other than just the drugs, yeah?”

“What’s your point?”

“My point,” she continues. “Is that, while he was sure fond of you, Daddy didn’t trust anybody. So, before he went into any dealings with you, he made sure to get his research done. Made sure that he could stab you in the back before you could do the same to him.”

“What are you saying, Red?” Malachi demands.

“If you would let me finish, you would know that I’m saying this file is full of information that could knock down your membership quite spectacularly” she explains, flipping open the folders and skimming through the papers. “There’s enough in here that could probably get a fair number of you sent to jail. You included.”

“Let me see that,” Malachi hisses.

He reaches forward and snatches it out of her hands, but she only smiles. “Go ahead,” she says. “This is only what we’ve managed to copy so far.”

He begins to flick through it, and she can see him become more and more agitated with every page. By the time he’s halfway through it, he shoves it back at her, hard enough that she almost stumbles, and glowers.

“So you’re blackmailing us?” He spits.

“You’re holding one of our own hostage,” FP replies. “We’ll do what it takes.”

Malachi huffs. “We won’t just let this go,” he tells them.

“And even if you don’t, we’ll still have these files,” Cheryl counters. “Now, I could be taking this right to the police station, and throwing these papers right onto Keller’s desk, because you know how he loves busting the gangs. But I haven’t, because I’ve decided to be gracious. Now, either you give us Toni, or this goes right to the Sheriff. Got it?”

He exhales, heavy, through flared nostrils. “Got it,” he grits out.

“And one last thing,” she adds on. “The second you’ve let Toni go, I want all of you leaving. I don’t want to see your idiotic faces for another second.”

He glowers, fingers curling into fists at his side, but he doesn’t protest. Instead, he looks back over his shoulder, where the rest of his crew is waiting.

“Let the girl go,” he orders.

One of the Ghoulies breaks away from the pack, walking back to the lone car they brought with them. He glances back at Malachi, and after receiving a nod of approval, he opens the backseat and reaches inside. There’s several ripping sounds followed by a soft noise of pain, and Cheryl’s breath hitches when she hears a female voice bite out ‘don’t touch me!’

She recognizes that voice.

Confirming what she already knows, Toni herself climbs out of the backseat a moment later, rubbing her wrists with her hands. She takes a moment to glare up at the Ghoulie escorting her out before hopping out, and there’s a moment where she stumbles, like she’s just getting to her feet after being down for a long time. He reaches out again, and she shakes him off, stalking away towards where the rest of the Serpents are standing.

And then she notices Cheryl.

Any hostility in her body dissipates. The harsh line of her brow drops, and even in the low light, Cheryl can see her face soften. She starts walking towards the redhead, picking up the pace until she’s nearly jogging, and once she’s a few yards away, Cheryl finds herself unable to stay where she is, taking the last few steps to meet Toni.

(In movies, sometimes there’s a pause. The two protagonists stop, and there’s a dramatic moment where they stare deep into each other’s eyes before they kiss.)

There’s no pause here, or even a kiss, because Toni walks straight into Cheryl’s embrace without stopping, like she belongs there. Cheryl throws her arms across the other girl’s back, and when she ducks her head, her nose presses right into Toni’s hair.

“You’re here,” Toni whispers.

“You came for me,” Cheryl replies. “I came for you.”

In the distance, the Ghoulies start to leave, Malachi shouting something vaguely threatening to FP before riding off himself. Cheryl doesn’t care, tuning it all out instead to focus on the shear, overwhelming fact that Toni is here, safe and in her arms. After the past few days, after everything, that’s all that matters right now.

After a long minute, maybe even two, they pull away, and Toni reaches one hand up to cradle Cheryl’s cheek. “Are you okay?” She asks, and the redhead makes a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob.

“Am I okay?” Cheryl repeats, starting to sound a little hysterical. “Are you okay?

Toni smiles, and some of the seriousness of her gaze disappears. “Well, right now?” She replies. “I’d have to say I feel pretty great.”

And with that, she pushes herself up on on her feet, free hand coming up to cradle the other side of Cheryl’s face, and kisses her, long and soft and tender.

(And in that moment, everything is okay.)