Chapter 1: Blood In The Water
Archie’s fateful words froze Betty Cooper in her tracks. Not because of the words that were spoken but the tone and underlying meaning behind them. After getting a call from Toni that FP may have discovered Jughead’s whereabouts, Betty Cooper was a nervous wreck. He had to be okay. He just had to be. The prayer that she silently spoke over and over in her mind was one of the things that were keeping from completely collapsing on herself. The other was the tone of Archie’s voice. It wasn’t so much what her best friend was saying, she tuned most of that out, but the meaning behind them. The strength and confidence that Betty didn’t have that they would find her beloved in one piece, safe from harm.
When they had reached the encampment, Betty didn’t hesitate for Archie to bring the truck to a complete stop when she barrelled out of the car. She could hear her friend silently cursed under his breath as he hastily put the truck in park and followed after her. Betty’s heart froze as she saw the Serpents standing around the encampment, each looking at her with a mix of anger and fear. It was at the moment she spotted Cheryl, her arm lovingly around a despondent looking Toni. Betty felt her legs grow wobbly. Walking with greater agency, she approached her cousin earnestly.
“Where is he?” Betty asked trying her best to keep the fear from her voice. “Where’s Jug?”
Before either the girls could respond there was a slightly rustling in the bushes that caught Archie’s attention, “Guys?!”
Betty took a quick glance in her friends direction. It was then the blood in Betty’s veins turned to ice. For the first time she heard in his voice, saw on his face the very thing that she was keeping herself from acknowledging: fear. Archie was afraid. The rumbling became more prominent and their attention was drawn to a small shadowy enclave near a large plethora of bushes and trees. Out of these shadows, FP Jones appeared. From the moment Betty laid eyes on them, the world around her went into slow motion. She could see FP walking towards them, carrying the body of the man she loved in his arms. An agonizing look of fear and terror plastered across his face.
They approached slowly, almost in unison, closer to FP, who had stopped dead in his tracks. It was then Betty could see the damage. There wasn’t a part of Jughead that wasn’t covered in blood or a developing bruise. Behind her she could hear her cousin Cheryl gasp and Archie’s breathing become hitched and more pronounced. Betty paid little attention to this. She was focused entirely on the limp Jughead, who lay almost lifeless in his father’s arms. Studying every inch of him, Betty’s resolve began to crumble, the hysterics, which were just below the surface were fighting and winning their freedom from her mind.
It was then she saw it.
A large, bloody gash on his arm. An arm that lay slack from his body. An arm that once held the home of his Serpent tattoo, now was a bloody, mangled and mutilated mess. For the first time, Betty tried to take a look at Jughead’s face but was stopped cold in her tracks. It took only a second for her to realize it. To steal a quick glance up at FP whose failing resolve had confirmed it.
“Jug -- ?”
However, Betty never got to finish that sentence. She took one last glance at FP’s face before finally taking a look at Jughead. The world dropped around her. She barely heard the racing footsteps of the other Serpents as they helped relieve FP of Jughead’s limp form. Unaware the Cheryl was on the phone with the paramedics or that Toni had begun softly crying into Sweet Pea’s arms. Oblivious that Archie’s first aid training from that summer he worked as a lifeguard had kicked in or that FP had started screaming angrily and was trying to be calmed down by his men.
No. Betty wasn’t focused on the people and world that was spiraling around her. Her mind was focused on one and only one thing: Jughead wasn’t breathing. Betty dug her nails deep into the palms of her hand, until she could feel the blood falling through her fingers. Overwhelmed with fear and anger, she began to hyperventilate. She could barely remember her cousin Cheryl approaching her, asking her if she was alright before the world turned to darkness around her.
Chapter 2: Tell Me Everything's Not Fine
Over the past year, Archie Andrews had grown accustomed to fear.
It was an emotion that he had little experience with until that fateful day at Pop’s and one that he knew too damn well in the days since. Archie knew from the moment that Jughead had called Betty and from the look of pained fear on her face that something was wrong. After Betty had told him what Jughead said to her, his anxiety kicked to eleven. Even though he had to admit that he had been on high alert since the Black Hood had taken another shot at his dad, the very idea that Jughead could be in trouble had been the furthest thing from his mind.
Betty, on the other hand, still reeling from the revelation and trauma of her father being a serial killer, was doing everything she could to keep herself together. Archie assured Betty that Jughead was fine but his best friend would have none of it.
“You didn’t hear him Arch,” Betty said as she tried calling Jughead only to reach his voicemail. “Something’s wrong.”
Archie watched as Betty began dialing a new number, her face threatening a fear, but holding on to stoic resolve for dear life. “Mr. Jones. Is Jughead with you?”
A sigh came across Archie’s face. He knew that FP would assure Jughead was with him and that he was just fine. Archie couldn’t -- no wouldn’t -- accept any other outcome.
“I’m just really worried about him,” the words practically flew out of Betty’s mouth. “He called to say how much he loves me. A-And it almost sounded like he was saying goodbye. For good . . . Hello? Mr. Jones?”
“Betty, what happened?”
“He hung up on me.”
Now, Archie knew things were serious. FP would never have just hung up on Betty unless something was really wrong. The security of the notion that Jughead was fine, an assurance that Archie had managed to talk himself into over the course of a few minutes had been blown away entirely. He felt himself starting to give into panic. What if the Black Hood did something to him before he was captured? Or worse yet, the second masked vigilante that tried to kill his dad tonight? What if they had gone after Jughead to get to him or -- the Ghoulies, they had a score to settle with him --
Archie felt as if he wanted to hyperventilate. Jughead was the most important person in his life behind his parents and in a separate but equally as important category as Veronica. If he was hurt or -- Archie shook his head violently. No! Don’t even THINK of going there . Archie found himself out of his thoughts and back into reality when he heard Betty’s phone ring.
Betty did nothing but nod, as she listened to the girl on the other end. Archie wanted to scream. He needed Betty to say something, anything, that would give him the reassurance that he needed. The call was brief but when it was all over, Betty stood there on the foot of her steps, her eyes closed and tears running down her cheeks. Archie could take the silence no longer.
Betty opened her eyes and looked at Archie in a way he had never seen before. It terrified him. She swallowed hard and began to speak to Archie carefully, almost as if she was choosing her words as to not alarm him further.
“Toni said that Penny Peabody has taken control of The Ghoulies. She is the one who set them loose on Pop’s and the school. She kidnapped Toni earlier so that Jughead could deliver a message to the rest of the Serpents. They either flee Riverdale and give up their territory to the Ghoulies, or they would make sure none of them got out of town alive. FP and the other Serpents are geared for a fight, but Jughead disagreed and stayed behind at the trailer. Toni thinks Penny and her goons grabbed him and took him to their encampment on the other side of Sweetwater River. FP headed out on his own but Toni said she, Cheryl and a few other Serpents went out right behind him, in case this was a trap. She texted me directions.”
“Then what are we waiting for, let’s go. We’ll borrow my Dad’s truck,” Archie hadn’t realized until he had tried to speak that he had been holding his breath.
He told Betty to wait by the truck while he ran across the street to get the keys from his Dad. He didn’t tell his Dad exactly why he needed the truck, only that he wanted to take Betty to see Jughead and after what had just happened with her Dad, Fred was more than happy to oblige. When he walked out the door, Archie stopped in time to see Betty bent over, leaning over the back of the pick up, bawling her eyes out. Horrific, gut-wrenching sobs that he knew were a culmination of not only Jughead’s situation, but of the culmination of what the last few months of her life had been. At that moment, Archie knew that he had to put his own fears aside, for Betty’s sake. Swallowing his emotions, Archie walked up to Betty and put a calming hand on her shoulder.
Betty looked up at Archie, sheepishly -- almost embarrassed -- and wiped away her tears.
"Jughead’s going to be okay.”
“How do you know?” she asked in a lost, almost childlike whisper.
“Because he has to be.”
With that she nodded and the two piled into his truck on his way to the location that Toni texted them. Along the way, Archie continued to give Betty slight reassurances that Jughead was going to be fine, and although he felt as if she had tuned him out long ago, he kept saying them. They needed to be said, not just for Betty's sake but his own. About a half an hour later they reached an alcove surrounded by trucks, bikes and what looked like Cheryl's car. Before Archie could put the car in park, Betty was already out the door.
"Dammit, Bet, wait --" Archie said as he pulled on the emergency break, grabbed the keys from the car and sprinted to catch up with her. He saw Betty stop momentarily, as she took her surroundings in for the first time. They were surrounded by Serpents, all of whom looked a combination of angry and scared. It was then Archie spotted Cheryl, as did Betty, who stood comforting a frightened Toni. Archie's heart dropped into his stomach as he took a look at the rest of the camp. There was a fight here, and fairly recently. A chill ran up Archie's spine. Something bad had happened here.
“Where is he?” Betty asked Toni, as Archie noticed a slight quiver in her voice. “Where’s Jug?”
It was then Archie heard it. Heavy footsteps followed by the rustling of leaves. As he tried his best to keep himself composed, he realized that no one besides him had heard it.
"Guys?!" he exclaimed doing his best to get their attention.
As if on cue the rustling became louder and out of the shadows came FP Jones, carrying a limp and bloodied Jughead in his arms.
For the first time since this whole ordeal had started, Archie could no longer hide his emotions. His voice was riddled with anxiety, his face askew with horror and fear. He saw Betty glance back at him for reassurance but there was none to be found. Almost in slow motion, the group of them, including Jughead's Serpent buddy, Sweet Pea, had walked towards Mr. Jones, who had stopped, standing motionless near the campfire. It was then Archie saw for the first time the damage had been done. There were cuts and bruises all over Jughead's body. Nasty ones that were already all kinds of different colors. Then, across his arm, there was a deep gash, as if a part of his flesh had been torn from his body. It took Archie a second to realize that is where his Serpent tattoo had been. His eyes then moved to his friends face and for the first time, a new horror washed over Archie Andrews that shook him to his very core.
Jughead didn't look like he was breathing.
Archie saw a group of Serpents run past them, coming to FP's aid to lie Jughead on the ground. FP was awash with tears, his hands running through his hair and over his face in a plethora of anger and utter terror. Without thinking, instinct took over and the confidence that he had built up over the last year kicked into high gear.
"Cheryl, call 911," Archie ordered as he ran over to where FP and the other Serpents had laid Jughead down. He practically flung himself knees first into the dirt and felt for a pulse, it was weak and irregular, but it was there.
"I was a lifeguard two summers ago, I had to learn CPR," Archie said as he looked up at one of the Serpents besides Jughead.
"I worked as a field medic back in Army," said a Serpent, maybe a few years older than Archie. "Name's Ambrose."
"Archie," he replied with a nod. "He's got a pulse but its weak. I don't think he's breathing."
Archie looked as Ambrose patted softly around Jughead's chest, "He's been beaten, badly, that's for sure, but it doesn't look like anything is broken."
With that both Archie and Ambrose nodded as they went to work getting his best friend breathing again. When Archie had learned these skills, it was purely precautionary. He had never thought he would use them. Let alone on his best friend. His brother. Archie did what he could to drown out the sounds around him. Mr. Jones was in full blown hysterics now. However, nothing distracted Archie from his work. He had been a failure at helping his dad when he got shot, other than almost mowing down half of Riverdale to get him to a hospital, because he didn't know what to do. Now he did, and he wasn't even sure if he was doing any good.
Archie turned his head momentarily in time to see Betty collapse. Luckily, a quick thinking Sweet Pea was able to catch her as they guided her over to a nearby van.
I think she fainted.
Archie shook off his concern and continued to work on Jughead. He could hear the sound of the ambulance in the background, fresh tears spilling unwittingly from his eyes.
"Jug, please. Don't do this to me."
Archie looked over at Ambrose, who was beginning to look concerned. All the strength and conviction he had going in was starting to wane. What if he wasn't helping? What if he was just making it worse? What if there was nothing to be done to save his friend. The most important person in his life behind his parents, slightly above Veronica and followed closely by Betty. New emotions were starting to arise in Archie. Guilt. Regret. He had to admit that for someone who meant so much to him, Archie had spent the better part of the last few months treating Jughead like crap. In his quest for justice for what had been done to his father, Archie had ignored the difficulties that Jughead had been going through. Even adding to them. Ignoring how his actions were affecting him. Archie had been a grade-A asshole and he sadly, at this moment, never felt more like one.
A audible gasp broke Archie from his concentration as Jughead eyes flashed opened widely, darting around in fear. FP was by his side in an instant.
"Jug, hey, its okay," he said gently stroking the side of his son's face. "You're safe, you're okay."
Jughead nodded softly as his eyes fluttered and closed shut. The rise and fall of his chest was the only reassurance that Archie had that his friend was alive. The paramedics arrived a second later. Archie got up and out of their way as Ambrose gave them a run down of what had happened and Jughead's current condition. Archie looked back to see an awake and relieved Betty tearfully leaning on Cheryl's shoulder, sitting in the back of the van.
Betty mouthed the words silently but Archie felt the weight of them. Archie watched as the paramedics lifted the gurney and took Jughead away to the ambulance.
"I'm gonna ride with Jug," FP said as he stopped by Archie momentarily. "Take care of Betty and meet us there."
"Yes, Mr. Jones."
"You saved his life. Just like you did for your dad. Just like you did for Cheryl. Never forget that."
Archie watched as FP walked away to catch up with the paramedics. When they had closed the doors to the ambulance and rode away, Cheryl approached Archie, earnestly.
"I'm gonna take Cousin Betty, Toni and Sweet Pea to the hospital."
All Archie could do was nod.
"You're a real hero Archie Andrews."
Archie watched as Cheryl walked by the van to help guide a still shaken Betty to her car and looked around as the other Serpents began heading out. Some to follow FP to the hospital. Others to go and inform the Serpents of what had happened. Archie just stood there a moment, watched as they all sped away, leaving him alone. Surrounded by the stench of blood and suffering. With shaking hands, he reached into his pocket and grabbed his phone. There was only one person whose voice he needed to hear right now. As it rang, the sobs that Archie had been holding back began breaking through until by the time the person answered on the other end, he was a pathetic mess.
"Dad --" he said as he began crying hysterically. "Something really bad has happened."
Chapter 3: Won't Accept Your Silence
Veronica sat in silence as she watched her mother nurse a glass of wine.
The incident at The Pembrooke left both Lodge women shaken, but no more so than Hermione. It was then that Veronica realized for all her machinations, it was the first time her mother had taken a human life. Her father had left some time ago, off to dispose of the bodies of not only of the man who tried to kill them but of Andre, their loyal bodyguard, who laid down his life for theirs. It disgusted Veronica to no end. This man who died trying to save them would be tossed away, forgotten like yesterday’s trash. And all to protect the great Hiram Lodge, with whom Veronica knew now only cared for himself. So shaken and concerned over her mother was Veronica, that she didn’t even notice her father had returned home. Not until he began talking.
“Sheriff Minetta moved the bodies to the Coroner’s office,” Hiram announced somewhat triumphantly. “Tagged them as riot victims, so, no one’s gonna be asking us any questions.”
The rather nonchalant way her father just spoke, casually tossing away the fact that two people just died, made Veronica want to vomit. Neither she or her mother responded to his words. They just sat there, soaking in the anger and vitriol. Her father must have sensed it, because his eyes became softer, almost sympathetic. But Veronica didn’t know if it was truly for the horrific violence that both she and her mother had endured as a direct result of her father’s actions or out of regret that they now she (and hopefully her mother) saw him for the Judas that he was. Someone who would be more than happy to throw someone under the bus, if only to save his own skin.
“I am so sorry” Hiram said in a put-upon apoplectic tone. “I just thank God, neither one of you were hurt.”
Hiram reached out to put a comforting hand on Veronica’s shoulder and immediately she bristled. A reflex that came as a result of the knowledge of who her father truly was, was truly capable of. An action of fear that was not lost on either one of her parents. A movement that changed her father’s soft tone into one of hard judgement instantaneously.
“I found your ‘October Surprise File,’” Veronica said as she flipped the notebook over on the table. Her fear was slowly diminishing. Replaced by a radiant anger.
Veronica could tell her father wasn’t expecting this as he quickly tried to backpedal. His words chosen ever carefully as he tried to explain away the evidence before him, “Well, your mother understands the costs of winning -- better than almost anyone -- is that right, mi amor?”
Veronica side-eyed her mother and her heart broke in pieces. Hermione Lodge, a badass woman who took no crap from anyone, sat there heartbroken. A shell of herself. The realization of Veronica’s words to her earlier finally were starting to sink in. That no matter how savvy Veronica always thought Hermione had been, she was a woman who thought her husband truly loved her and that he would never let her ambitions do her any harm. How could she have been so wrong. This angered Veronica to her very core.
“I realized something,” Veronica said staring at her mother, before turning with a bitter rage face towards her father. “There will always be an ‘October Surprise’ with you. And another. And another.”
Veronica could see the pretense fall from her father’s face, if she hadn’t known him, she could have sworn he looked regretful. Veronica shook off that notion quickly. The only thing her father regretted was getting caught.
“But while Mom ,” Veronica continued emphasizing her mother as a way for her to pay attention to her daughter’s next words carefully. “May volunteer to be your collateral damage -- I WON’T.”
Veronica watched her father’s face scrunch up in annoyance, she could tell he had enough of her pontification.
“What did I always teach you?” Hiram stated looking to Veronica as if he would be able to justify himself with mere words. “Never lose sight of the bigger picture.”
Veronica stood her ground, she had had enough as well, “I’m not the one whose lost sight -- Daddy!”
Hiram looked like he was about to reply when Veronica’s phone began to ring, spying that it was Archie, and wanted nothing more to do with her father, she picked it up with haste.
“Archie, hey,” Veronica said as she watched her father rolls his eyes and walk away from them. “I was just about to call you, what’s --”
Veronica sat listening as Archie began to talk faster than she was able to comprehend. Something had happened. Archie sounded upset.
“Archie, calm down,” Veronica said as she rose from her seat, getting both of her parents attention. “What happened. What’s wrong?”
Veronica only listened and each word that came out of Archie’s mouth was worse than the last.
“Oh, my god,” Veronica cried, tears billowing behind her eyes.
“Veronica, what is it?” Hermione asked as she got up to be by her daughter’s side.
Veronica said nothing, but instead paid attention to her boyfriends words, all the while shooting her father daggers with her eyes.
“Don’t worry, Archie, I’m on my way,” Veronica hung up the phone and stood in silence, staring at her father.
“Did you have anything to do with this?”
Hiram looked at Veronica coyly, as if he had no clue what she was talking about. “Have anything to do with what mija, what’s happened.”
“Don’t you dare pretend like you don’t know!” Veronica spat as the tears began rolling down her face.
“Veronica, sweetheart,” Hermione said as she took her daughter in her arms. “What’s going on?”
“It’s Jughead,” Veronica said as she pulled herself off of Hermione and wiped away her tears. “He was jumped by the Ghoulies and beaten within an inch of his life. His dad found him at some lair on the other side of Sweetwater river. Archie, Betty, Cheryl and a few others are on their way to the hospital. It’s bad, Mom. They don’t know if he’ll make it.”
It was then that Veronica saw her mother flash her father a look unlike any that she had ever seen. However, before she could determine what kind of look it was, it was quickly replaced with determination.
“I’ll take you,” she said never taking her eyes off of Hiram. “I need to get out of this house for a while and I don’t want you be alone. Grab my purse, I left it in my office.”
Veronica nodded as Hermione gave her daughter a kiss on the top of her head and walked off towards the office. Once Hermione was certain her daughter was out of earshot, she turned to Hiram in disbelief.
“How COULD you?!”
“Hermione, I don’t know what you’re talking about?”
Hermione slapped Hiram across the face, Hiram didn’t even bristle.
“Don’t you DARE pretend that you didn’t have a hand in this. I know you paid the Ghoulies to cause trouble on the Southside to run the Serpents out of town, but THIS ? Hiram, this crosses a line. He’s Veronica’s friend. He’s like a brother to Archie. He’s y --”
“He’s a pain in my ASS!” Hiram exclaimed quietly. “He wouldn’t have stopped Hermione, until we were all exposed.”
“He’s a child.”
“He’s a gang member, Hermione. And a not so innocent one at that. Ask Penny Peabody how he mutilated and humiliated her.”
Hermione rubbed her hand across her face in frustration, “Veronica was right about you. If you could do this to Jughead. You could do this to either one of us. For God’s sake, Hiram he’s --”
Hiram grabbed Hermione by her wrist, “What have I told you about that topic, Hermione.”
With a quick tugged, Hermione wrangled herself from his grasp, “That it should never be discussed.”
Hiram pulled himself close to Hermione and leaned into her ear whispering, “How was I supposed to know that a rival gang, one whose leader had a grudge, would take matters into their own hands? If he dies, his blood will not be on my hands.”
Hiram looked Hermione in the eyes. Her veins turned to ice. Fortunately, before tensions could escalate further, Veronica returned. Sensing the tension, she stopped mid-step and looked back and forth between her parents.
“Is everything okay?”
Hermione nodded, composing herself, “Your father and I were just discussing how important it is for you to be by Archie’s side right now.”
Veronica didn’t believe it. She caught some of their conversation from the other room. She knew her father was responsible for what happened to Jughead and she would do everything in her power to prove it. However, now was not a time to deal with her father. Her good friend, her best friends boyfriend and her boyfriends brother was fighting for his life. Jughead was where her energy needed to be right now. Veronica handed Hermione her purse and the two walked out of the room, with Veronica giving one last steely glance her father’s direction.
Hiram Lodge stood there in silence, and waited for the sound of a door closing behind him before he picked up the file on the table and threw it across the room in a fit of rage. Penny had promised that Jughead would die. He didn’t however, and if he survived, he carried the secret of their deal. The chance to expose him not only publicly but in ways that even the young burgeoning detective didn’t dream possible. After giving himself a few minutes to compose himself, he grabbed his phone and dialed. He sighed heavily when the person answered on the other end.
“Hey, its me. Are you alone or is there a place to go where we can talk? Something has happened. Something bad. And -- And I need you to hear it from me first.”
Chapter 4: Look Me In My Eyes
Betty could feel someone lightly tapping against her cheeks.
Betty, I need you to wake up.
However, that was the last thing Betty Cooper wanted to do. In her unconscious state the world was void. Without thought or action where she could remain blissfully ignorant to the situation that was growing around her.
The light tapping was replaced with a forceful slap and Betty Cooper found herself slammed back into consciousness. Sitting up abruptly, she startled those who had gathered around her prone form and looked around in utter confusion. It was taking a moment for her memories to return to her.
Betty realized she was sitting in the passenger's seat of Cheryl’s car.
“I’m fine,” she said in a half whispered montone. “Where are we?”
“We’re at the hospital,” Cheryl said matter of factly.
The fuzz in Betty’s head began to lift and she was about to ask Toni what she kept looking at when it came back to her at once. She sucked in her breath as the tears welled in her eyes. Fear gripping every part of her being as she scrambled to look in the direction Toni kept looking. An ambulance was pulling into the dock of the Emergency Room of Riverdale General Hospital. An ambulance where her boyfriend lay, fighting for his life.
“Betty, wait --” Cheryl warned as Betty tumbled out of the car, but it had been for naught. She and the others followed behind her.
The sight that had met Betty was more than her mind could handle. She felt faint again, but Cheryl’s comforting arms wrapped around her, keeping her from falling. Paramedics and onlooking Serpents, who had been patiently waiting by the Emergency Room entrance had surrounded Jughead on all sides. Betty watched as he was wheeled quickly inside, FP, who had lingered behind with his men, looked at Betty with fear. Almost knowing that Betty’s sanity was holding on by a thread, he walked up to Betty and placed his hands gently on either side of her head.
“He’s gonna make it. He’s gonna be fine. Don’t you think any different.”
All Betty could do was nod as FP let her go and ran inside after the paramedics. Betty stood in the bay, with Cheryl still holding onto her for dear life. Cheryl nodded to Sweet Pea and Toni, who followed the other Serpents inside. Cheryl helped Betty to a nearby bench. A few minutes later, Toni reappeared with a bottle of water. Cheryl looked up at her with gratitude.
Thank you , she mouthed as she took the water from Toni.
Toni moved to go back inside when Cheryl grabbed her gently by the wrist.
“He’s gonna be okay,” Cheryl whispered as she gave her hand a tight squeeze. Toni squeezed back, as if drawing strength from Cheryl, before running back inside the Emergency Room.
“I meant that for you to, you know,” Cheryl said handing Betty the water. Betty opened the bottle and took a few sips before looking back at her cousin, who had given her shoulder a confident squeeze.
“He wasn’t breathing Cheryl. Who knows how long he was laying out there not breathing? I mean, my god, if he hadn’t called me, we wouldn’t have realized something was wrong. He could have died out there all alone -- he still could die,” Betty began to stutter, inhaling air in great giant gasps. Cheryl rubbed her cousin’s back until she was able to breathe normally again.
“A few months ago, I would have never said anything like this but I have come to learn that its truth: Jughead Jones is a great man. He’s strong. He’s a fighter. And most importantly, Cousin Betty, he loves you, dearly. I will be the first to admit, I didn’t understand the two of you. However, having gotten to know the two of you better, I can see it. He’s your soulmate. And if rom-coms have taught me anything, it’s that you fight for your soulmate. No matter what. Even if they can’t fight for themselves. I know you’re worried about Jughead. I mean if it had been Toni -- God forbid -- I too would be a puddle on the floor. But I know that I would also be strong for her. For us. Like you’ve got to be for Jughead right now. First chance you get, you tell him to stay with you. That no matter how appealing the other side may look that he come back. Believe me Cousin Betty, this isn’t how your love story with Jughead ends.”
Betty wiped the tears from her eyes. Over the past few months, she had come to confide and lean on Cheryl in a way she never thought she would. Learning of their familial bond was a bridge that helped them build a strong friendship on. One that in times like this, she was grateful for.
“Thanks Cheryl,” Betty said as she gave her cousin a strong, confident smile.
“Not a problem, Cousin. Are you ready to go inside?”
Cheryl only nodded, “You take your time.”
There Betty sat with Cheryl, trying to calm herself, regain her strength, before she walked into the reality of Jughead’s situation. Cheryl was right. If the situations were reverse, Jughead would fight with all he had to keep her on this Earth, and dammit, so would she. She wanted to call her mom, tell her what was going on with Jughead, but knew that she was too much of a mess to deal with anything else. Betty Cooper was going to have to be strong for her mother too. Nightmare’s of every kind surrounded her. She would deal with those in time. Right now, the only enemy that Betty Copper was prepared to fight was death, who threatened to take away the very foundation of her heart.
Not if I have anything to say about it.
With that Betty Cooper stood up and with her Cousin Cheryl right behind her, walked into Riverdale General Hospital, ready to rumble.
Archie found himself unable to drive to the hospital. Instead, he drove back to his house, where his father was waiting at the steps. He had barely put the car into park when he broke down in sobs against the steering wheel, his father making a beeline for him, throwing open the drivers door to give him a hug. Archie felt like he was five years old again. That he had just woken up from a nightmare and needed the strong comforting arms of his father and his reassurances that everything would be okay. And much like he did when he was a child, he took his father’s word as gospel. Nothing he would every say to him would be a lie.
Fred let go of Archie and held his head in his hands, “He’s gonna make it. He’s gonna be fine. Don’t you think any different.”
“Dad, you didn’t see him,” Archie said trying and failing to stifle sobs. “He was bloody all over and he wasn’t breathing. Dad -- what if he dies?”
Archie noticed for the first time how small his voice sounded.
“He’s not gonna die, Archie. You need to stop thinking that way.”
“What if he does, Dad? I was so horrible to him this year. I was so caught up with everything I was doing for Mr. Lodge I didn’t see that he was in trouble too. He’s been my best friend, like a brother to me, and how do I treat him? Like he’s gum on the bottom of my shoe!”
Once again, Fred held his son’s face in his hands, “Archie, listen to me. This year -- it's been hell on all of us. What you went through that day at Pop’s. I am so sorry that happened to you.”
“Why are you apologizing?” Archie replied gently pulling his father off of him. “You were the one that was shot!”
“And you were the one who had to go through all of that. Had to drag my bloody body in the truck all the way to the hospital. Arch, you’re still a kid, you shouldn’t have gone through that. Or what happened after that alone. I should have followed your mother’s advice, got someone to talk to you. Instead, I thought you would be fine and in turn, you got taken advantage of by a guy like Hiram Lodge. He played on your fears and your vulnerabilities.”
“Archie, my point is this. We’re not perfect. We make mistakes. We do things in the heat of the moment or we ignore things we should not do. There is always going to regret in life. It’s how you handle it that matters. I wasn't there for you when you needed it and in the way you needed it. I’ve learned from that and moved forward. The same with Jug. He has a big heart, just like his mom. He forgives easily. I’m sure he’s not as upset with you as you think he is. All friendships go through tough times Archie. It wouldn’t be a real friendship if it didn’t.”
“Kinda like you and Mr. Jones?”
Fred smiled, “You could say that. FP and I have always had our ups and downs and yeah, for a while it was complicated between us. But, I know now, Archie, that he has my back. Just like Jughead has yours. And whatever mistakes you may have made in the past, you will have the time to make it up to him. Understand?”
Archie nodded. His Dad was right. If he and FP could work through their issues, very serious issues, and come out better on the other side, there was no way he and Jughead couldn’t do the same. He was afraid. Forget that. He was terrified. He looked down at his hands, for the second time, they were covered in the blood of someone he held dear. Someone that he was afraid to lose. But he had to keep faith in his friend that he would pull through. Pray to every god in existence if he had to. Jughead had to survive. There was no other outcome that was acceptable to Archie. He had given up on him so many times this year, Archie wasn’t going to walk away from him when he needed him the most.
“Can you drive me to the hospital. I - I don’t think I can drive there on my own right now."
With a reassuring squeeze on his son’s shoulder, Fred Andrews watched as Archie climbed over the seat to the opposite side of the truck. Fred then climbed into the driver seat and after seatbelts were fastened, turned the key and started the vehicle. As they drove away and down the streets the short distance to the hospital, Fred Andrews said the same thing over and over in his mind.
Please, don’t let that boy die.
Veronica Lodge walked into Riverdale General Hospital alone. Her mother felt that given the actions she and her father have been taking against the Southsiders, especially the Serpents, that she would be the least welcome. Veronica tried to argue, but knew it would do no good to argue. Her mother was in a mood. There was no changing it. When she reached the waiting area she found it full of Serpents, all of whom looked a mixture of angry and concerned. In the corner was FP Jones sat alone, look despondent -- as if his whole world had collapsed in on itself. On the opposite end of that she saw Betty. Flanked on either side by Cheryl and Toni, her eyes tear stained and hands holding on to the people beside her for dear life.
Betty looked up at the sound of her name and seemed to melt upon recognizing her friend. Veronica ran to Betty's side and hugged her friend for dear life.
"Honey, I'm so sorry. Archie called me. Told me what happened," Veronica replied amid tears as Cheryl and Toni moved to the other side of the room to check on FP.
"It's really bad, Ronnie. He had stopped breathing when FP found him. Archie and another Serpent did CPR and got him breathing but he hasn't regained consciousness. FP said that the paramedics were worried about his heart because they found stun gun burns on his chest and there's a possibility of a serious head trauma. He's still in the medical bay. We haven't had an update since he got here."
Veronica's heart broke as she pulled Betty into a comforting side hug. She hated that her friend was hurt, that her other friend was hurting and that her father may be responsible for all of this. There had been a time when she never would have thought her father capable of harming someone she cared about. Not in such a violent way. Yes, he had been responsible for what happened to Nick, but that had been different. Nick was a scumbag who deserved it. Jughead, while not perfect by any stretch, was a good man who loved deeply. Someone who didn't deserve the crap that was done to him. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as FP sat up and crossed the room to a hallway where a doctor was waiting. Both Veronica and Betty noticed.
"I think that's Jughead's doctor," Betty replied anxiously as she crossed the room hastily, with Veronica, Cheryl and Toni in tow. They arrived just in time to see FP thank the Doctor as he walked away in the opposite direction.
"Mr. Jones?" Betty asked nervously.
FP hesitated a moment before turning in Betty's direction. "He's alive."
Betty's face was awash of relief that swiftly came to an end just by looking in FP's eyes. "But he's not okay, is he?"
FP shook his head. Tears streaming down his face.
"No, Betty, he's not."
Chapter 5: If You Listen Here Closely
Betty Copper sat in the chapel. After FP had delivered the news to them, she wanted to see Jughead. However because Jughead was in the ICU and she was neither his immediate family or his spouse, she couldn’t see him until he was transferred to a room of his own. Which, according to his doctor, would probably be within the next twenty four hours. So until then, Betty stayed in the chapel. After FP broke the news to them, he was an absolute wreck. Luckily Archie and Mr. Andrews showed up not too long after. Mr. Andrews took Mr. Jones outside for some fresh air, leaving it up to Cheryl and Toni to break the news to the other Serpents. Archie became a crying mess and leaned on Veronica, while Betty quietly snuck away to do the only thing she could do, be by herself, and honestly surround herself with the only thing she could handle at the moment, which was silence. So the chapel seemed the best bet. Thankfully it was empty and Betty was able to sit in the pew in silence with nothing but herself and her thoughts.
“I’m not the most religious person,” Betty said aloud, her hands folded against her lap. “But I do believe in things happening because their supposed to. And Jughead and I, we were one of those things. He gets me. Understands me, the real me, in a way no one else ever could. We just found our way back to one another. Please. Don’t take him from me now.”
By some miracle, Jughead had no broken bones or internal bleeding. Which given the extent of his beating, the doctors were mystified by. That didn’t mean he came out of the ordeal unscathed. The doctors had confirmed that he had taken a high voltage stun gun hit to the chest, which momentarily stopped his heart and was the reason why he wasn’t breathing when they found him. The electrical jolt, however, was causing his heart to misfire. So he was put on medications in the hopes of stabilizing it. Given his age and relative health, they didn’t expect this to be a serious issue and had faith it would eventually correct itself. What they were really worried about was his brain. There was swelling, which is totally normal given how hard he hit his head. However, until it went down, they had no idea how serious a head injury he had. It could simply be a concussion, or something worse. For the time being, he would be unconscious, which was again, normal. However, the longer it took him to wake up, the worse news would be.
So for the time being, they were all in a holding pattern. Jughead had survived the beating, but his life was still at risk. Her father was still a serial killer. And her mom -- her mom was an emotional wreck. With that thought, Betty Cooper got out her phone. And with a sigh, she stepped out into the hallway. She had to tell her mother what happened to Jughead sooner or later. Even though Betty didn’t want to dump any more bagged onto her mother’s shoulders, she would much rather be the one to tell her. The phone rang longer than Betty would have liked. She had almost reached her voicemail when her mother picked up the phone.
“Elizabeth?” Alice Cooper replied in a tone that conveyed she had been crying. “Honey where are you?”
Betty swallowed hard, “I’m at the hospital mom. Its Jughead. He’s been hurt -- and it's really, really bad.
FP Jones and Fred Andrews sat on a bench outside of the doors to Riverdale General Hospital in silence. They would be the first to acknowledge that this was incredibly awkward. Although they had been closer to each other than they had in a long time, they were nowhere near the friends the used to be. They knew they had no one else but themselves to blame for that. The one saving grace for their relationship over the years was that the younger Jones and Andrews remained, despite their father’s falling out, thick as thieves. After the silence went on a bit longer than it should have, Fred swore under his breath, the first to break their silence.
“I never thought I would see the day Freddie Andrews would cuss in public,” FP laughed softly, with Fred following suit.
“Well, these days the occasional cuss is warranted.”
The two sat in silence once more. Until, FP, finally got up off the bench and leaned up against a nearby wall.
“I haven’t told his mom yet.”
Fred looked to FP in shocked surprise, “ Why not.”
FP looked at Fred mournfully and sighed deeply, “Truth is Freddie, she hasn’t been doing all that great.”
“I thought she was doing better,” Fred looked at FP concerned. “When Mary talked with her last, it seemed like being away was just what she needed.”
“And it was, at first. At first things seemed great. But -- you know these things Fred, they’re unpredictable. Being around her folks doesn’t help all that much. You know how they treated her.”
“If they still treat her that badly, why did she take Jellybean and go to live with them.”
FP wiped a tear from his eye, “Things got that bad Fred. She tried to get Jughead to go with her but he refused to leave me. It broke her heart to do it, but she left him behind. If she had stayed any longer, Fred, she would have had another collapse. She didn’t want the kids to see that. Truth is, she’s been hanging on a thread for some time.”
Fred got up and leaned on the wall next to FP. “I’m sorry man, I didn’t know things had gotten that bad.”
“What was there to say? You and I had a falling out. It didn’t exactly seem like our problems were your problems anymore.”
Guilt overwhelmed Fred Andrews in that moment. Looking back on all the decisions that he made, he regretted not pressing FP more about what was bothering him. What led him down the downward spiral that ended their friendship so long ago. He knew about the hospital bills, their financial struggles -- but he chose to ignore them because they weren't his problems.
He knew that the Jones family always had their problems, and that Claudia, his wife’s childhood best friend, was at the center of many of them. Abandoned at birth, Claudia spent her formative years in foster care before being adopted by, what seemed like, a nice loving couple in Riverdale who had trouble conceiving children of their own. Trouble came not too long after when they discovered they were pregnant. Unlike most adoptive parents, Claudia’s resented having her in their lives. They had only adopted her because they thought they couldn’t conceive a child of their own and now that they had one, they didn’t really want her. They couldn't exactly give her back so now they were stuck with the responsibility of caring for her. They would go on to have several more children and the more they had the less they cared about Claudia all together.
All her life she was told how fortunate she was that she had been taken in. How grateful she was that they had taken her in or she would be left for her own on the streets. She grew up believing herself to be a burden. Unwanted. Unloved. Mary’s family was the first exposure to kindness she had ever known. And even though her family knew about how Claudia was suffering, it wasn’t something back then you got involved with legally speaking. So Claudia spent as much time by Mary’s as she could. It was never, however, her home. Claudia was younger than Mary, not by much, but his wife was always protective of her. Thought of and treated her like a baby sister.
So much so, that when Mary went off to college, she had asked Fred to keep an eye on her. It was then he got to know this girl, whom his future-wife loved to pieces, a little bit better. Claudia was a personality, one unlike Fred Andrews had ever seen. Wildly intelligent and free-spirited, she was incredibly fun with a great big giant heart that broke very easily. She was easily emotional, something Mary had chalked up to Claudia’s troubled childhood. But most of all, she was endlessly optimistic, an incredibly infectious quality that spread to everyone who ever knew her. Which is why, when his friend FP came home for leave while he was in the Army, Fred thought it would be a great idea to introduce them.
When FP met Claudia it was as if the world had been made anew for them both. Their chemistry was undeniable. Fred had never seen either of them so happy and was so proud of himself. Mary, however, was less than pleased with him. She knew all too well their friends checkered past and was reluctant to cosign onto a relationship between her surrogate sister and a man who ran with biker gangs. This sentiment got even worse when, at seventeen, Claudia ran off and eloped with FP, dropping out of high school. Mary and Claudia had a big fight and stopped talking for several years. It wasn’t until FP’s tour of service was over and the couple returned to Riverdale that the two mended fences. They got even closer, when within a year, they were pregnant together.
Pregnancy had been easy and smooth sailing for Mary, but Claudia wasn’t that lucky. While he and Mary purposefully waited until she had finished law school before trying to have kids, FP and Claudia struggled for years with little success. When they found out she was pregnant, it was a miracle. One that they took every precaution to protect. What they didn’t know, however, was that this miracle came with a price. Claudia, who had always been a big personality. Someone who laughed, loved, faltered and feared spectacularly. Who was gentle and fierce in the most dramatic ways. Who knew she was silently slipping away. Unbeknownst to the many that knew her, she had been suffering from a lingering darkness. One that had popped up from time to time in unlikely ways, but had kicked into high gear in the very early onset of pregnancy.
The doctors had all told them that this kind of thing happened in pregnancy from time to time and that once she gave birth, it would pass. However, after she gave birth to Jughead, and it didn’t go away, that is when people began to worry. It didn't get better, it only got worse. In fact they had no clue how bad it really was until almost a year after Jughead was born. They were out on a job when FP got a message from his wife saying to come home. He tried calling but no one answered. Worried, both he and FP rushed to the small house they had been renting. When they arrived, they found Claudia sitting outside in the snow, with nothing more than a thin white dress, and the sounds of a crying Jughead coming from the house through an open window.
They had rushed them both to the hospital and while Jughead would be fine, Claudia, however, would not be. Fred remembered all too well the way the doctor had come to tell them. How, both Mary and FP, had broken down in tears and sought each others shoulder for comfort. How, after being pumped full of medications, Claudia would awaken freaking out that she had killed her baby, only to be reassured by FP that Jughead was fine. Things were an uphill battle after that. There would be times when everything seemed fine, where Claudia was stable and life was good for the Jones family. There were other times, though, when it wasn't. Times when Claudia 's body became resistant to her medication, or times when she forget to take her medication all together. She'd bottom out and they were right back where they started. He didn’t blame either one of them for wanting to keep their kids away from the roller coaster if they could.
Fred looked at FP for a moment before he asked the question that was weighing on the back of his mind, “FP, how much does Jughead know about what is really going on with his mom?”
“We’ve never formally talked about it,” FP admitted reluctantly. “But he’s seen it Fred. He was six when Claudia was pregnant with Jellybean. He was almost in high school when she was last hospitalized. He’s so much like her Fred, it scares me sometimes.”
“You really need to talk to him FP, since this really could affect him one day.”
“I know, Fred,” FP replied as his emotions got the better of him. “There are lots of things we need to talk about that I’m afraid I won’t be able to.”
Fred watched as FP collapsed into a sobbing mess. Without thinking Fred pulled him into a hug.
“Jughead’s going to pull through,” Fred said as he held his friend as he wept. “If there is anyone who needs to believe that right now its you.”
Fred heard the sounds of footsteps approaching, while FP, still weeping, was oblivious. He looked up in their direction to see Alice Cooper standing next to them.
“FP?” her voice asked quivering.
FP looked up at Alice, who was just as much a hysterical mess as he was. Alice looked to Fred and with unspoken words told Fred to move out of the way. Without hesitation, she took his place.
Cradling the despondent Jones.
Gently and lovingly, in her arms.
Chapter 6: Admit You Were Toxic
Archie Andrews sat in the waiting area of Riverdale General Hospital, his head resting gently on Veronica’s shoulder. The doctors finally let FP see Jughead in the ICU while the rest of them were left outside waiting anxiously for his return. Toni, Cheryl and the other Serpents left a while ago. When it was made pretty clear that no one but family was going to see Jughead til the morning, they decided there was no point in waiting around. His dad left as soon as Mrs. Cooper arrived, telling Archie that if he wanted to stay, Betty’s mom promised to drive him.
“I have to tell your mom about Jug,” his dad told him solemnly.
Archie could only nod as his father walked away. His mother and Mrs. Jones were incredibly close, almost like sisters. Which is why he and Jug were so close. He knew his mom would be upset and that calling her from the hospital would probably be the worst thing imaginable. He also found out from his dad that FP had yet to call Mrs. Jones to tell her Jughead had been hurt. When he questioned why he would do that, Fred told him to just trust that FP knew what he was doing. Archie acquiesced, he didn’t wholeheartedly, however, agree.
Mrs. Jones was always incredibly kind to Archie. Sweet and affable, she was always a joy to be around. Jughead said she loved books and writing and that her biggest regret was not finishing high school. She seemed, at first glance, to be the perfect mom. However, there was something off kilter about Mrs. Jones, and that no one really liked talking about it. The first time he saw it was when he and Jughead had their first sleepover. They were six and Mrs. Jones was pregnant with Jughead’s sister. The two of them walked out of Jughead’s room to a full spread of bacon, eggs and waffles with the house looking cleaner than Archie had seen it the night before. While Jughead dove into the deliciousness, Archie could spy out of his eye a concerned glance Mr. Jones had thrown his wife’s way.
He would come to find out later, after overhearing a call between FP and his mom, that Mrs. Jones hadn’t been to bed that night. That she had stayed up all night cleaning the house. Archie always thought it was a bit bizarre. Namely because she didn’t look the least bit tired. And also, why would catching up on chores be a bad thing? There were times Archie had trouble sleeping and stayed up playing video games. The second time Archie realized it was weeks later when a scheduled sleepover at Jug’s turned to a sleepover at his house. Jughead later told him it was because his mother was tired and had spent the entire day in bed. Archie thought nothing of it and continued to play video games with his friend.
Right before the start of high school, Mrs. Jones would spend some time in the hospital. When he asked his father and later his mother (who had flown all the way from Chicago) the reason why, they hesitated, and said that Mrs. Jones was just exhausted and needed some rest. Rumors began to fly around Riverdale, awful rumors that both Archie and Jughead vehemently denied when they heard them. People were saying that Mrs. Jones had gone crazy. That she was actually in a mental institution in Greendale and not an actual hospital. It got worse when school started. Jughead was horribly teased as the kid whose mother had gone mental. It came to a breaking point, when a group of seniors grabbed Jughead between classes and threw him in the gym pool fully clothed. It seemed one of them had a parent who worked as a janitor at the hospital who told them that Mrs. Jones tried to take a bath fully clothed and they felt Jughead should join her. After he heard what happened, Archie was beyond livid. He immediately went to Jug's house after school but Mr. Jones said that it wasn't a good time. That Jughead would talk to him when he wasn't so upset.
The incident had upset Jughead so much that he ignored Archie's repeated attempts to reach him and stayed home from school the rest of the week. When he did return, it was as if some kind of switch had been flipped inside of him. It was around this time that he stopped being a care free, fun loving kid and adopted the dark, brooding loner, his so called, “weirdo” persona. Archie had tried to ask him what happened once, and only once, but given Jughead’s reaction, which was one of solemn tears, he pressed it no further. After that day he never wanted to see his friend cry again. He didn’t get his wish but at this moment he would wish for something, anything, to know that his friend was going to be okay.
After he and his dad had walked in on FP giving them the news on Jughead’s condition, Archie just broke. Partly out of happiness he was alive and another filled with sadness that he wasn’t out of the woods and wouldn’t be for a while. The biggest fear they had was for Jughead’s brain, his most valuable asset in Archie’s opinion, of which the extent of injury was unknown. Right now there was swelling, which he knew from anatomy class was common with head injuries, and that he would be unconscious because of it. He also knew that until the swelling went down, they wouldn’t know how badly he was hurt and that the longer he stayed asleep, the worse things were for him.
Then came the even more devastating news that there was something wrong with his heart. That he had taken a powerful stun gun jolt to the chest, which angered Archie deeply, and that it had stopped his heart, albeit briefly. Which would explain why he wasn’t breathing when they found him. Right now his heart was misfiring but they had hope with medication and rest it would correct itself. Which, again going by what he knew from anatomy class, was possible if the person was healthy and the cause wasn’t something permanent. Archie prayed this was the case. While Jughead’s brain was his most valued asset, his heart was the most precious. Looking around the room, at the faces of those who loved Jughead the most, Archie realized that in his hour of need, his friend needed their love. And if that meant it kept him from leaving them, then dammit, they would give it to him.
Hermione Lodge walked into The Pembrooke to find Hiram sitting in front of the fireplace, brandy in hand, his mind lost in thoughts.
“So I hear Jughead survived,” he stated matter-of-factly as he sipped his drink, not looking in her direction.
“Well its not like Penny and her goons didn’t try to kill him,” Hermione said flinging her purse to the table and pouring herself a glass of wine. “He’s not out of the woods yet. He has injuries to both his brain and his heart. The next few days will tell. Veronica stayed behind with Archie, Alice Cooper promised to drop her off later.”
Hiram didn’t answer, but Hermione knew he was more than happy with this news.
“And wipe that smug grin off your face Hiram, killing a child is nothing to be proud of.”
“As I mentioned before Hermione,” Hiram responded placing the glass on the table before him and turning in her direction. “I don’t consider Jughead a child.”
Hermione sat at the head of the table, smug drink in hand, staring down Hiram with the sharpest dagger eyes in her arsenal, “I’m willing to bet your father said the same thing to justify what he did to Emily K--.”
Hiram stood up at the mention, anger causing his body to go rigid.
“Hermione, what have I told you. We. Don’t. Talk. About. This.”
Hermione sat her wine glass down in defiance, “Oh, we’re going to. When we met, you went out of your way to tell me how much you weren’t like your father. How the great Mateo Lodge was an evil man, who did evil things. And when I asked you -- when I pressed you about it you told me, TO MY FACE, that you would never do to a child what your father did to Emily.”
“Emily may have been young, but she wasn’t a child. She was my father’s amante, Hermione.”
“She was sixteen years old,” Hermione said as she got out of her seat and took a picture of their daughter off of the mantle. “The same age as our daughter! The same age as Jughead. And they found her body, beaten to an almost unrecognizable degree at a dump in Greendale. And the person who hurt her was never caught. Never faced justice. Her family mourned. Have you become so short sighted that you have resigned Jughead's family to a similar fate."
"SHUT UP HERMIONE!" Hiram screamed in a rage that Hermione had never seen before. She was taken aback, to say the least. Knowing that he allowed his temper to get the better of him, Hiram sighed and retook his spot once again on the chair near the fireplace. "This is a different situation entirely, Hermione, and you know that. You understand. What I did is no different from what we did to Nick St. Clair."
"No, Hiram, I don't understand," Hermione said as she grabbed the bottle of wine and her glass. "Nick St. Clair was different. He was raised his whole life to follow in his father's footsteps. Been raised in the organization. Prayed upon, drugged and raped young women, he wasn't innocent. What were Jughead's crimes again? Oh, that's right. He didn't turn out like you wanted him to. He had too much conviction. Too much sense of right. He couldn't be shaken or corrupted. That's why you moved on to Archie, isn't it. You saw he was vulnerable after what happened with Fred and knew that if you couldn't get Jughead into the fold, then what better way to turn his own friend against him. See, I am in this for the long haul, I have resigned myself to that. But Veronica's is done playing your bullshit. Believe me, if Jughead dies, there will be no place in hell for you to hide from the line of people who will come for your head."
As Hermione walked past Hiram and to her bedroom, she paused momentarily, "And speaking as a mother, I don't care what you told Claudia earlier. When she finds out what you did to her son, she'll be first in line."
Hiram said nothing as she watched his wife slam the door and lock it behind her.
Chapter 7: Beg Me For Forgiveness
Kevin Keller sat in his kitchen staring at his phone. He had been contemplating calling Moose for the last few days. After what happened with Midge they were all shaken, but none more than Moose. However, given the complicated nature of their friendship, he wasn’t sure what was considered appropriate right now.
“You’re up late,” his Dad said as he walked into the kitchen and took a seat beside his son.
“I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about the fact that Mr. Cooper is a serial killer.”
“I know what you mean. I have known Hal my entire life. I would have never thought him even capable.”
Kevin felt a great sadness for his father in that moment. Yes, he was able to bring the Black Hood to justice, no it didn’t get him his job back and on top of all of it, the fiend turned out to be his childhood friend. For Kevin, he imagined it would be like waking up one day to find out Betty went all Kill Bill on the Ghoulies.
“I’ve tried calling Betty earlier and then Mrs. Cooper, but I doubt any of them are in the mood for talking right now.”
“Well then who were you sitting down here alone, trying to get up the courage to call?”
Kevin looked up at his dad, who was smiling at his knowingly. His dad always knew him. Which is one the reasons he was never able to keep any secrets from him.
“Yeah, with Midge’s killer brought to justice, I wanted to see how he was doing.”
“So, you were thinking of calling him -- about Midge.”
Kevin looked at his Dad in alarm, “Why else would I be calling him?”
“You know you’re a terrible liar, right? I know that you want to call Moose to talk with him, and not just because of Midge.”
Kevin sighed in frustration and put his phone on the table.
“I like Moose,” Kevin admitted to his Dad with a wry smile. “Like a lot. The problem is, I am not sure where I stand with him or if he even knows where he stands, to be honest. And I’ve tried to have a conversation with him about it and it just never seems to be the right time. After what happened with Midge I don’t think there will ever be a right time. And yet --”
“You can’t let it go. Can’t let him go.”
“I know he loved Midge, Dad, I can see it on his face, but there’s something between us and I don’t know what to do with it. Hell, I don’t even know if Moose is even really gay.”
“Kev, look,” Tom Keller said as he got up from the chair and sat on the edge of the table. “You got lucky in the respect that you knew who you were from an early age. You never shied away from it. You’re mother and I -- we love every inch of you and are so proud of the man you have become. However, you have to realize not everyone is fortunate enough to know who they are or have the support to find out. I know that you’re frustrated that this person that you like might not know if he really likes you back, but this is just as frustrating for him as it is for you. Especially when you don’t know if he has the support behind him to figure it out.”
“Then what do I do? I can’t just wait around, hoping one day he gets his shit together.”
Tom shot his son a glance at the cuss.
“No need to apologize kid, just don’t do it around your mother. You know how she feels about that. And what you said before, it’s not about waiting around for him to as you put it, ‘get his shit together’ its about being there for him as he tries to figure it out. Even if its as a friend. Even if nothing ever comes of it. Just knowing that he has someone in his corner could make the world of difference.”
Tom Kellar knew for a fact that the Mason boys parents would not be as supportive as he and his wife were over having a child who was gay. He went to school with Jerry Mason. He was the stereotypical hot headed jock who used to beat up the gay kids in school. And from that he knew of him now, he highly doubted he would give a child of his any better treatment. Add to that the fact that his wife, Marilyn, came from a very religious family with a traditionalist mindset and that made for one difficult situation for a kid questioning his sexuality.
A sudden vibration from the table broke their conversation. Looking down Tom could see the name MOOSE coming across in large lettering.
“Speak of the devil -- “
“And ye shall receive,” Kevin finished practiacally snatching up the phone to answer. “Hey Moose. How are you? I was just thinking about calling to see how you were doing --”
Tom watched as Kevin stopped talking to hear what the other boy was saying on the other end. His eyes grew wider by the minute.
“Kevin, what’s going on?”
“Thanks Moose, for letting me know,” Kevin hung up the phone in haste and look to his father in disbelief. “Oh, my god.”
“Kevin, what? What happened?” Tom grew concerned by how pale and wide eyed his son had suddenly gotten.
“It’s Jughead. He- he was nearly beaten to death.”
“Uh, Moose’s sister is a nurse. Jughead was found beaten nearly to death at an encampment on the other side of the river. Apparently by the same group of Ghoulies you ran out of Pop’s earlier. She said it’s bad Dad, they’re not sure if he’s gonna make it.”
Tom put a supportive hand on Kevin’s shoulder.
“That’s where Betty and Alice have been. Along with Archie and Veronica. Dad, I need to go see Betty.”
“I’ll get my keys,” Tom walked of out the room and down the hallway to retrieve the keys from his jacket pocket. He stopped momentarily to punch the hall table in anger. Just the idea of a sixteen year old found beaten nearly beaten to death on the other side of town brought back painful memories for him. Of a similar story that haunted his father -- his family -- for over thirty years. A personal family tragedy that launched Tom’s own trajectory into law enforcement. A case that went unsolved, that would remain unsolved. All because of a powerful man, a puppet master whose web of lies and deceit kept Riverdale in its place. A man, whose son, was now trying to reclaim his father’s mantle.
Not if I have anything to say about it.
And with that vow playing over and over again in his mind, Tom Kellar grabbed his keys and followed his son out the door.
Alice Cooper looked on as Archie, Betty and Veronica lay sleeping on a set of couches off to the side of the waiting area. She texted both Fred and Hermione to let them know they were probably staying the night. FP hadn’t emerged from Jughead’s ICU yet. It had been hours and Alice was worried about him being in there all by himself. She had never seen FP so upset. So despondent. Betty said it was bad, but she didn’t know how bad until she arrived and saw Fred huddled on the ground with FP in his arms.
With the emotions of her ordeal with Hal still fresh on her mind, Alice couldn’t keep her own water works in.
FP looked up at Alice and her heart shattered in a million pieces. She eyed Fred, who got her cue and stepped aside. Within seconds, Alice was at his side, cradling him in his arms.
"It's gonna be okay FP," she said as much for FP as for herself. Sobbing hysterically why she said it. Fred, noting that maybe they need some time alone, excused himself to go check on the kids.
"I'm so sorry FP."
"You have nothing to be sorry about."
"No, I do. I was blind FP. To everything. To everyone around me. I was so busy trying to keep up pretenses. Thought I was better than everyone. I was so harsh on you. On Jughead. And I'm so sorry."
FP watched as Alice became undone. Wiping away his own tears and setting his own grief aside, he pulled Alice closer to him. Allowing her to cry on his shoulders.
"It's gonna be okay, Ally, I promise."
"You have my word."
They sat there, holding one another for a span of time that Alice didn't even bother keeping track of. It wasn't until Fred interrupted them with the news that Jughead was able to have visitors. The two stood up and took a minute to compose themselves before they headed back inside. That was hours ago and Alice wanted nothing more than to check on him. Steeling one last glance at the kids as she got up, she made her way to the doors of the ICU, which were just around the corner.
"Excuse me, Ma'am," said a the 70-year-old nurse behind the desk near the ICU. "But unless you're family. You cannot go in there."
Alice was about to rip her a new one when the familiar sounds of shouting echoed from down the halls. Alice's blood turned to ice.
"Somebody! Anybody! I need help."
Alice would recognize FP's voice anywhere. Without another thought she walked towards the ICU doors, only for the nurse to step in front of her.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but unless you are family, you cannot go in there."
"I AM FAMILY, YOU BITCH!" Alice said as she brushed the nurse briskly aside and made her way through the doors. There was FP standing in the hall looking frantic as doctors and nurses piled into a nearby room.
"FP?" Alice asked when she reached him, his eyes wide with fear. "What's happened? What's going on?"
"He was fine, Alice," FP said fidgeting his hands. Alice was quick to grab them for reassurance. "Then -- his heart, Alice. It's his heart, it --"
Alice pulled FP into a tight hug as she spied the commotion behind her. The doctors were doing their best to stabilize Jughead. She closed her eyes as she held FP closer. His resolve dissolving with every passing second.
All Alice could do was hold onto to FP and pray.
Chapter 8: I Am The Storm
Jughead Jones awoke with a jolt.
“Well, look who decided to return to the land of the living,” Archie said teasingly.
As he lifted his head he found himself awash in momentary confusion. Vivid, horrific memories flashed in his brain like moments on a film reel. He looked up, his head heavy to find himself in the Riverdale High student lounge, surrounded on all sides by his friends.
“Very funny, Arch,” Jughead said as he wiped the sleep from his eyes. “Did I fall asleep again?”
Betty looked at him sweetly and nodded, “Medication again?”
Jughead had been on heavy duty migraine medicine ever since his run-in with the Ghoulies. While he thankfully walked away from that encounter alive, albeit scarred for life, he wasn’t exactly out of the woods. He had started getting migraines about a month ago. He had tried the over-the-counter meds but they did little good. That’s when Betty insisted he see a doctor, one who said that these cluster-type headaches were more than likely the result of the concussion he suffered. The doctor told him that he couldn’t tell at this point if this was just an after effect or a something more permanent. So he gave Jughead a prescription and told him to come back in a month. A prescription he kept on him at all times because he was afraid to leave at home. He didn’t want to take any chances leaving highly addictive painkillers in a house with a man tiptoeing sobriety.
“Yes,” Jughead muttered frustratingly as he wiped both hands against his face. “And I hate having to take them but if its a choice between puking my guts out because my senses hate everything or absolute exhaustion -- its sorta obvious.”
Jughead could feel Betty rub his back comfortingly. A small reverb of static pulsed through his body, giving him a momentary feeling of strength. Betty was his touchstone. The rock that kept him going. She didn’t know how much her being there had helped him through everything.
“It's not going to be forever, Juggie, you’ve got to keep believing that,” Betty said encouragingly.
“I was going to stay home, but I didn’t know how much school I was going to miss because of the trial, I didn’t want to chance it.”
Betty and Archie gave each other concerned glances as Veronica suddenly looked down at the table in shame. It took a second for Jughead to realize what he said. He was immediately remorseful.
“Veronica. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to --”
Veronica raised her hand to silence him. The shame that was evident on her face was now gone, replaced with a stalwart acceptance.
“There is no need to apologize, Jughead. As much as it kills me to admit that there is a part of me that is upset about the fact that my father is probably going to jail for the rest of this life -- I am not sorry about it. Neither should you be. He almost killed you Jughead. And Archie’s dad. Not to mention he was the mastermind behind the whole Black Hood reign of terror. And for what? Just so he could buy enough of Riverdale to turn it into mob territory? It sickens me how many people were hurt because of him and if you’re testimony helps but him behind bars when he can’t ever hurt anyone again -- then so be it.”
Jughead had to give Veronica credit. She was handling losing her dad to jail a lot better than he did. However in his defense, FP was innocent, while Hiram was guiltier than sin. His father had told him the news when he woke. After his beating, the Serpents pumped on getting vengeance for both him and Fangs, met Penny and her gothic henchman in open rumble. Much to the shock of their opposition, Jughead’s sacrifice was able to bring every Serpent his dad had ever known out of the woodwork. They were victorious. Penny was captured and turned state’s evidence on Hiram faster than you could snap your fingers. He and his network of vile ne'er do wells were arrested within a day. Hermione got immunity from prosecution for handing over Hiram’s financial records. His trial was set for two weeks from now, and Jughead was one of the key witnesses.
“On a happier note,” Betty cut in trying to lift the mood. “Jughead’s mom and his sister are all set on returning to Riverdale.”
This revelation, which Jughead had been trying to keep to himself, had definitely seemed to lighten everyone's spirits.
“Jughead?” Archie said with a giant smile growing on his face. “When did this happen? Why didn’t you say anything?”
Jughead looked around at his friends in confusion. He hadn’t spoken to his mother since he woke up in the hospital. She was having a rough time trying to get allocated to a new set of medication and told him, sadly, she wouldn’t be able to come and see him for a while. Nor did she tell Jellybean he had been hurt, as to not upset her. Jughead knew his sister would want to see him right away just as much as he knew that his mother was not capable of doing so at the moment.
“My mom’s not coming home.”
He had expected Betty to protest, but it was Veronica, who chided in with a retort.
“Jughead, you should have said something! Now I have so little time to prepare. You are right, Arch, this is amazing news.”
“Veronica, I’m serious, my Mom isn’t coming --”
“I still can’t believe my father kept the revelation from me,” Veronica interrupted. Jughead looked around at the faces of his friends, who now were seemingly ignoring him and listening with rapt attention at every word Veronica said.
“I know what you mean, V. I can’t believe he kept that news from you and Juggie both.”
“What news?” Jughead got up from his seat protesting. “Betty --”
“I know what you mean, B. I would have loved to have known that piece of intel before I planted one on Jughead back at the cabin.”
“What the hell is going on?” Jughead yelled loudly. It was now that everyone’s attention was pulled back towards him.
Veronica looked at him with concern, “Oh, come on Jughead. I know it’s regrettable but its not like we knew the truth when it happened. Besides, it was completely meaningless.”
“I don’t know what --?”
A weird tugging sensation left Jughead unable to speak. It was sharp. Sudden. Quick. It began at the top of his stomach and quickly spread into his chest. He gasped, laying one hand shakily on the table for support.
"Jughead?" Betty asked looking up at her boyfriend with concern.
A burst of pain caused Jughead to double over. Betty and Archie were by his side in an instant. Archie reached out for Jughead, who grabbed his hand with an ever tightening squeeze. Archie could see the pained look, the sweat and glassiness of his eyes to know something was terribly wrong.
"Ronnie, call 911."
"Jughead?" Betty said as she helped Archie lay Jughead on the ground.
"My chest -- I can't breat --"
Jughead gasped sharply, a feeling of thunder filling his chest, before darkness consumed the world.
Shrill sounds awoke FP Jones from his slumber. He had been sitting by his son's side for hours. Dazed, it took him a moment to realize what happened.
"No," He gasped as he saw the heart monitor of his son's vitals go haywire. "No. No. No. No. I NEED HELP IN HERE!"
Getting up from his seat he ran out the doors screaming.
"HELP ME, PLEASE. IT'S MY SON!"
FP watched as a half a dozen people, doctors and nurses alike, ran towards him.
"Somebody! Anybody! I need help."
Utter hopelessness filled ever fiber of FP's being as he watched these people pile into his son's room. This couldn't be happening. This can't. This --
Shocked and surprised, FP Jones turned to find a worried Alice standing next to him.
"What's happened? What's going on?"
Just seeing her there. Being there. In a time that he needed her the most was everything FP never knew he needed. His resolve crumbled.
"He was fine, Alice," he said fidgeting his hands. Alice was quick to grab them for reassurance. "Then -- his heart, Alice. It's his heart, it --"
Without warning or intention FP collapsed into Alice's arms. The idea that he may actually be losing his son right now was just too much to bear. Alice said nothing, accept hold him tenderly to her, as the world collapsed from beneath him.
Betty Cooper was jolted wide awake by the frantic sounds of shouting coming from the direction of the ICU. She wanted nothing more than to run inside but the 70-year-old witch who guarded the door wouldn’t let her through. So she sat down, with her head in her hands. Ten minutes passed before she heard the doors of the ICU swing open and her mother’s tear-stained, quivering mess came walking slowly towards her. Betty had assumed the worse. She felt her heart drop to her knees. However, Alice, sensing her daughter’s failing resolve, moved quickly to her side.
“Betty, honey, there’s been a bit of a setback,” she began cautiously. “Jughead went into shock. The doctors said he wasn’t getting enough blood flow to his heart. They were able to stabilize him again, but they found fluid accumulating around his heart as a result of his injuries. He’s been taken to surgery. They’re going to try and take out some of the fluid out in the hopes of relieving the pressure around his heart, to make it work more properly. They believe that the fluid accumulation is also responsible for how unstable his heart has been since he was brought in.”
Betty did her best not to cry. It was in that moment. Watching her mother explain what was happening with Jughead, did she realize it. She swore under her breath and kicked herself for not seeing it sooner. Her mother was in mourning. She could see it in her eyes. Although her father wasn’t dead, the Hal Cooper that they knew -- that her mother loved with all her heart -- was gone. Betty realized her mother was wading through the one place she prayed to God she would never have to go. If she lost both her father and Jughead -- Betty didn’t think she could survive. Not wanting to add to her mother’ pain, she gave her mother a simple nod, wiped the tears from her eyes and grabbed her hands to give them a gentle squeeze.
“I’m going to go back in the ICU, sit with FP for a bit,” Alice said she got up from the chairs. “I really don’t want to leave him alone right now, Betty. He needs all the support he can get right now.”
Betty knew that being around FP right now was something her mother needed too. Someone to lean on in a way that she could never do with Betty.
“It’s okay, Mom. I’ll be fine. I need to tell Archie and Veronica anyway. Let me know the moment you know something, okay.”
Betty watched as her mother turned around and walked past the witch who wouldn’t let Betty past and into the ICU doors. She could have sworn she heard the woman mumble the word ‘bitch’ when her mother was out of earshot. Betty had known something was wrong. Deep down inside of her, something told her she needed to be awake and within seconds she was. She woke up dazed with an uncomfortable sensation in her chest she had chalked up to falling asleep on a leather couch. Now she knew different. It was the universes way of telling her Jughead was in trouble. Just like Jug's phone call to her earlier set off all of the alarm bells inside of her that led to this mess to begin with. She wiped the tears from her eyes as she walked back towards the waiting area. She would have to be the one to wake up Archie and Veronica. Tell them what happened. She wasn't looking forward to it. Archie had been just as much wrecked as she was. Betty thanked goodness that he had Veronica there to help support him. As she turned the corner, she stopped short of the waiting area. Her face crumbled into a mixture of sadness and gratitude.
There, standing by the desk, was Kevin and his Dad.
"Kevin," she squeaked out before all out sobs erupted.
Kevin was by her side in an instant and scooped up in her friends arms, the stress of the last few hours were finally allowed to overflow.
Chapter 9: What You Gon' Do
She was grateful for Kevin’s arrival and Mr. Keller, who had excused himself to go check and see if he could sneak into the ICU and check in with FP, see how Jughead was doing. The first thing Kevin did was hug her fiercely, something she didn’t know she badly needed.
“I am sorry I couldn’t be here sooner,” Kevin stated loudly, almost shouting. Betty pressed a finger to her lips to shush him, pointing to a still sleeping Archie and Veronica on the remaining couches. “ Sorry”
In an effort to allow her friends a bit more rest, she and Kevin walked around the corner to another set of chairs just outside the ICU.
“The fact that you’re here, Kev, that’s all that matters. God, I feel like I’m in some weird episode of the Twilight Zone. I mean, not only did I find out my Dad was the Black Hood. The same man that shot Mr. Andrews, that killed Midge, but Jugheads --”
“Betty, what exactly happened? I mean, I know he got hurt by the Ghoulies but I wasn’t able to get a heck of a lot out of my confidential informant other than that.”
Betty smiled softly. By confidential informant, Kevin meant Moose. Betty recognized his sister Marsha as one of the trauma nurses.
“Honestly, Kev, I don’t have all the details myself. All that I know is that apparently Penny Peabody kidnapped Toni and took her to this encampment off of Sweetwater River. Apparently as a way of warning the Serpents to either leave Riverdale or prepare for a fight. Jughead and Cheryl were able to rescue Toni and leave but he didn’t agree with FP and the other Serpents choice to fight. FP says he stayed behind at the trailer as a form of protest. Then I got a call from Jughead, cryptic, telling me he loved me and that he always loved me. It sounded like a goodbye. I got scared so I called FP and he went back to Penny’s camp where we found Jughead. Kevin, it was awful. He was covered in cuts and bruises and worst of all -- she cut off his serpent tattoo.”
“Like cut the skin off his arm?”
Betty nodded, “He wasn’t breathing so Archie and another Serpent did CPR and Cheryl was able to get an ambulance to get him here, and he survived so far. But Kev -- it’s really bad.”
Kevin could see the tears welling up in Betty’s eyes, spilling slowly down her cheeks.
“He hit his head pretty hard. They’re not sure if its because of the beatings or if he got knocked to the ground, but there’s swelling. They can’t tell until it goes down what kind of head injury he has, it could simple be a bad concussion or worse. However, in the meantime, he’s unconscious. To make matters worse, there were burns on his chest that looked like they were from a stun gun. The doctors were able to confirm that he got hit with enough jolts to temporarily stop his heart, which is why he wasn’t breathing. It also caused an irregular heartbeat they are trying to get under control. FP is with him in the ICU and they won’t let any of us see him until he gets moved to the trauma ward within the next few hours. We are in a bit of a pray and hope for the best situation at the moment.”
Kevin didn’t know what to say or what to do. He merely sat there mournful. Half upset about all the hell that Betty had gone through in such a short amount of time and the other half just upset about the turn their lives had taken lately. He yearned for the simple days of sitting up in Betty’s room talking about how hot Archie had gotten over summer vacation. It seemed so innocent back then. So much like another life that it was hard for Kevin to even fathom it. The murder of Jason Blossom was more than just an unnecessary tragedy. It was the catalyst that laid Riverdale’s ugliest attributes bare for the world to see.
Betty was truly happy that Kevin was there. She would be the first to admit that with all of the drama in their lives over the past few months, she had become neglectful of their friendship. Kevin was a confidant. Someone she could trust with secrets she could tell no other. However, with her preoccupation with discovering the truth behind the murder of Jason Blossom and the onslaught of drama and tragedy that followed, she had forgotten about him. Allowed him to wade in the shallows without allowing him access to the shore. When everything was said and done, she made the point of making sure that she would do what she could to rectify that.
She lost too much lately. The person she thought was her brother was nothing more than an imposter. Her father, with whom she had been so close had been nothing more than a villainous serial murder. And then there was Jughead. Her beautiful. Precious. Fragile Jughead. Who right now was undergoing semi-invasive surgery to remove fluid that had accumulated around his heart as a result of his injuries. Without realizing it, she began absent-mindedly rubbing her chest.
“Betty, are you okay?” Kevin asked looking to Betty with concern.
“Yeah, Kev. Sorry. It’s just --” she faltered staring at the ICU doors. “Right now Jug is in surgery. He went into shock because he wasn’t getting enough blood to his heart. There was some type of fluid build up as a result of his injuries. My mom told just told me when I saw you were here. She's by FP's side right now. So much has happened to her, Kev, I’m really worried."
Kevin hesitated. Unsure if he should say anything, ultimately deciding that he should.
"I am sorry about your Dad, too, Betty. I still can't believe it."
"Understatement of the year."
"I mean, this is the same man who dressed up as a clown for my seventh birthday. Which, in retrospect, should have been the first sign."
Betty shot Kevin a look.
"In bad taste. Sorry."
"Don't be. There were signs all over that pointed to my Dad. I just ignored them. I am supposed to be this great sleuth, one of the ones who helped bring about the truth about who killed Jason Blossom, and I couldn't even see a killer right in front of me. Maybe if I had, I could have saved people, saved Midge. But instead I just sat alone in my ignorance. Pushing people away when I should have been holding them close to me. I can't help but wonder. If I had ignored what my father had told me, and kept Jughead by my side, if I would have been able to figure things out sooner. He's my balance when I falter. The one who keeps me sane when I am about to lose my mind. If I lose him, I --"
"Betty. First off, you are not responsible for the things your father did. He's a sick man. Who did sick things. Secondly. You are ever bit as much Nancy Drew. But even she had her off days. No one wants to see or even think of the ones they love in that way. And lastly, Jughead loves you. Fiercely. That means he will fight tooth and nail to stay with you. You have to have faith that he'll pull through."
Betty and Kevin turned to see his Dad standing near the nurses station. "You need to have faith."
"Thank you, Mr. Keller."
Tom Keller hesitated awkwardly, "I just talked with Alice and FP. Jughead's gonna be in surgery for a while, and as much as I would love to be able to have Kevin stay with you. He has school tomorrow. I'll give you a minute, Kev."
With that Tom turned around and left leaving his confused son and Betty alone.
"Is your Dad okay, Kev?"
"Well, he's not doing as bad as your Mom, but considering catching the Black Hood neither restored his job or his reputation, he isn't exactly in a good place. Add to that the whole situation with Jughead is bringing back some painful family memories."
"What are you talking about?"
"The Coopers aren't the only ones with deep dark family secrets. Maybe not as gruesome but just as horrific. See my dad's aunt, my grandfather's younger sister, Emily, was beaten to death when she was in high school. Her body was found in a dump in Greendale. My dad was really young when this happened but it totally tore up his family. They never caught who did it and that haunted my grandfather his whole life. It's one of the reasons why my dad went into law enforcement. Why he was so adamant about trying to catch whoever killed Jason. This whole thing with the Black Hood, Midge and now Jughead's beating, its brought him to a dark place."
"Kevin, why didn't you ever say anything."
"It wasn't my story to tell. And even if it was, its horrific. My grandfather had to live the rest of his life in the shadow of it. Forever being known as Emily Keller's brother. Enough time had passed, people put that behind them. I'm not gonna lie to you Betty. That kinda stigma hurts."
Betty swallowed hard. If the people of Riverdale had a hard time getting over a murder. Laying in judgement of the victims family. How were they to treat the family of the one who did the murder. She could tell from his pained expression that this was something that haunted Kevin and his family still. How were the people of Riverdale going to treat her family. How were people going to treat her.
"I really don't want to leave you Betty," Kevin said getting up and looking towards the door. "However with everything that's happened, I am not in a defy my dad kinda mood."
"It's okay. Archie and Veronica are still here. And so is my Mom and FP. You go. One of us at least needs to try and live a normal life."
With that Kevin gave Betty a comforting hug and went around the corner out of sight. Betty walked back to the waiting slowly. A combination of parts not wanting to be too far from Jughead to not wanting to do what she knew she had to. She stopped momentarily by the nurses station and saw Archie and Veronica fast asleep. She swallowed hard. They had to know. No matter how peaceful they came across. Swallowing her fears, she woke Ronnie first. She would need back up. After tearfully spilling to Veronica everything that happened while she was asleep, the girls composed themselves before Veronica bent down by Archie's side.
Archie Andrews startled awake. As the world came into view he saw his girlfriend sitting beside him and Betty across from him. He suddenly felt overcome with fear. A deep bit of anxiety rose from within him. He sat up quickly. Maybe too quickly. The world was dizzy around them, but that matter little. There was only one thing he cared about.
She sat in a booth drinking a strawberry milkshake. Her raven-colored wavy hair was pulled into two ponytails on either side of her head. The sounds of Aerosmith blasted from a jukebox at the other end of the diner. Much to the dismay of many of the other patrons. That mattered little. What mattered was the milkshake -- and the company. They were celebrating and there wasn't anyone or anything that was going to ruin that.
"I know this place isn't Pop's," she said to the ten year old who sat across from her. "But it will have to do for now."
"To Mom," the little girl said, her blonde ponytail bobbing as she raised her vanilla shake. "High school graduate."
The two dinged the glasses, spilling some of the milkshake on the table. Both of them laughed before taking giant sips. It was these kinds of memories she always wanted to have with her children. Moments of happiness. Simplicity. Ones without drama or pain or suffering. For a second, she faltered. Her mind taken far away. To a place that held the other half of her heart. After the phone call she had earlier, she needed a break, and having recently passed her GED, she thought it would be the perfect moment to take her daughter out for a celebration.
The beginning bars of Kashmir began to play and she laughed with glee to watch her daughter's eyes light up.
So loud was her daughter's declaration, that the other patron's stared. She laughed it off. Today was their day. Nothing was going to ruin that. A loud ring of her phone said differently. The name FP came up in large lettering. She had spoken too soon. She had been expecting this call. She grabbed it off the table quickly, ensuring her daughter didn't see who was calling. Reaching into her pocket, she grabbed some loose change.
"If we're at Zeppelin that means we are almost at the end of our selections, why don't you keep it going," the girl jumped to her feet eagerly. "And remember, you are free to choose whatever you want. With one giant exception."
"No Beach Boys."
"Exactly," she smiled as she watched her daughter skip to the other side of the diner. With a hesitate breath, she answered the phone. Trying to best not to let her emotions ruin what was supposed to be a good day between her and her daughter.
"Hey, FP. To what do I owe this call so early in the morning?"
She said nothing. Only listened. The beginning she had come to expect. Cried her tears beforehand and hardened her heart to the news so that she would be able to handle the raw emotion and heartbreak that it was to be conveyed to her. That she was prepared for. What she wasn't prepared for was what happened next. As quickly as the snap of a finger, her resolve broke.
The little girl at the jukebox and the other patrons stared in her direction. Out of the corner of her eye she saw her daughter blanch and it made things even worse.
"Please," she cried loudly. "Please tell me he's going to be okay? FP, please?!"
The drop of the name caused the little girl at the jukebox to freeze. Tears welled in her eyes. If that was her Dad and her mom was this upset. There was only one person they could be talking about. Setting the change aside, she reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. Dialing as quickly as her little fingers could. Thankfully, someone answered on the other end.
"Aunt Wilma," she said trying to keep herself from crying. "I'm with Mama at the diner. Something bad happened to Jughead. Y-you need to come pick us up."
Chapter 10: The Price of Your Greed --
Archie was numb by time Betty had finished speaking.
All the tears had been shed. The fear had been felt. There was literally nothing left for Archie to do, say or feel. He just existed because when the closest thing you have ever had to a brother is at the precipice of death -- what else is there?
He had never known his life without Jughead in it.
Even though they had been born months apart the two had been cribmates. There were photos from that time period (many, many photos) that could attest to that. However, like much of Jughead’s life and their friendship in general there was a dark cloud over it. According to his Mom, Mrs. Jones got really sick after Jughead was born. That Jughead’s crib surfing was a result of FP spending long days (and nights) by her side. Neither of his parents got into long conversations about this, but Archie knew it had to be bad if both of them were willing to take Jughead in and that his parents were comfortable leaving their newborn in the hands of someone else.
His mind wandered to FP, sitting in the ICU waiting for news on Jug’s surgery. To his mother and sister, who had no idea that Jughead was hurt. In that moment, Archie flashed a small smile. He remembered the day Jug came to his house and told them that they were going to have a sister. Not just him. Them. His parents never had any children after Archie, a voluntary choice on their part, as they only ever wanted one child. So for Archie, the news that Jug was getting a sibling and his insistence that they both would be brothers to her, meant the world to him.
Even though things weren’t always easy between them, Archie never let that get in the way of him working with Jughead to be there for Jellybean. He remembered vividly after they started high school and the bullying started getting rough. Archie got involved in sports and Jughead sort of pulled away from him. Started working on his writing and retreating into a world of his own. It was hard for him to adjust to this new reality. Things got so rough, they hadn’t spoken for weeks. That changed however when Jughead called Archie to tell him that Jellybean’s birthday was coming up and that he wanted to take their sister out for pizza.
So Archie showed up with all smiles and a present. A present that had been bought months ago by both he and Jughead. One that he promised to keep at his house so their sister wouldn’t find it. One he had forgotten until that call had been lying wrapped and ready to go in a small corner of his closet. It was a small backpack, black, adorned with a spray painted replica of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover. It was ridiculously expensive. However, he and Archie both spent time working (Jug at the Drive-in and Archie with his dad) to save up the money to buy it for her. Watching her open the gift, the squeal in her voice and the light beaming from her eyes was everything.
All tension between him and Jug was gone. All their issues cast aside and forgotten. That’s just how his relationship with Jughead worked. No matter how bad things got, how much on the other side of an issue, or how hard they fought (physically or verbally) they always came out on the other end knowing that their friendship was all that mattered. Guilt hit Archie heavily in that moment. These last few months had been rough on them, the worst it had ever been in their entire lives. He had done and said things to Jughead that he never thought he would and wished he never had. He let his anger and fear over the Black Hood, his personal quest for revenge, to allow him to be blinded and led astray from the people that meant the most to him.
He was a bad friend and an even worse brother. All Archie wanted to do was tell Jughead how sorry he was. How he didn’t mean to have treated him so badly. That he was sorry for all the stuff he went through that Archie hadn’t been there to help him with. A moment of panic hit Archie hard. A fear. A terror that had gripped him from the very moment he knew Jughead was in trouble. He may not get a chance to make things right this time. His best friend, his brother, with all the awful things that had happened hanging over them. And there would be no way to make it better. A sense of urgency overwhelmed him.
He excused himself and told a concerned Veronica and Betty that he was going to the restroom. Instead he rounded the corner in the direction of the ICU waiting area. He stopped when he saw Ambrose, the Serpent who helped save Jughead’s life, sitting in one of the seats.
“Ambrose?” he asked walking closer to the Serpent.
“Archie,” he replied nodding for the ginger football star to take a seat next to him. “It’s good to see you again. Wish it were on better circumstances.”
“I just wanted to thank you,” Archie replied meaningfully. “For helping me save Jughead.”
“I would do anything for FP,” the man replied adamantly. “I wouldn’t be here without him. Growing up on the South Side is rough enough but try be a short chubby kid who loved comics and oversized baseball hats. I was bullied mercilessly. After high school I joined the Army, thinking this would be my ticket out of this place. I-I had a rough time there too, but for many different reasons. When I got back, I was in a bad place. That’s when I met FP and the other Serpents. Lots of them are vets, like I was. They understood what I went through. Aided in getting the help I needed and got me back up on my feet. First thing I did was join the Serpents. FP and the others have always been there for me. Which is why I am here now. For them.”
Archie had known very little about the Serpents, other than their illegal activities and his parents penchant for really not liking them all that much. Nevermind the fact that Jughead’s family was knee deep involved with them. However, thanks in part to Jughead, Archie had a better understanding of the Serpents. Who they were and what they did. He realized just how wrong he had been and that, for all the shady dealings that surrounded them, the Serpents were first and foremost, a family. Talking with Ambrose had helped eased Archie’s fears. He was about to ask him a little bit more about his experiences when he heard shouting coming from behind the ICU doors. He immediately recognized the exasperated yell of Alice Cooper.
“LIKE HELL YOU’RE GOING!”
With interest peaked, both Archie and Ambrose made their way to the ICU doors as they swung violently open.
“My people need me Alice! I can’t just let them go out and be slaughtered by Ghoulies.”
Alice grabbed FP by the shoulders, “Your son needs you. You can’t help him if you get hurt or arrested or worse! FP, please, don’t do this. I already lost my husband. I can’t lose you too.”
FP grabbed Alice by the face gently, “They hurt my boy Alice. He almost died. Hell he still could!"
"Which is all the more reason you need to stay here."
FP let go of Alice's face. All of the color drained from his face.
"Fangs is dead, Alice. Jughead could be next. The Serpents are riled up, they're going to face the Ghoulies whether I am there or not. I can't not be there. For them or for Jughead."
"Why, Jughead?" Archie asked as he finally found his voice.
FP and Alice looked at him in that moment, for the first time realizing he was there.
"This wasn't an accident, Archie," FP said as he gave a slight nod to Ambrose, who was by his side in a second. "This was deliberate. Jughead wasn't kidnapped by Penny. He turned himself over to them. He sacrificed himself. I will not let that be for nothing."
Alice looked as if she was about to respond, when she watched FP and Ambrose walk past them. Archie watched as Mrs. Cooper dissolved into tears.
"Mrs. Cooper, are you okay? What the HELL is going on?"
Alice wiped away her tears just as Veronica and Betty approached.
"Mom, what's going on? Is it Jughead? Is he?"
"He's still in surgery, Elizabeth. It's going to be another hour before we know everything."
"What was going on with you and FP, Mrs. Cooper? Where was he going?"
Alice sat down in a nearby chair, "FP went out to meet with the other Serpents. Remember that declaration that Penny made Jughead deliver to the Serpents? The one he was so adamantly against?"
Betty nodded, "Fight or leave."
"FP and the others have chosen to fight. H-he had to call Jughead's mom. Tell her that he got hurt. That he's in surgery. She didn't take it very well. FP was even more upset and angry when another Serpent came by, reminded him of the rumble. He left to avenge his son."
"I have never seen him this way Betty. Never. The anger. The sadness. He's gone off to fight -- and he may never come back."
Betty watched as her mother dissolved into tears, and without notice or hesitation, she bent down to hug her. Hold her in her arms. Neither Archie nor Mrs. Cooper brought up the subject of Jughead's sacrifice. It was a little too much to handle at this point. Again Archie was left speechless, sitting down next to Betty and her mother as Veronica stood behind him with a tight grip on his shoulder.
He didn't know if this situation could get any worse.
Hiram Lodge woke up with stiff neck.
Hermione had barricaded him from their bedroom, forcing him to sleep on their couch. Hiram had never slept on a couch before. He always thought of it as demeaning and uncomfortable, of which he now concluded, it very much was. Looking in the direction of his bedroom he could see the door open, bed made, and Hermione no where to be seen. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he noticed a note next to his phone on the table before him.
Going to pick up Veronica from the hospital. Then off to campaign. We'll be back later. Check your phone. Left something for you in your office.
Swearing under his breath he grabbed his phone and headed toward the dining room. He assumed that Veronica had been with Archie at the hospital all night. He wasn't sure if that meant but he knew the news couldn't have been good. Taking a seat at the table he clicked the button on his phone. Assumptions quickly confirmed. He had a grand total of twenty seven missed calls and all from a W. Wilkin. Swearing under his breath he dialed back, only to be met with frantic screaming in the other end.
"Wilma, what's going on? What's happened?"
FP called. Jughead had to have emergency surgery.
Hiram was immediately livid.
"What do you mean FP called? You were supposed to make sure to intercept any calls from him!"
I was! I even hid her phone. B-but she got up at three in the morning and took her daughter to a diner. Stole my phone and my car. We were all asleep --
"You had one job! That was to take care of her!"
"Well obviously you didn't do a good enough job. I'm not funding your son's college education so you could slack off!"
-- And I'm not Mr. Lodge. I swear!
"You let her take a ten year old to a diner at three in the morning in a town where the violent crime rate is eighty-four percent above the national average. Whatever you were doing was obviously not enough!"
I'll do better sir. It's just --
Hiram could hear the hesitation in her voice. His stomach plummeted.
"Just what?" he said trying to hide the concern in his voice. "What's wrong? Is she okay?"
The hesitation on the other end only grew.
I don't know. Her daughter called after FP contacted her. She was a wreck. We picked her up, brought her home. Sent her daughter off to school. When I went to check on her, she w-wasn't there. We've looked everywhere, but we haven't found her.
"You're telling me you LOST HER!"
Hiram was immediately in a panic. It wasn't like this was the first time something like this had happened, but each time it did, it was never good.
"Look, you've done enough. I'm on my way!"
Oh, Mr. Lodge. You don't have to --
"Clearly I do! I'll be there by midday, Wilma. Prepare for my arrival."
Hanging up violently Hiram grabbed a vase from the table and threw it across the room. The whole point of making that initial call to Claudia was to make a preemptive move to ensure her that nothing really bad had happened to Jughead. That he had a run-in with a few boys from a rival gang but that it wasn't serious. He made arrangements with her adoptive family, wretches that they were, to keep an eye on her and prevent her from calling FP to find out how bad a shape her son was really in. It was with his hope, either Jughead would die and he could make sure the blame fell on FP and the other Serpents or he would live, which would give Hiram enough time to work on securing it so that Jughead would keep quiet about his part in all of this. It was never supposed to go down this way. He had come to Riverdale with the intention of bringing Jughead into the fold. One of the reasons he convinced Hermione to involve FP and the Serpents in the first place. One of the reasons why FP was supposed to go down for the murder of the Blossom boy. With him out of the way, it would have been easy to fold him in.
However, things didn't work out that way. No matter how hard Hiram tried, Jughead turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help. A proverbial thorn in his side that needed to be distracted. He was the heart and soul of Riverdale and his death would have brought the town to heel. Riverdale would die and be remade in his image. Jughead's sacrifice would be held up as a turning point. A martyrdom for the town to rally around in the aftermath of chaos and tragedy. His part in it would never be known. He would be a casualty of gangland violence. Hiram would do his best to ensure no one ever forgot him. An act that would forever cement his mother's loyalty to him. A loyalty that now lay on the verge of disintegration. He dressed quickly. Made arrangements with his driver and pilot and left word for Hermione and Veronica that he would be away a few days on business.
Hiram was always ready to leave at a moments notice. To the point that he had a bag ready to leave at all times. Whether it was a business necessity or in this case, a personal need, if he had to go, he could leave faster than the snap of his fingers. His life was full of unpredictability. Gathering his things, he made his way down the hall towards the door. Stopping momentarily when he noticed the door to his office was ajar. Hermoine had said that he had left something for him. Out of curiosity, he decided to see what that was before he left. That way he could thank her later when she called screaming over the phone for not telling her personally that he had left. He swung the door open with quick resolve and was shocked by what met him inside.
There, sitting in the chair of his office. Disheveled, eyes red and stained from crying, was Claudia Jones.
"Sit, Hiram," she motioned to the seat on the opposite side of the desk. "WE. NEED. TO. TALK."
Hiram did nothing but stare into her eyes. What he saw staring back was worse than the icy daggers that Hermione would throw his way.
Her eyes were sharp, dangerous, like the fangs of a snake.
Chapter 11: -- Is Your Son and Your Daughter
“I told you to sit down, Hiram.”
Hiram dropped his bags to the ground as he walked cautiously towards Claudia, hands raised in apoplection. Damn you, Hermione.
“Claudia, I can explain --”
Hiram winced. Wrong choice of words.
“Explain what Hiram? That you lied to me. That Jughead wasn’t just -- how did you put it -- oh, right. ‘Roughed up but no worse for wear.’ He’s having major surgery right now, Hiram. I think that’s a bit more serious than being roughed up.”
“I was just trying to protect you, mi querida --”
“Protect me from what, Hiram? The truth? You know, despite what people may choose to believe I am nowhere near as fragile as they think.”
“It wasn’t about that. Things are dangerous right now. Riverdale isn’t safe right now. There’s a serial killer on the loose.”
“FP mentioned that he was captured.”
“Did he also mention that he was responsible for starting a gangland turf war and that is the reason Jughead was hurt?”
Hiram could see Claudia smart at this accusation. He had struck a nerve.
“He didn’t, did he?”
Claudia got up from the chair and met Hiram by the door.
“That doesn’t change anything. What FP did or did not do, is something between the two of us, that I will deal with later. Right now I am talking to you.”
Hiram could see Claudia’s anger begin to fade into fear, he knew if he was going to get the upper hand on this it had to be now. He took her by the shoulders and held her face in his hands.
“I did everything I could to protect him, you need to know that.”
“You were supposed to keep him safe,” Claudia said with a slight quiver in her voice. “You made me a promise, when I agreed to leave Riverdale. When I agreed to leave my son behind -- at your behest, may I remind you. That you would keep him safe. What were your exact words to me . . . Lo protegería como lo haría con mi propio hijo. You promised to protect him like a son. What happened, Hiram? Tell me. TELL ME!”
Claudia wrangled out of his grasp and began to pace the room, her anger getting more pronounced with every minute.
“I TRUSTED YOU! When every fiber of my being told me not to, I TRUSTED YOU! I trusted you when you told me to leave Riverdale and go stay with my adoptive parents, who still treat me like something you scrape off your shoe, by the way. You told me that you had great things planned for Riverdale.”
“And I still do,” Hiram signed as he sat on the nearby couches. “I did everything I could to keep him safe. Things just got unpredictable. FP --”
“Stop bringing him into this.”
“I can’t when he is the reason for all of this. He indoctrinated Jughead into the Serpents. Put him smack in the middle of Penny Peabody’s drug ring.”
Claudia’s anger turned to disbelief, “Drugs? No, FP would never be involved in that.”
“I know this is hurtful and I am sorry to be the one to tell you this. But believe me Gladys --”
“Don’t you Gladys me! Perdiste ese derecho!”
“Why? Because I am telling you things you don’t want to to hear.”
“No, because you promised me that Jughead would be safe and he almost died. He could still --”
Hiram watched as Claudia doubled over in grief. The emotional weight of the situation finally becoming too much to bear. He was by her side in an instant, guiding her over to the couch. She was hyperventilating. Something she always did when she got super emotional. Hiram put a hand on her back to help calm her down.
“I did what I could to protect him and I failed,” Hiram feigning emotion. “I FAILED. I’m Hiram Lodge. I don’t fail. I came to Riverdale in the hopes of making people’s lives better. Your life better. I hate what you had to go through. If I had known I would have protected you.”
“H-how could you?” Claudia asked in between unsteady breaths. “They did everything in their power to erase me from existence. Took everything from me right down to my name. If it weren't for Clifford Blossom, we never would have found each other. And even if by some miracle I hadn't been tossed aside like trash, did you really think your family would have accepted me. I would have been a constant reminder of his shame."
"I would have accepted you," Hiram said earnestly. "That's all that mattered."
They sat in silence for longer than Hiram would have liked. Hiram could see Claudia's breathing steady but could feel the panic still alive in her body. Hiram knew that if he wanted to stop a full blown melt down, he had to do what he could to get her in a different mindset.
"How did you get here?" he asked as he handed Claudia a box of tissues. She eagerly accepted.
"After FP called and told me what happened to Jug, Wilma showed up to collect me from the diner. Took me back to her house. I tried calling FP but he didn't answer. I got worried so I tried calling you. You didn't answer. So I called Hermione. She arranged a plane and a car to meet me at the airport. Bring me here. We didn't really get a chance to talk. She was walking out the door when I got here. Saw you were asleep. Decided to wait for you here."
Hiram gave a silent sigh. Hermione didn't have the time to let her know his role in all of this. Maybe he did have the opportunity to stave off disaster.
"Hiram?" Claudia asked her voice small and almost child-like. "I need to see him."
"Out of the question," Hiram answered shaking his head. "It's not safe. Riverdale is a war zone right now. Until things stabilize, I cannot risk you being here."
"HE'S MY SON!" Hiram chaffed as he felt the tension rise within her again.
"I know mi hermana, and it breaks my heart to even suggest it. But you have to think about your daughter too."
Claudia's face scrunched in eternal agony, "If the worst happens, I want him to know that I loved him. That I never wanted to leave him. That I did this all for him --"
Hiram watched in horror as Claudia began to hyperventilate again. This time faster and more aggressive than he had ever seen. Before he had a chance to act, he watched as Claudia doubled over yet again, this time passing out from lack of oxygen. He reached her before she hit the ground, picked her up and lay her on his bed. Her breathing had evened out by then although he could feel the frantic beating of her heart beneath his fingers as he felt the pulse of her neck. Despite her declarations of stability, Claudia was incredibly fragile. This fragility worried him. Was always at the back of his mind. Once he was satisfied she would be fine, he stepped out of the room to make a call.
"There's been a change of plans. I need you to get Dr. Patel and bring him here immediately. Keep in mind discretion is everything."
Veronica Lodge needed answers.
The doctor had come to tell them the news about Jughead just around the time that her mother arrived to collect her and take her home. The surgery had been successful. They had managed to relieve the pressure around his heart enough to get it to start working properly again and were able to put him on medication to take care of any excess fluid. It would however, be several hours before he could have visitors so when her mother suggested that she and Archie leave they didn't protest. Betty and Mrs. Cooper stayed behind, wanting to wait until FP returned. However, deep down Veronica knew that there was nothing that was going to get Betty away from Jughead until she saw for herself that he was okay. Archie had been quiet the entire ride to his house. Although she could see the relief on his face was visible when the doctors said that Jug's surgery was a success, there was also something alarmingly disquiet about it. She wanted to ask him about it, but by the look on his face and how he practically leapt out of the car the moment they arrived at his home, told her that maybe he just needed space.
She had been mulling over in her mind since arriving at the hospital the conversation she had overheard between her parents in regards to Jughead's beating. If her father was responsible for what happened. Why? Why would he want Jughead dead. She had wanted to ask that very question to her mother the moment they stepped foot out the door of The Pembrooke. However, it didn't seem appropriate. It didn't seem right. Nothing about this situation did. How could she have been so naive to think that her father's plans were anything but sinister.
"Listen mija," her Mother interrupted as they pulled outside the doors of the Pembrooke. "I need you to shower and get changed, we have at least four different campaign brunches this morning."
Veronica was livid, "Are you serious? You want to go campaigning on a day like today?!"
Hermione rolled her eyes in frustration, "We can't stop living our lives Veronica!"
"Even after everything that's happened these last few days? After what happened to Jughead -- your worried about votes?"
"I am worried about this town Veronica. Especially after the last few days. Especially after what happened to Jughead. People need reassurance. I plan to give it to them."
"What kind of reassurances does FP have? Or Archie or Betty, for that matter. Jughead could die, mom. And once again you've shown that you care only for yours and Daddy's interests. You don't even care if Jughead dies."
"VERONICA CECILIA LODGE! How can you say such a thing?"
"Because I heard your conversation with Daddy before we left The Pembrooke. He did this to Jughead, didn't he?"
Hermione said nothing. Angry beyond belief, Veronica grabbed her purse and flung open the car door. Turning around in anger, she gave her mother a determined but deadly grin.
"On second thought, Mother. I think I will go out campaigning today. For Mr. Andrews."
With the slam of the door, Hermione watched in tears as her daughter walked away.
"I need you to understand what's really going on here Veronica," Hermione whispered as she started back up the car. "May she give you the answers I can't."
Once Veronica was out of sight, Hermione drove away. Praying to every saint she knew that she had made the right decision.
Chapter 12: Money Won't Solve It
FP Jones walked into the Whyte Wyrm with Ambrose in tow.
The place was packed tighter than a can of sardines. There were Serpents of many generations ranging from the long retired to the newly minted. FP was taken aback. It was a show of solidarity the likes of which he had never seen. Once loud with noise upon his arrival things grew quiet. Eerily so. The anxious and angry looks on their faces revealed their need for answers. He sighed heavily, knowing that something needed to be said, even though deep down, he would have given anything to stay silent.
"I think I speak for all of us when I say, that this has been a trying time to be a Serpent. We've been run from our homes. Robbed of our livelihoods. And some of us --" FP hesitated momentarily getting his emotions in check. "have been robbed of our very lives. Fangs was a good kid. Loyal. Kind-hearted. Fearless. He didn't deserve what happened to him. Neither did my son. As we speak, Jughead is in surgery. Fighting for his life because he tried to prevent any more violence. He willingly made a deal with Penny Peabody to surrender himself."
FP looked around at the confusion settling in the room. He raised a hand in the air to quickly squash it.
"I know my son better than almost anyone. And with that I can say that Jughead felt responsible for bringing us to this point. He made some mistakes along the way that escalated tensions between us and the Ghoulies. He hurt Penny. He put us, all of us, in a vulnerable position. And for that, he felt himself to blame. But he's just a kid. A kid who was manipulated and taken advantage of. A kid, who last night, walked into the lair of the Ghoulies and offered his life in exchange for all of ours. My friend Ambrose here, and a few of our fellow Serpents, were able to rough up a few Ghoulies to confirm this information. Jughead gave himself over to die, so none of us would have to. In that moment, he embodied everything that it means to be a Serpent. What he didn't understand, and what I am here to tell you, is that no matter what he did, the Ghoulies would have struck at us regardless. So, while I pray when he comes back to us, and he will, that he forgives me for what I am about to say. Riverdale is our home. The South Side is our home. We've protected it. We've kept it safe. I'm not about to just turn tail and hand it over to the Ghoulies. Not without a fight. We stand together. Rise or fall. For in unity, there is strength."
The bar was silent, but only for a second. One by one chants of the Serpent motto began to rise, until that was the only thing that could be heard. There was a sense of pride that swelled up in FP at that moment. For never was there a more glaring sight of what it meant to be a Serpent than in that moment. Sighing deeply, he prayed a small prayer to any deity that would hear it. To watch over his son. To see him through this. To make sure he lived. As he watched the other Serpents begin to gather their things and head out the door, FP found himself overcome with emotions. Fear. Anxiety. Sadness. Guilt. Regret. Anger. Resignation. All threatening to overwhelm him in that moment. He tried to shake the feelings, but the more he tried, the harder it became. It was then that he found himself thinking of his son. The sweet boy with a big heart and great big dreams who had opened his eyes first to FP the moment he was born. The boy, who for all the darkness he waited through, had not an evil, vindictive bone in his body. The boy who suffered too much in his short life and who deserved everything his heart desired. The boy who not twenty four hours earlier, had been overcome with the same feelings he was right now. The feelings you have when you are about to face certain death.
"You ready FP?" Ambrose said as he put a reassuring hand on FP's shoulder.
FP sighed before turning to Ambrose, game face ready, "Let's do this."
And without a seconds hesitation, FP Jones walked out the door to follow his people into battle.
Hiram paced his outside his bedroom while Dr. Patel gave Claudia a look over. He had known Ravi since childhood and had gone on to be roommates in college. After he graduated medical school, Hiram enlisted Ravi into the organization to help with medical issues that needed discretion and of which he couldn't seek help under normal means. After learning of Claudia's condition and the complexities involved in both treatment and overall quality of life, Ravi was the first person he went to. While not exactly a specialist in regards to her illness, he had proven invaluable in more ways Hiram cared to count. He had even convinced the good doctor to relocate to Toledo in order to treat her. Claudia trusted Ravi and in situations such as hers, trust was everything.
"Ravi," he said with a tension in voice as the good doctor exited the bedroom. "How is she?"
Ravi motioned towards the couch and he waited until both he and Hiram were seated before he spoke.
"I wanted to start off by saying that you were right. It was a panic attack. You've mentioned before she's had them before?"
"Yeah," Hiram nodded. "Since she was a teenager. That was before we knew -- . She hasn't had one this bad since she started treatment. I am hoping that this was just stress induced."
"That's my line of thinking for the moment, but not my greatest concern."
Hiram looked to Ravi in fear, "Then what is?"
Ravi sighed before he started speaking. Hiram took note of this. A doctor sighing before giving you news was never something good. His mind kept wandering back to his conversation with Wilma. She had mentioned that Claudia wasn't doing too good. He had made a mental note to ask her later what she meant. Now it looked like he wouldn't have to.
"Ravi?" he asked impatiently.
"Hiram, she was hospitalized last month because of dangerously high blood pressure and its been consistently high ever since."
"Why wasn't I told?"
"She asked me not to."
Hiram looked at Ravi angrily and immediately the doctor regretted saying anything.
"She invoked doctor to patient confidentiality. I couldn't have told you even if I wanted to."
The anger did not subside from Hiram Lodge's face. "I am not paying you to look after her for you to pretend that all of a sudden your a by-the-books doctor. How bad are we talking about here?"
"On the plus side, she is young; Takes relatively good care of herself; And this might be something that is medically induced, which means if we switch medications, this may all go away. On the negative side of things, and this is where it gets worrisome. It may be hereditary. Meaning family history, combined with constant exposure to persistent stress and anxiety raises her risk for cardiac complications. Her illness alone leaves her at a higher risk than most people."
Hiram said nothing as he got up from the sofa and walked into his bedroom. There, Claudia lay sleeping. Looking not a day older than the sixteen year old he had first met all those years ago. He grabbed a nearby chair and set it beside the bed. Sitting quietly as to not not wake her, he slowly started to wipe away the loose hairs that hung in front of her face.
"I've given her a sedative, she'll be out for a while" Ravi said while standing in the doorway. "Rest is the best thing for her right now."
Hiram only nodded. He barely registered what Ravi had said. His mind wandering away to another time. Back when he didn't even know that Claudia had existed. A time when he was in college. He had been home from break and had traveled with his father out to a private plot of land they owned off of Lake Montauk. Like Hiram, Mateo Lodge had been part of organizational crime and had been grooming his son to one day take up his mantle. Ever since childhood, Hiram had been taught lessons by his father. Ones that he later found invaluable in his dealings within the organization. This excursion had been no different. It had been a lesson in loyalty. Mateo had found out that one of his body guards had been talking their business to a rival family. So Mateo invited this guard, and two others, along with him and Hiram to the lake. Suffice to say, there were only two guards by the time dusk had settled. Hiram stood their and watched. Every gruesome and horrific thing that his father and his goons had done. When it was all said and done and the two guards went to take the mans body away, Mateo looked at his son severely.
Sin lealtad, no tienes nada. Without loyalty, you have nothing.
It would take the guards two hours before they would return to the cabin. His father, ever a man of distrust and paranoia, only brought three with him. It turned out to be his fatal flaw. Twenty minutes after they had left, a storm hit, flooding the roads and knocking out communication. Not too long after, his father suffered a massive heart attack. With no other cabin around for miles, and their communication and potential to leave the area severely cut, there was nothing Hiram could do. He just sat their holding his father's hand. By the time the storm let up and the guards had returned he had already passed. Hiram had been quiet. Not because he was processing grief over the death of his father, but of the secret he had learned during his last minutes on Earth. Mateo Lodge had made a deathbed confession regarding what he had called El amor de mi vida. A tragic tale of love, jealousy and betrayal that resulted in an unexpected gift.
He had known that his father had several mistresses throughout his life. His mother never minded, as it came par for the territory. As long as Mateo kept a ring on her finger, she didn't mind so much if he dabbled every now and then with another woman.This had been different. It had been early in their parents marriage, Hiram had been nothing more than a toddler when his father had fallen for their nanny. A bright, raven-haired girl with green eyes named Emily Keller. Mateo had been in his early 20s when they met and Emily was employed to act as the family nanny. Hiram had few memories of Emily, but remembers that she was incredibly kind and amazingly sweet. She had vanished shortly before Hiram's sixth birthday and it was several years later before he had discovered she had been murdered. His father talked nothing of her death. Only of his love for her. Mateo passed from the world before giving his son any more information. Their last conversation had been short and sweet.
Prométeme, salvarás a tu hermana, Hiram.
Lo haré, papá. Tienes mi palabra.
Hiram had tried to do just that ever since. It wasn't, however, proving to be easy.
A slam of the front door caught Hiram's attention.
Daddykins? Are you home?
Ravi rushed inside the bedroom and closed the door behind him.
"LOCK. THE. DOOR.," Hiram whispered as she got up and ran towards him.
Ravi did as he was asked. Hiram stood quiet for a minute, hoping that Veronica would think no one was home. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Claudia stirring. He mouthed a swear as he moved with all the stealth that his body would give to him over towards the bed. He bent down as Claudia sat up, grabbing the side of her face, as he put up a finger to her mouth to silence her. A knock came from the front of the door.
Daddykins? Are you in there?
Hiram sighed before stating, "Yes, mija. I just got out of the shower. What do you need?"
I just wanted to let you know, that I am going to shower, change and then go to Archie's to help Mr. Andrews with his campaign.
Hiram was fuming, but he couldn't respond the way he wanted. Fighting with Veronica right now was not in the cards.
"Go ahead and do what you need to Veronica, we'll talk later."
I'm looking forward to it. Oh, and Daddy. Just wanted to let you know. Jughead survived his surgery. Barring any complications. It looks like he's gonna make it.
Hiram could feel Claudia quiver beneath his hands. Hiram could only shake his head trying to get her to hold off her emotions. He listened carefully as the sound of Veronica's heels walked away and the sound of her door slamming down the hall. Hiram could see the emotions welling up in Claudia's eyes. She wanted to scream and cry, but Hiram knew that as long as Veronica was here, he couldn't allow that to happen.
"I know how you feel. I know. However, its not the right time. Veronica can't know you're here."
Claudia nodded and grabbed Hiram by his wrists, "I. NEED. TO. SEE. HIM."
"And you will, mi querida. Ravi has privledges at Riverdale General. He will do what he can to get you to see your son. Isn't that right, Ravi?"
Hiram looked at Ravi with disdain and all the doctor could do is nod.
"See? Then when you have seen Jughead, I need you to leave Riverdale."
"Hiram, I can't."
"You have to. I know you have been unwell. That you're still unwell."
Claudia gave Ravi a look of pure venom, "That was related to my medication."
"It could be," Hiram agreed. "Or it could also be hereditary. If that's the case it puts your heart at greater risk. Until we know more either way, you need to be as far away from Riverdale as possible."
"I can't just leave my son when he needs me the most."
"And you're no good to either him or your daughter if you're dead. I watched Mateo die from a heart attack in front of me. I can't --"
The emotion in Hiram's voice took Claudia aback. There was a sense of genuine terror in his voice.
"I can't go back to Toledo. To them. Hiram, I hate the way they treat me."
"You don't have to. Not for very long. School lets out in a few weeks by you, correct?"
"My family has a cabin out by Shadow Lake that you and Jellybean can stay at over the summer. Its safe. Remote. Not too far from Riverdale. You can relax and get better. Once you've gotten well and all of this has blown over, you can return home. You have my word."
Claudia was overcome with tears. She only nodded as she enveloped Hiram into a hug. Thrown off by this display of emotion he sat there uncertain of what to do. A full moment had passed before he hugged her back. A huge smile crept across his face. Things were starting to look up again. As his mother always said, when one door closes, another opened. He had run into a close call but the pieces were falling into place for his plans for Riverdale. No longer did he worry about Jughead's survival putting a wrench into them. Jughead's survival was now key to it. For as much as he found Claudia's condition worrisome and generally cared for her health. He saw it for what it truly was. An opportunity.
After months of failed attempts and setbacks, Hiram Lodge now had exactly what he need to reign in Jughead Jones once and for all.
Chapter 13: The People Ain't Happy
Toni sat on the stoop outside Thistle House, waiting for Sweet Pea to swing by and pick her up. FP had decided to go through with the rumble despite news of Jughead's sacrifice. While there was a part of Toni that gave Jughead credit for trying to stop the bloodshed, there was a part of Toni that knew deep down that wasn't going to be possible. Fangs was dead. Jughead was at death's door. There wasn't anything that was going to stop that rumble from happening. Fangs. Toni could feel the tears fall down her cheeks. All her life, it had just been her, Fangs and Sweet Pea. Legacy members of the Serpents they were thick as thieves from the moment they drew breath. Ride or die from the crib. Joining the Serpents was never a question for them. It was in their blood. Just as much as it had been for Jughead. They hadn't known the youngest Jones when they were younger, although having gotten to known him now, she wished she had. According to FP, his wife wasn't too keen on his continued association with the Serpents. So FP kept his distance and any continued role with them at arms length. She was convinced that if things had been different, the four of them would have been thick as thieves.
Toni stifled a sob. Fangs had always been like a brother to her. They both came from two pretty shitty families. Her parents were wastes of space. Her mother skipped out on her and her dad when she was a baby and her father fell into alcoholism as a result. She went to live with her grandfather, who loves her fiercely. However, he was old even when she was an infant, making it hard for him to really take care of her. Fangs family was equally as bad. His dad gambled and found himself in jail more often times than home with his family. His mom was there but was so busy working to provide for him and his brothers, she wasn't really around. So it was just the two of them -- and later Sweet Pea by association. They were the Three Musketeers. They used to run around the trailer park screaming "All for one and one for all." as the scattered remains of old tires, lounge chairs and discarded pieces of wood became their playground. It wasn't a pile of rubble to them. It was a kingdom and their job was to protect it and keep it safe.
As children that usually meant from possums, rats and other vermin the littered the trailer park. When they got older, it meant something much different. More sinister. Bullies who picked on them because they were slightly more poor than them; Northsiders who had wandered into the park looking to score and disappointed when they couldn't find anything; and of course, rival gang members who were looking to pitch a fight with any one of Serpent or Serpent-adjacent affiliation. That is why when they had the first opportunity, they joined the Serpents officially. No longer was it their job to just guard their kingdom from those who would do it harm, but the job of them all. Times weren't always easy for them, despite now having this family, this community behind them. Toni faced daily the misogyny and the homophobia that was rampant in outlaw biker culture. There wasn't a day she wasn't hit on by some sleaze or been fondled by someone who had one too many.
It was horrible and disgusting and there wasn't a day that went by that Toni wished she could change it. There were days she hated it. Days when she wanted to curl up in a ball and cry but she stuck it out. Runaway and leave and never look back. Those were the days that Fangs and Sweet Pea were there for her. Days when they would just sit and listen to her cry. Days when they would go up against someone twice their age and get their assess kicked in an effort to defend her. Those were the days that made her stay. The days that made her love the Serpents, her family, and her two brothers even more. As they got older, and more recruits their age started joining the ranks, the more the changes started to float in. When FP rejoined the Serpents full time more significant improvements were made, members who broke these new rules were booted and for the first time she felt safe. However, it wasn't until Jughead joined did the real change start happening. The younger recruits rallied around the Jones boy, a natural leader if there ever was one, and together they stood as a force to be reckoned with against those who pushed back against what they stood for.
Toni checked her phone. The last update she had heard from Betty was hours ago. Jughead was in surgery and it would be a while before they would know how he was. She hadn't really slept very much the night before, waking up every few hours to text Betty about Jughead. After the third or fourth time sneaking out of bed in an effort to not wake Cheryl, she just stayed downstairs in the parlor. If it weren't for Cheryl, Toni would be going out of her mind right now. Cheryl had said nothing to her. Merely held her. Let her weep. Let her vent. And finally, with the strength of her tiny arms, held her close. For that comfort was the only thing that had helped her keep going. The soft rumble of a bike alerted Toni of Sweet Pea's arrival. He said nothing, merely throwing her a helmet. As she mounted the bike, she took one last look at Thistle House. She hated leaving Cheryl without telling her where she was going. She knew that if she told her where she was going and what she was going to do, she would try to stop her. Toni had to do this. Not out of loyalty but out of duty to her family. One of her brothers was dead. Another lay in surgery, at the brink of death. That wasn't something she could just let go. As the bike sped away and down the road, about to face an uncertain fate, a tear fell down Toni's cheek.
"Cheryl, I love you. Forgive me."
Back at Thistle House, Cheryl Blossom awoke with a start. There was a gnawing feeling growing in the pit of her stomach. She turned and looked beside her to find the bed unmade and empty. She looked at the window, the blaring sun momentarily blinding her. That is when the world froze. Her mind raced back to the encampment. The words that Penny had said before releasing her treasure back to her. She sprang from the bed frantic. Grabbing her phone, she dialed Toni, only to have it go to voicemail. She tried three, four times more with no answers. Frustrated she threw the phone on the bed, fresh tears spilling from her cheeks. She felt ready to break down when she came to a sudden realization. Snatching the phone from the bed, she dialed another number. After a few rings, thankfully, the person answered on the other end.
"I need your help."
Kevin Keller walked awkwardly down the halls of Riverdale High. Betty had called not too long before school started to state that Jughead was out of surgery and it had gone well. He had told his friend to hang tough and that he would do his best to try and visit after class. In reality, Kevin should have just stayed home that day. Being the only member of his friend group to actually attend classes, he was barraged with stares and constant inquiries about what had happened to Jughead and was he going to be okay. It was sweet after the first few times, but after the fifteen time someone he had never met, whom he pretty sure Jughead had never met, approached him to see how he was doing, Kevin was downright annoyed. These people didn't really care about Jughead or how he was doing. They just heard a classmate was injured and wanted to appear as if they cared and weren't completely ignorant and heartless to said classmate when they were actually present. Things had gotten totally out of hand when he had tried to escape to the student lounge only to be approached by Reggie, Chuck and other nameless Bulldogs feigning concern.
"Hey Keller!" Reggied yelled as he and Chuck sat down on either side of him. "We heard about Jones. Is he okay?"
"Stop acting like you care," Kevin said as he continued reading his copy of The Outsiders. "Other people's false platitudes I can deal with. Yours not so much."
"I'm being serious," Reggie said grabbing the book from Kevin's hands.
"Why all of a sudden do you care about Jughead's well being? In all the years I have known you, all you have ever done is bully, tease or intimidate him. Now when he's hurt, let me guess, you've seen the error of your ways and actually give a damn about him personally."
"Look, Keller, just because I don't personally like the guy -- doesn't mean that I want him to die."
"And what happened to Fangs -- that -- that was just messed up," Chuck chimed in looking remorseful.
Kevin could no longer handle the hypocrisy.
"That's funny coming from the two of you, considering, you Chuck, led the charge calling for his head. And you tried to shoot him Reggie. If you'll excuse me --"
Kevin left his things where they lay and exited the lounge. He ignored the stares and the call outs of his named and ducked into the bathroom in the hopes of gaining solitude. he was no more than a few feet in when he stopped dead in his tracks. There, leaning over a sink, bawling his eyes out, was Moose. All of the anger and annoyance that he had felt was cast aside. He was immediately reminded of his father's words to him. Be there for him -- even if it's as a friend.
"Moose?" he asked as he approached Moose, who suddenly turned his head trying to wipe away his tears. "You okay?"
"All--all of her stuff is gone," Moose replied in a shaky, small voice.
"Midge's locker was trashed during the riot," Moose sniffled. Kevin's heart began to break. "All the notes people left her, and her books -- and her stuff animals -- it's all gone dude."
Kevin watched as Moose fell into a heaping mess of tears. Instinct took over and Kevin immediately scooped the big lug into his arms. Whatever tension existed between them was forgotten, replaced with the genuine need of a person needing comfort. It was clear that whatever was going on between Moose and Midge, he cared for her deeply and her loss was eating away at him inside.
"There just things," Kevin said as he hugged Moose reassuringly. "You're gonna be okay Moose."
As they broke away, Kevin did what he could to give Moose a reassuring smile. He would be there for him. Help him through everything that he was going through, because that's what friends do. Whatever tension existed between them, whatever issues Moose needed to figure out, could be handled for another day. Kevin stood there in the realization that not only had he helped Moose but he had helped him, unknowingly in turn. His anger and annoyance was all but forgotten. None of that mattered. Not when there was someone who was genuinely hurting and genuinely needed help.
Then out of the blue, Moose kissed him.
At first, Kevin froze. Unsure of what to do. When he gained his senses back he put his hands on Moose's chest and pulled them apart. Moose is upset, and in need of comfort and while Kevin wanted nothing more than to do that, this wasn't the time nor the place. He steeled himself to let Moose down gently, when he made the mistake of looking at him. Moose was a wreck. His face full of anguish, suffering and misery and every part of Kevin's heart broke . Common sense was cast out the window and with all the pent up passion and frustration, he kissed him back. Nothing else mattered. What was happening in the real world. Life outside those bathroom walls were forgotten. All that existed was the two of them. In that moment. In those emotions. Briefly reality vanished. When they had finally pulled apart, both of them looked as if they wanted to say something, but weren't sure what to say. It was a little awkward. Thankfully, Kevin's phone rang. He practically snatched it out of his pocket as Moose leaned up against the sink, sighing heavily.
The name of the phone read CHERYL.
"Hey, Cheryl -- WHOA! Cheryl, calm down."
Out of the corner of his eye, Kevin noticed Moose approaching him concerned. He said nothing else, excepting nodding in response to what Cheryl was saying to him.
"Let me call my Dad, see what he can do," Kevin said looking to Moose, an idea forming in his head. "Also, there may be others willing to help. Let me call you back."
Kevin hung up his phone and grabbed Moose by the arm, "What car did you bring to school today?"
"My Dad's pickup," Moose responded confused. "Is everything okay with Cheryl. You sounded upset. It sounded pretty serious."
"It is," Kevin continued. "Tell me something, Moose. Do you know what vehicles Reggie and Chuck drove today?"
Moose answered and Kevin explained what was going on as they made their way back to the student lounge. He walked in to find Reggie and Chuck where he had left them.
Reggie was the first to get up from his seat, apologetically looking at Kevin.
"Look, Keller, we're sorry if we came out a little insensitive. We're just --"
Kevin raised his hands to silence them.
"If you two really genuine about your concern for Jughead then I need you to shut up and listen to what I am about to tell you. I need your help. It's a matter of life or death."
Chapter 14: I Am The Violence
Consciousness came back to Jughead Jones slowly.
He could hear the sound of beeping, the smells of disinfectant and the too bright lights over his head, and he instantly knew where he was. His face crinkled as pain returned to him in force and the world around him came more into focus.
He recognized the voice instantly. There was a flutter of hopefulness in his chest and a pit of despair in his stomach. Turning his head against the pain, he opened his eyes to see his mother sitting beside him.
"Mom?" he croaked, his throat dry.
"I'm sorry, sweetie," his mother said as she grabbed an ice chip from a nearby bowl and set it inside his mouth. Jughead sat there, letting it melt, his mind racing with thoughts he didn't know how to process. "Your throat is going to hurt. You've been asleep a long time."
Jughead said nothing, but let the ice melt in his mouth. His throat felt raw. He felt tired and weak.
Jughead could see his mother sniffle, "That doesn't matter right now. All that matters is you rest and get better."
Jugheads mind was awash of confusion. The last thing he remembered was being in the student lounge with his friends.
"Archie?" Jughead asked as he pulled himself up. "Betty? Where are they?"
"They're gone, Jug." his mother replied as she helped him into a sitting position. "They went home hours ago."
Jughead looked at his mother doing his best to hide the glee spreading across his face.
"Why are you here?" he asked whispering, afraid that if he spoke any louder it will all have been a dream.
His mother's expression turned dark in that moment. What twinkle existed in her eyes were replaced with a sadness Jughead came to know all too well.
"I should have been here," she said grabbing his hand and squeezing tightly. "I should have never left. I'm so sorry."
Emotions of every kind overwhelmed Jughead in that moment. He knew deep down that his mother never wanted to leave but also knew that she couldn't stay. He understood but it still hurt. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, his mother cut him and his father loose for the sake of her own health and happiness. As much as he understood there was a small part of him. A selfish part, he thought, that was angry at her for it.
"You have no reason to be sorry, Mom," Jughead said wiping the tears from his eyes. "You couldn't stay. It wasn't good to be here. Not for you or for Jellybean."
"Good for me?" his mother said getting up from her seat to look out at the nearby window. "What about you? I shouldn't have left you here. I should have made you leave with me."
"I wouldn't have gone," he admitted. "And not just because of Dad. But because I know it would have been harder having me there. I know a lot more than you think."
Jughead watched as his mother turned to look at him -- shock, surprise and sadness seemed to plaster her face all at once. He didn't need to elaborate. She understood exactly what she meant. In that moment, he watched as she sunk into a nearby chair, dissolving into tears. This was the reaction he had been hoping to avoid, but knew his mother well enough to know that her reaction to such a revelation would cause nothing less.
"All I ever wanted, was to give you and your sister was what I never had. What I never knew. In trying to, I just gave you more of the pain. The heartache. You shouldn't have to know any of this. You're just a child. My child. I put too much on you -- I forced you to grow up so fast. And for that. I am so sorry, sweetie."
Tears filled Jughead's eyes and spilled liberally down his face. Before he knew it, his mother was by his side, pulling him into a hug. All of the pain, the suffering, the anger of the past few months surfaced in that moment. Jughead laid his head on his mother's shoulders, closed his eyes and wept. It was a moment he hadn't expected and at the same time, one he never knew he needed so badly. After a few moments, his mother pulled away and for the first time, Jughead saw a figure standing behind her. As she stood up, the figure got closer, revealing to Jughead to be none other than Hiram Lodge.
Before his mother could utter a word, Hiram reached out from behind her and stabbed her in the chest. Jughead went to scream but no words came out. He leapt from the bed in time to catch his mother as she fell to the ground.
"Mom?" he asked as he patted the side of her cheek repeatedly with one hand while the other tried desperately to staunch the bleeding coming from her chest. Her eyes were closed and it took a moment for Jughead to realize she wasn't breathing. "No. N-no. NO!"
Jughead pulled his mother into a tight embrace. There was no amount of pressure he would apply on the wound that would be of any use. His attempts to rouse her would go unheard. She was dead before she had fallen into his arms.
"M-Mom? Mommy?" Jughead bawled as he cradled her lifeless form in his arms. "Mommy, wake up!"
"I did warn you that you would pay the price for defying me," Hiram said crouching down beside them. "I told you that you'd break your mother's heart."
Jughead turned to look up at Hiram, his eyes filled with venom. Only to his confusion and horror, Hiram was no where to be found. His attentions turned back to his mother. Her eyes closed as if in sleep. Laying dead in his arms. He thought of his father. Of his sister. To Archie's mother, who was the closest thing his mother had to real family. He wept loudly. Pulling her close.
"I'm so sorry."
The sounds of weeping and muffled speech drew Claudia's attention. She had been sitting in a chair near her son's bedside for little more than an hour. She looked in the direction of the bed to see her son's face screwed up as if in pain, fresh tears spilling down his cheeks.
"Jug, sweetie?" she asked as she walked up over to the bed and held his face in her hands.
"What's wrong with him?" Hiram asked from a chair on the opposite side of the room. With Ravi's help, they had managed to arrange for Claudia to visit Jughead shortly after being moved to his own room, but before the doctors would inform anyone that they had done so. Hiram was hoping to avoid Claudia being seen by any of the people still waiting to check up on Jughead's condition.
"He's having a nightmare," Claudia replied as she began to stroke her son's head comfortingly. "It's okay, baby. It's just a dream. I'm here. I'm here Jughead."
Hiram watched as Claudia soothed Jughead back to sleep. Taking a look at the young man, lying in the bed so beaten and broken, for the first time Hiram admitted he looked his age. For a microsecond, Hiram felt guilty for what he had done. But only for a microsecond. He then remembered all the problems that Jughead had caused him and his plans for Riverdale.
"Claudia, we really should be going. If we stay any longer, there is a chance we will be seen."
Claudia stifled a sob and sat back as she sat back in her chair.
"I hate to leave him like this."
"I know you do, but mi querida, its not safe."
"It wasn't supposed to be like this," Claudia said as she got up and sat on the bed next to her son. "When I married FP. When I got out of that wretched house. Things were supposed to be different. My life was supposed to be different. I thought I had found happiness. For the first time in my life. And for a while, Hiram. I was so happy."
"Then what happened?" Hiram asked taking a seat next to her.
"FP went overseas. Kosovo. Came back a year later. Something was wrong. I could see it in his eyes. He said everything was fine but -- he started having nightmares. He wouldn't talk about it. To me. To Fred. That's when he started hitting the bottle. Hard. We would argue. He'd hit rock bottom. Get help and things were good for a while. Then something else would happen and it would start all over again. FP's crutch in times of pain became a bottle of whiskey or tequila or one too many beers. When I found out I was pregnant with Jughead, he seemed to finally get his act together. We made the decision to return to Riverdale. He and Fred were going into business together. Mary and I had made amends and then --"
"You got sick."
"I got sick. And things got bad. FP dealt with it the only way he knew how. The only way he knew could. And the cycle began anew. There were times we were happy. Genuinely happy. But, they weren't ever enough. There was a time. After we had Jellybean that I thought we were going to be okay. Then I found out he had fallen back in with the Serpents. You know the rest."
Hiram laid a comforting hand on Claudia's shoulder, "You did everything you could."
"No, I didn't," Claudia lamented turning to face Hiram. "I could have gone to you. Instead of pushing you away. Of keeping you at arms length. Blaming you for what Mateo did to my mother. I should have taken your help when you offered it. Then maybe my children wouldn't have had to grow up suffering the way they did."
"Honestly, I could have come up with a better way to have told you. I was wrong to have done that. You were sixteen. You knew nothing of me or my family aside from a less than stellar reputation. Here I come in, upending everything you thought you knew about yourself for my own selfish reasons. I wasn't exactly coming across as someone you could trust."
"And I was too stubborn to listen. I should have given you a chance."
"The point is, that you have. Now you have the opportunity to change your children's lives for the better."
"What's the point if their not alive to see it?"
Hiram could see the anger once again in Claudia's eyes, "I know that I dropped the ball with keeping him safe. That will not happen again. I have had my men infiltrate the hospital. They are keeping an eye on him to ensure the Ghoulies don't try to finish what they started. And after he gets out, there is a detail waiting to follow him from this point forward."
Claudia nodded in gratitude, her anger slowly melting away.
"Hiram, I think I am ready to go. I just need a moment alone with my son."
Hiram rubbed the back of Claudia's head comfortingly, "Not a problem. I am going to check in with Ravi before we leave."
Claudia nodded as she watched Hiram get up and kiss her on top of the head.
"Eres mi hermana y yo te amo. Nunca olvides eso."
She said nothing as she watched Hiram walked out the door and down the hall. Once she could see that he had turned a corner, she quickly hurried and shut the door to Jughead's room. With stealth, she walked over to her son's bed and gently grabbed his head with her hands.
"Before I leave, Jughead. I want you to know, that I never meant for any of this to happen. I did this -- all of this -- for the good of you and your sister. If I had known -- I never would have --"
Guilt, remorse and tears threatened to overcome her, but Claudia only shook them off. She had no time for them.
"Just know that I'm sorry. I am so sorry. I don't want to leave you, sweetheart, but I don't have a choice. Its the only way I know to keep you safe."
Claudia traced the scars on the side of her sons face with her thumbs, a horrible sob escaping her lips before she bent down and kissed him on the forehead. Before she let go, she leaned in close to her sons ear and whispered softly, so that what she said only he would hear.
"The people who put you here are going to suffer, sweetheart." With a sad and painful sigh, Claudia let go of her son's face and walked out the room, closing the door behind her. "You have my word."
Veronica Lodge turned the corner of the long, hospital hallway with coffee and croissants in tow. Before heading over to the Andrews house, she had made the decision to bring Betty some breakfast. She stopped dead in her tracks. There at the end of the hall she saw her father chewing out what looked like Dr. Patel, one of her father's long time friends and Lodge family personal physician. Anger and fear rose up in Veronica at that moment. With her father being responsible for what happened to Jughead, and him being in the same hospital where he lay fighting for his life, could never be a good thing. She decided in that moment to confront him. Maybe if she distracted him, it would interrupt whatever he was planning on doing to Jughead. She walked faster, almost at a run, when she stopped dead once again. A woman with long dark raven hair, green eyes wearing dark denim and a sensible black sweater approached her father and Dr. Patel. Veronica placed the breakfast in her hands down at a nearby chair and walked up to a set of vending machines out of sight of her father. She watched in shock, mouth agape, as her father hugged the woman, who appeared as if she had been crying. It wasn't a random hug. It was affectionate and screamed of personal knowledge and consolation. Veronica watched as the two broke off from their hug and began to walk away. However, not before Veronica was able to grab her phone and snap a few photos of this mystery woman.
Her head was spinning. What the hell was happening? The stress of the last few days was getting to Veronica. She felt faint. It took all the strength she could muster to sit down next to where she laid the breakfast she had brought to Betty. She felt a rush of anxiety inside of her. Her heart began to pound. Her palms sticky with sweat. The air around her getting thick and hard to take in. It took her a second to realize what was going on. It had been a while since she had experienced it. The anxiety only rose with the realization. She began to hyperventilate. The world around her seemed hazy. She hadn't experienced something like this since her father had been arrested. In all the time that had passed. In all the things that she had endured and experienced it never reared its ugly head again. Why was it doing it now. She grabbed onto the chair for dear life, her knuckles turning a pale shade of white in the process. She felt that she was about to explode. To lose her mind right there in the hospital when a voice pulled her back to reality.
Veronica looked up to see Betty Cooper standing in front of her.
"Betty," she gasped gripping the chair tighter.
"Oh, my god," Betty replied as she sat down beside her and in a voice that sounded oddly distant. "Veronica, are you okay? What's wrong?"
"It's okay Veronica, try taking a deep breath."
Veronica did as Betty instructed.
"I'm having a panic attack!" Veronica spat as she continued to hyperventilate.
Chapter 15: The River Has Run Dry
My father tried to have Jughead killed -- Everything he ever told me has been a lie -- His actions led to Fangs being killed -- My mother is complicit -- I'm complicit! I'm responsible! Oh, my god! Oh, my god! WHAT HAVE I DONE!!
Veronica took a deep breath, it only made things worse. She started to pull at the cushion of the chair with enough strength she was certain she was going to tear it apart.
The sound of her friends voice pulled Veronica back to reality. Veronica couldn't reply. Her mind was awash in panic and confusion. Her face sweaty, tear-stained and fearful.
Betty Cooper knew immediately what to do.
"Veronica, I'm going to reach my hands out in front of me. If you would like to hold on to them, instead of the chair, you can do that, Ok?"
Veronica nodded and Betty watched as Veronica's hands flung themselves off the chair and held onto Betty's wrists for dear life. Betty squeezed Veronica's hands back reassuringly as she felt her friends pulse booming through her fingers.
"I need you to know, that you're safe. I'm here. I'm going to help you through this."
Veronica could only nod through her tears. Betty's heart broke. She had first hand knowledge of how frightening a panic attack could be. Especially to someone who wasn't used to having them.
"Okay, I want to ask you a few questions. You don't have to answer them if you don't want to."
"O-ok-k-Ok," Veronica replied through shallow breaths.
"What's your full name?"
"V-Veronica Cecila Lodge."
"What city were you born in?"
"Do you know where you are?" Betty asked looking Veronica in the eyes.
"R-Riverdale General Hospital."
Betty nodded, giving Veronica's hands another squeeze, "That's right, Ronnie. We are at the hospital. It's safe here. There's nothing to be afraid of."
Betty smiled softly as she continued, "If at any point, you feel you want to leave. Know you are in no way obligated to stay here. I'm here. My mom is here. If you need to leave we can take you somewhere else, okay?"
Veronica nodded again.
"I need you to say it, Ronnie."
"Now, I need you to take a slow, deep breath for me."
Veronica gripped Betty tighter, "I can't!"
"Yes, you can! Know that its only temporary. I know it feels like its lasting forever, but it will go away."
Betty could see Veronica's face scrunch up as the panic set in.
"Ronnie, I know it feels like you're a fish out of water. That no matter what you do, you just can't take a breath. But you can. Breathe from your abdomen, slowly, for a few seconds. Then breathe out, for a few seconds."
Veronica did as Betty was told. Her breaths were hitched and ragged but the more she breathed, the more in sync they were starting to become.
"That's good, Ronnie, just keep breathing."
Betty sat there holding Veronica's hands as her breathing evened out. Her pulse slowed back down. The realization of their surroundings becoming more and more apparent. She held on until Veronica sat back in the chair, her head resting against the wall. She said nothing. Only sat back in the chair beside her. Waiting for Veronica to feel comfortable enough to speak. They sat in silence for what seemed like forever, but in reality. Had been only ten minutes.
"Thank you," Veronica said with all the strength seemingly gone from her voice.
"Don't mention it. I know a thing or two about anxiety."
Veronica looked to Betty sincerely, "Do you get them a lot."
Betty shook her head, "Not as much as I used to. Lately I've been helping Jughead deal with it."
"Jughead gets panic attacks?"
"More like panic induced nightmares," Betty added. "He had a rough time growing up. He doesn't talk about it much, but it really had it bad. That whole PTSD drop during his birthday, turns out not so much a joke as we may have thought it was."
Veronica swallowed hard, while her panic had subsided, all of the other emotions that had been bubbling up inside of her were still ever present.
"B? Speaking of Jughead. There's something that I need to tell you and I need you to promise not to tell a single person. Not even Archie."
Betty's eyes went wide with weary concern, "Of course, V. You can tell me anything."
Veronica took a deep breath to steady her emotions.
"Betty, I don't think what happened to Jughead was a random."
"What are you saying Veronica?"
"What I am saying, is, Betty. I don't think that it was the Ghoulies who set out to kill Jughead. I think it was my father."
Archie Andrews couldn't sleep.
As much as his father had encouraged him to get some rest and that he would keep him appraised on Jughead's condition, Archie found himself laying in bed, unable to shut his eyes. How could he? Jughead's fate was still unknown and although from what they were told, the surgery went well. He still hadn't regained consciousness. The longer he stayed asleep, the more worrisome his condition remained. Betty had texted him earlier that she would be able to see him soon and then he would be able to know full well how bad his friend really was. He had wanted to call his mom and talk to her the moment it happened. However, it was late and she had an early court and there was no real news to give her, so he would wait until he knew more. He had contemplated going to school but it had started about an hour ago and he honestly didn't feel he could get out of bed.
"Hey, Arch, you up?" his father knocked softly before opening his bedroom door.
Archie sat up, exhausted.
"I'm guessing you didn't sleep all that much," Fred said as he took a seat by his son. Archie nodded.
"You, know, Arch, you're no good to Jug exhausted, right?"
"I know Dad, its just --"
"Just what, Arch?"
Archie sat up and swung his feet off the bed and onto the floor, his head hanging in shame.
"This whole year, I've been so awful. To you. To Jughead. I let this whole Black Hood obsession just get the better of me. It gave me tunnel vision. I couldn't see how the people around me were hurt or affected by my actions. And all I can say is that I'm sorry."
"Son, you have nothing to apologize for. What you were going through -- Hiram took advantage of that, its what he does. You have nothing to be ashamed about."
Archie wished he could believe his father's words, because while his father was more than likely always forgive him for his mistakes, there was no guarantee Jughead would.
"Have you told Mom yet?" Archie asked doing his best to change the subject.
Fred sighed, "Not yet. She has a verdict coming in on a case this morning. After that I am going to call her. Tell her what's going on. I didn't want to worry her until we knew more. She's not going to take this well."
Archie didn't think she would. Mary felt the same way about Jughead that Archie did. He was family. No matter what reservations his father may have had about Jughead before (which had more to do with his issues regarding FP than anything else) he knew that those didn't carry over to his Mom. She would be as devastated as Jughead's own mother when she found out. A flash of memory hit Archie in that moment. To the argument between FP and Betty's mom. Of what she had said only moments before Betty and Veronica had arrived.
"When we were back at the hospital. Before FP left to be with the other Serpents. Mrs. Cooper said that he had talked with Mrs. Jones and that she didn't take the news of Jughead being hurt well. And back at the hospital, you said FP had his reasons for not telling her. I just don't understand it, Dad. If it were my kid, I would want to know. Be there for them."
Archie could see his father visibly sigh, as if the revelation was just another bit on bad news on an already growing pile of it. "You know, for as long as I have known her Gladys Jones has been a gigantic pain in the ass."
Archie hesitated at his father's uncharacteristic use of swearing, but said nothing. Was he really about to have this conversation with his Dad? After all the times he'd want to ask but knew better, they were about to out of the blue, start talking about it? Wait, did he just say --
Fred nodded, "It was the name she was born with. Mary said she always hated it. Made her sound like she was in her words 'an old bitty'. So she started having everyone call her Claudia when she was six after finding out it was a variant of her name."
Archie shrugged it off. He also agreed that Claudia sounded better and also now had a better understanding of why his parents would be cool with Jughead calling himself Jughead instead of Forsythe. "So, I am guessing you and Mrs. Jones had a rough relationship?"
"Rough is an understatement. Claudia was always wild, reckless and impulsive. It would take nothing for her to fall into trouble. I mean, her juvie record could fill two encyclopedias, Archie. Two. I could never for the life of me, understand why or how she and your mother were so close. Your mom was sweet and shy and quiet. Claudia was crass and outgoing and dramatic. Full on histrionics. She acted like every little thing was life or death. I found her so annoying. You're mother would just smile it all off though as if none of it mattered. When I would ask her about it, all she would do is smile and tell me, 'One day, Fred, you'll see.' It took her word for it and she was right. I did come to see. Eventually."
"What changed your mind?"
Fred paused momentarily, before looking at Archie with a erstwhile expression on his face, "When your mother finally went off to college, she put me in charge of keeping an eye on Claudia. It wasn't easy. She was sixteen and every time I turned around she was in some kind of trouble. I must have spent at least a thousand dollars in bail money in the time between Christmas break and before you mother returned home for the summer. It was the last weekend of May. The weekend of Alice's wedding to Hal Cooper. I got a call at three in the morning from the Sheriff, a portly guy named Pierce, who told me that Claudia had been arrested for taking a metal softball bat and redecorating a man's car. It seems they had been dating and she caught him cheating and well, as I mentioned earlier, reckless, impulsive, etc. Thankfully, he didn't press charges because the guy whose car she totaled was almost a decade older than Claudia was. I bailed her out, got her back to the house and just started yelling at her. I had reached my breaking point, it couldn't be helped. She argued back and left. I didn't see her the rest of the day. Then later that night I'm getting ready for bed when I get another call. It's the hospital. Claudia had been hurt. They wouldn't tell me what happened or how bad it was, and while I am still just completely angry at her at this point, I go, because I know your mother is going to freak out. She's gonna want to know what happened and if she's okay. So I get there and who is the first person I see in the waiting area, but Hiram Lodge."
"Mr. Lodge?," Archie responded wearily. "What was he doing there?"
"He was the one that found her. Brought her to the hospital. It seems after our spat, she went out and got drunk and fell into the river. Hiram pulled her out."
Archie knew that his father's emphasis on the word fell was no mistake. He swallowed hard. He had a feeling he knew where this was headed, and deep down, he wished he didn't. However, this always came across to Archie as a subject his father just didn't want to talk about, so the fact that he was opening up to him about had to mean it was important.
"What happened after that?"
"Once we were finally alone, Hiram told me what really happened. I didn't know what to think. All I know is that I felt guilty. That maybe I had been too harsh on her. I thanked Hiram, which was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do, and told him that I would take care of it from here. I sat in the waiting room for hours waiting to get the okay to see her, then when I do, out of the corner of my eye, I see her parents finally arrive. They stroll up to the doctor, stern looks on their faces, and they asked the doctor if Claudia was dead. When he assured them she would be fine, the look that came across her father's face Archie, haunts me to this day. He was disappointed. They stood and listened to what the doctor had to tell them. Thanked him when they were done and then turned around and left. I was confused. Angry. After that I realized I had to tell your mom, so I called her at school and she was just besides herself. When I told her, how Claudia's parents reacted, she got very quiet. And then, for the first time, I heard your mother swear. It was then she went into detail. Claudia had been adopted and the family she had been adopted into were neglectful and cruel. In ways that nowadays would land them behind bars."
For reasons unknown to him, Archie found himself overcome with anger. "Why didn't Mom's parents, or anyone else for that matter, do anything to stop it. Help her."
Fred looked at Archie with regret, "It was a different time Archie. Back then, people didn't take that kinda thing as serious as they do now. To the outside world, she seemed like nothing more than a problem child. Given her record, it would be easy to dismiss her accusations as the payback of an unruly teenager. When I got to see her, I told her she could stay with me for a while. I told her it was your Mom's idea but really I wanted a way to make it up to her. Get a chance to get to know her better. For the first day, she was quiet -- did her best to stay out of my way. I went to work and came home and found her crying on the floor of the kitchen. She had tried to cook and accidentally broke this heirloom dish that Mary had gotten from her grandmother. She was a wreck. Then out of nowhere, she started opening up. I came to realize that Claudia was a good person in a bad situation. Claudia grew up in a house without love, stability. Your Mom was truly the only person who ever showed her any type of kindness. That's one of the reasons I had made the decision to introduce her to FP. He was on leave from the Army, timing wise he swore up and down was purely a coincidence, so suffice to say he was in a bad mood. I thought even though there was a bit of an age difference, given their personalities, I'd hope they would hit it off."
"And they did?"
"Oh, did they ever. I mean it went better than I thought it would. They kept in touch after he went back. Your mother wasn't too happy though when she found out. Claudia was like her little sister, she was protective of her. Wanted the best for her. She felt FP wasn't good enough. So imagine her rage when a year later, FP returns to Riverdale and they eloped. Claudia was seventeen. FP was twenty. She dropped out of high school to follow him from Army base to Army base. When they returned to Riverdale a few years later, Claudia was pregnant with Jughead and FP has already been through his first round of AA. The Army life hadn't been kind to him and he dealt with that the only way he knew how. The original FP Jones was an alcoholic, who drank his sorrows away. FP followed in his footsteps. When they had come back to Riverdale, we started our construction business and things were looking good for a while. But it was a very short while."
"Mom told me that Mrs. Jones got sick after Jughead was born. It was one of the reasons we spent so much time together when we were babies."
"After Jughead was born, Claudia got really depressed. Wouldn't get out of bed. The doctors chalked it up to postpartum depression. Said it would get better with time. The months passed by and there were days when she was happy and energetic and other days when she was so sad she couldn't handle it. Then about eight months in, things seemed to finally plateau. FP and I went to the construction site that morning and Claudia was in the best mood any of us had seen her in awhile. We didn't think anything of it. Thought things had finally turned around. Then about lunchtime, FP got a message from Claudia to come home. Worried he called but got no answer. So we drove down there and found Claudia sitting out in the yard, in the dead of winter, with nothing but a nightgown. We could hear Jughead screaming from a nearby open window. We took them both to the hospital and got them treated for hypothermia. It was then we realized that Claudia had a break with reality . . . and that is when we realized how bad it really was."
Archie could tell by the expression on his father's face how painful telling all of this to him was. He sat in silence. Letting his father's words sink in. Connecting them with memories that he already had. Checking off boxes of things that he had learned in health class leading him to one devastating conclusion. Fred could see that Archie had put the piece of the puzzle together and knew he didn't need to go into too much detail after that.
"That day, wasn't the first break with reality that Claudia has had Archie. There have been several. While there is no real way to predict them, a lot of times stress can act as a trigger. So we've all done our best to shield her from things that might stress her out. Especially during a bad period. With something like this there are always good and bad periods. Right now, Claudia is in a bad period."
"Why are you telling me all of this now? After all this time."
Fred sat in thought, as if he was about to choose the words that came out of his mouth carefully. Archie realized once he started to speak, that it was more thoughtfully than anything.
"I know, that you have seen and heard things over the years about Jughead's mother. And I know that you have wanted to ask and didn't. For that I am grateful, beyond words. I didn't think -- I didn't think you were ready or that it was my place to say anything. But you've seen and experienced things that make me realizes that maybe you're mature enough to know. And circumstances have made it so that whether or not it's my place, its information you may need to know. After what you just told me and the conversation I had earlier with FP -- Jughead may be in for a rough time when he wakes up and he's going to need your support more than ever."
Chapter 16: I Am The Riot
"Wait, Ronnie. What do you mean your dad tried to kill Jughead?"
Betty watched Veronica sigh deeply, the anxiety still plastered all over her face.
"When I got the news that Jughead had been hurt, I was confronting my father about evidence I found showing he was going to rig the election by making public my mother's affair with Fred Andrews."
"What?!" Betty Cooper couldn't believe what she was hearing. "What did your Mom have to say about all of this?"
"She said that she knew the whole time but I could see in her eyes that she was lying. She was shocked as I was.
Betty's heart broke for Veronica. She knew Mr. Lodge was up to nefariousness but to think that he would extend that philosophy to his own family was beyond comprehension.
"That's not the worse part," Veroinca continued as she tried with all of her might not to cry. "It's how we found about the truth in the first place. You see, a man broke into the Pembrooke tonight and tried to kill me and my mom."
Betty burst into tears and pulled Veronica into a hug. It was at that moment that Veronica let the watershed flow. She had nearly died. Veronica had tried not to think about it but in that moment, in the arm of her friend, she let her fear out.
"Veronica, I'm so sorry. I have been so caught up with everything that was going on with Jughead and my Dad I didn't even see that you were going through something too."
Veronica pulled away from Betty shaking her head in disagreement.
"No Betty, please don't apologize," she said wiping the tears from her eyes. "This incident. I can handle it. What you've gone through with your Dad and Jughead. That's more important."
Betty grabbed Veronica's hands, "There isn't such a thing as being more important, V. We all have our traumas. Our crosses to bear. What's important is that we be there for each other. If the revelation with my Dad and almost losing Juggie has taught me anything its that we need to be here for each other. I kick myself every time I think of how much I pushed you, Jughead, Archie -- everyone in my life who mattered -- and all because I thought I was keeping you safe. But it didn't. It didn't keep Midge safe or Jug or you. In the end, all it did was make us all miserable and exacerbate an already tense situation."
Veronica knew that Betty was right. So much of their father's plans counted on them being separated. United they were strong. A force to be reckoned with. The friends who helped solve Jason Blossom's murder. If they had still been on friendly terms they might have caught the Black Hood before he took the life of one of their friends. They could have caught on to her father's schemes before it turned this idyllic town into a war zone. They were all guilty of allowing themselves to be manipulated by those who specialized in the subject. They couldn't change that. What they could change, however, was how they handled it from that moment forward.
"Afterwards. That's how I knew we would never be safe. That no matter what, my father didn't care about us. We were nothing more than pawns or collateral. That all he cared about deep down, was himself. After Daddy returned home and disposed of the body -- the son of a man I am pretty sure my father had killed -- I confronted him about the file. He denied it, of course, but I wasn't having it. Not anymore. Not after what happened. That's when I got the call from Archie. When I told my parents -- Betty -- there was this look exchanged between them. It was only for a moment, but it was there."
"What kind of look?" Betty asked hesitantly.
"Fear," Veronica said as she got up and began pacing. "I have seen a whole new side of my parents this year, Betty, but the one thing I never thought I would see is them afraid."
"What happened next?"
"My mom offered to take me to the hospital so I went in her room to get her purse. All I could think of was getting to the hospital to be there for you and Archie so I ran quickly. However, I caught a bit of my parents conversation and hesitated. I couldn't believe what I was hearing."
Betty could feel her stomach tighten. Veronica looked to her for reassurance and she nodded to her friend to continue. Betty knew this would be hard for her to hear just as much as she knew it would be difficult for Veronica to tell it to her.
"I overheard my mother yelling at my father for trying to have Jughead killed. It seems Daddy was behind all the strife between the Ghoulies and the Serpents. That he paid them to cause trouble on the Southside. My father admitted to it in all but words. Saying that Jughead was a pain in his ass and that he was ruining his plans. Then my mother said something strange, something I have been trying to make sense of ever since."
"What did she say, Ronnie?"
"She said that if my Dad could hurt Jughead, then what was stopping him from hurting either of us. She was going to say more but my father got really angry and shut her down. Whatever she was going to say was, and I quote was a topic, 'That it should never be discussed." My father then went on to say that Jughead was a gang member who pissed off a rival gang member and that if he should die at the their hands, he would be innocent of any blame."
Bile rose up in Betty's throat and it took everything she had not to vomit. It was one thing to know that your friends dad was a mobster and involved in illegal activities, it was another to learn that he actually tried to murder your boyfriend. Her first instinct was to ball her fist, dig her nails deeper into the scars on her palms. She had broken them open when they had first discovered Jughead was injured. It took all of her will power to not clamp her palms down tight and let all of the pent up anger and frustration she had been feeling over the last few hours out.
"There's more," Veronica added noting the dark expression that had enveloped her friends face. "I confronted my Mom about it and she ignored me. But she didn't deny it. So I told her that she was going to have to campaign all by her lonesome because I have thrown my hat in with Mr. Andrews. I got home and my Dad was there. He was acting weird but I didn't get a chance to explore it further. I wanted to stop by and get you and Archie some breakfast so I showered, changed and left. Betty in the time that it took me to buy that breakfast and drive here, my father drove to the hospital."
"For what?" Betty asked as a concerned look grew across her face.
"I don't know," Veronica said sitting down next to Betty. "But he was here, on this floor and he wasn't alone. He was talking to Ravi Patel, a friend of my Dad's from College and Lodge family physician. Dr. Patel has a practice in Manhattan, which I thought was strange, so in my anger I set out to confront Daddy but I stopped when I saw there was someone else with him."
"That I don't know. Some random woman I had never seen before. She was tall, raven haired, mid-to-late 30's, with the prettiest green eyes I had ever seen. She approached by dad and Dr. Patel and my dad hugged her Betty. And not just a friendly hug either. It was affectionate, almost comforting, like there was a familiarity there. After a few seconds, they both walked away with Dr. Patel. I was stunned, but luckily in my daze I did get a few snaps with my phone."
Veronica took out her phone and handed it to Betty. The young Cooper girl took one look at the photo and gave an audible gasp. She quickly looked at the other two photos in a panic, her hands shaking as she closed her eyes and looked at Veronica in shock.
"Betty, what it is?"
"Ronnie," Betty said in almost a whisper. "This isn't some random woman. Thi-This is Jughead's mom."
The motorcycle pulled onto the field where the Twilight Drive-In once stood. A glass bottle hit just feet from them. A Molotov cocktail that sent the grass around them ablaze. The rumble was already in full force. Ditching the bike on the ground, Toni and Sweet Pea grabbed a set of long chains, brass knuckles and knives. With haste they ran towards a group of Serpents, who were busy rearranging a few Ghoulies faces with their fists. With swift action, Toni stopped in her tracks and swung the chain above her head. With all the force she could she brought it down on a knife-wielding Ghoulie who was sneaking up behind Ambrose, one of FP's lieutenants. The Ghoulie fell back from the blow long enough for Ambrose to get the upper hand and turn to knock out the one who tried to sneak up behind them. Toni was small and not all that versed in fighting but growing up with her brothers by her side, she could hold her own if she had to.
"Where's FP?" Toni asked looking at the giant cut across Ambrose's face.
"He went to go find Penny or Malachi," Ambrose said trying to catch his breath. "That was almost an hour ago."
Toni took a moment to scan the scene. They were far enough away and sheltered by the rising flames. No one saw them standing there. Yet. She looked for FP, but all she saw were bloodied and broken bodies all around her. Many of her friends, her family lay their broken on the ground. Off in the distance, she saw the majority of the battle. It was chaos. She counted the number of Serpents up against the number of Ghoulies. There were too many of them. This wasn't going to end well. They shouldn't be here.
"We need to find FP!" Toni screamed as she caught Ambrose by the arm as he tried to run back into the fray. "He's the only one who can signal a retreat."
"We can't leave now!" Ambrose shouted harshly causing Sweet Pea to stand protectively next to Toni. "We have the upper hand."
"No," Toni said as she tried holding back her tears. "We don't."
Ambrose stopped and took a look around. There were injured Serpents everywhere. And while they took out a few Ghoulies, like a mound of ants, they seemed to keep coming.
"Believe me. After what they took away from me, I want them to pay more than anything," Toni replied begging. "But being here. Seeing this. This isn't the way, Ambrose. Jughead gave himself over in order to prevent bloodshed. To save the Serpents. If we stay here any longer. That will all be for nothing. We'll be destroyed. And if -- if Jughead dies. Then his sacrifice was for nothing."
Ambrose nodded, "I'll check in the direction of the melee. You try over the hill. Call when you find him."
Toni checked her pocket, remembering that she had shut off her phone to avoid Cheryl's calls. "I have to grab my phone, its in the saddlebag."
With that the three ran to Sweet Pea's downed Triumph and Toni fell down on her knees hard, as she began to rummage through her belongings. It didn't take long to find it. And she wasn't all that surprised when she turned it back on to find forty seven missed calls and three texts. Forty five of those calls had been from Cheryl, along with twenty one voicemails and a single text that said call me. The other call had been from Betty, who had sent her a text updating her on Jughead's condition.
"Hey, Betty said Jones survived the surgery. Barring an complications, they think he'll be okay."
Both Ambrose and Sweet Pea sighed in relief.
"Maybe this is just what we need to get FP to stop --" she replied but stopped immediately when she noticed whom the last missed call was from. It said Joaquin. There was a text message that followed it: Call me. ASAP. 911.
Immediately Toni dialed back. Both Ambrose and Sweet Pea looked at her in confusion.
The confusion plastered on the boys faces turned to concern. Joaquin was the quietest of the Serpents. The most removed from the group. Much like Ambrose he had been a lieutenant of FP's and was known for being strong and silent. He never just called anyone for kicks and certainly wouldn't invoke an emergency unless there was one. After what seemed like forever, the ringing had stopped and there was an answer on the other end.
"Joaquin, what is it? What's going on? Now is not the right time to -- "
Toni's lip began to quiver and she wanted nothing more than to break down and cry. She would have, had Ambrose not spoken.
"Toni, what is it? What's wrong with Joaquin?"
Toni didn't reply, only listened to what was said on the other end. Her eyes finally giving way for her tears. Disbelief still riddled all over her face. When she spoke again, it was like she had stood witness to a miracle. And in a way, she had.
"It's Fangs," she said breathlessly. "He's alive."
Chapter 17: There's A Knock At Your Front Door
"I had no idea Mrs. Jones had it so bad," Archie said as he got up and began pacing. "What I don't understand is that knowing how bad she had it -- why did she treat Jughead the way she did? Leaving him here. Alone. To take care of FP."
Fred got up and stopped Archie in his tracks, "Things aren't always that easy Arch. That was my point in telling you all of this. Sometimes there are things that can be easily dealt with. Given enough time and patience and attention. Sometimes there are things that can take a lifetime to deal with -- and sometimes, no matter how hard you try or wish or want, you'll be dealing with something forever. It affects everything you do or say even down to the way you act. I know in my heart, Claudia wants to do better by her children. Wanted to give them the life she never had. Wanted them to be free of the pain and misery that came with her childhood. That just didn't happen. And it wasn't for lack of trying Archie. On all of our parts."
Archie looked to his father confused. With another sigh and the painful, Fred took a seat on a nearby chair, Archie sat back down on his bed.
"Your mother and I could have -- no -- should have done more to support FP and Claudia when we knew things were going bad. We didn't. We both kinda just left things alone thinking it wasn't our place. Things would work themselves out. We were both wrong. There are times that I look at Jughead and realize that if I had done more, maybe it would have made a difference. That's why I want you to do your best to be there for Jug. And not just because you feel guilty because you haven't recently but really there for him. What he just went through -- it's going to be rough for him not just physically but psychologically. I can tell you from experience, son, nearly dying .. it messes you up. It -- it can make you do things you regret."
Archie said nothing except watch the look on his face turn from regret to shame. It was very rare that Archie would see such a change in emotion in his father. Ever since the shooting, there had been a vulnerability that had never been there before. As if his second chance had made him more warming and welcoming to thoughts and feelings he wasn't great at expressing.
"Arch -- after the shooting, I had a hard time dealing with it. Coming that close to death, it does something to you. Its hard even for the strongest of adults to handle, no matter how much you try to deny it. I thought I had a handle on it, but I was coping with it in ways that I didn't think I ever would. In ways that I'm ashamed of."
Fred gave his son a knowing look and for the first time his father didn't have to tell him his answer. Archie already knew. He should have known. He had seen it. Had questioned him about it and didn't give it a moments notice. It was his Dad after all. Fred Andrews was a man known to walk the straight and narrow. He had no reason to think otherwise. From the moment Archie saw his father pop a pain pill like it was candy, he should have known something was wrong. Should have said something to his Mom. Followed up. However, yet again, his ignorance of what was happening around him was due to his obsession with The Black Hood and Mr. Lodge, who gladly took advantage of it.
"What happened? What made you stop?"
Fred smiled, "FP, of all people. He stopped by because he was upset about a fight he had with Jughead. He was shaken. We started to talk when FP noticed my prescription bottle on the counter. The date that it was filled. And the fact that the number of pills inside didn't match. He looked at me for a while. Said nothing while I talked about how good a kid Jughead was and that sometimes good kids make mistakes. I asked him a question and all he did was stare at me. Then he confronted me about the pills. We argued but not for long. There was a part of me that was pent up with guilt and shame over what I was doing. FP could see that. He understood that. He had been through it. He told me that he didn't want you to look at me with the same pitiful eyes Jughead did each time he fell off the wagon. I broke down. He immediately took me to an AA meeting. I talked about what happened to me. It really helped. They were able to refer me to a therapist who deals with PTSD and addiction. FP was able to help me stop a problem before it really became a problem. And I am incredibly grateful. Its one of the reasons why its so important that you be there to help Jughead. You never know how you're going to react to something like that until you go through it. Jug's a lot like his Mom. A kid with a big heart that's easily broken and is currently still on the mend. He's going to need your support and I want you to promise me that you stick by him, Arch. No matter what.
"I promise Dad --" Archie was interrupted by his phone. It was Betty. He quickly answered. "Betty, hey, how's Jughead?"
Fred hung on to every nod that Archie gave. When the relief swept over his son's face, he knew the news was good.
"The doctors are letting us see Jug," Archie said putting his hand over his phone to speak with his dad. "Do you think you could drop me off."
"Of course, Arch."
"Yeah, Betty, I'll be there in twenty."
Archie got up and grabbed a pair of jeans from a nearby chair.
"I'll meet you downstairs," Fred said as he began walking out the door. "I'm gonna take a minute to call your mom. Let her know what's going on."
Archie nodded and watched intently as his father left. His mind thought about the confession he had just heard. It had broken his heart even more than it had already been to know that his Dad had been hurting more than he had let on. This made him think back to his words about Jughead. His friend had been through too much in life -- way too much in this past year -- that the emotional fallout would be bound to catch up with him sooner or later. And Archie vowed that no matter what, he would always be there by his side.
Hermione Lodge walked in the door of her home to find Hiram waiting for her, brandy in hand, and a sour expression across his face. She had known that face all too well. It was the face that he wore when he would confront an enemy. And while she had grown used to seeing it, there wasn't a moment that passed in which it didn't send shivers down her spine. She didn't have to wonder what brought the expression on his face. She knew all to well how he would react to her gamble with Claudia and Veronica, and given the fact that he was sitting here alone, she had guessed it hadn't gone in her favor. Saying nothing, she sat down on the couch in front of him, purse on the table and sat back stealthily.
"Hermione," he answered in-between sips of his brandy. "I believe you have something to tell me."
Hermione looked at Hiram exasperated, "What was I supposed to do, Hiram, she called me."
"You could have stuck with the plan, Hermione!" Hiram replied, finding his ever-growing anger was becoming to hard to contain. "You should have never brought Claudia here. You could have ruined everything."
"Is that all you care about," Hermione asked already knowing the answer. "Her son could have died. She deserved to see him."
"What Claudia deserves, Hermione, is peace of mind."
"And what kind of peace of mind would she have had, Hiram, if Jughead had died? You tell me that?"
"I would have been able to help her through it."
Hermione had to laugh at his arrogance, "You are many things, Hiram, but you will never be a mother. You will never understand the bond that you have with something that you carry inside of you. That you bring forth into this world. Claudia would have never understood nor would she have ever forgiven you for your part in it."
"Well thankfully," Hiram said as he placed his brandy on the table and sat up to be closer to his wife. "That is something she will never have to know. Your little ploy has backfired in my favor. A new avenue has opened itself up and put me in a position to get back on track to our original plans for Riverdale."
"And how's that?" Hermione asked and immediately regretted that she had.
Hiram smiled a wicked grin and pointed to a manila folder sitting on the table. He gently pushed it in Hermione's direction.
"Pick it up, Hermione. I am dying to see your reaction to this."
Hermione hesitated briefly before picking up the file. She opened it and looked to Hiram in shock. "How did you get these?"
"One of the benefits of having a doctor on the payroll, Hermione. I sent Ravi to Toledo a few weeks after Claudia fled there. He's been keeping me up to date on her well being ever since."
Hermione flipped through the pages in haste. There was a lot she didn't know or would never be able to understand without a better knowledge of the human body, but there was one thing for certain, something in Ravi's notes that were made very, very clear.
"Does she know?" Hermione asked looking at Hiram in shock.
"Not yet. At least, I don't think to the extent that Ravi has projected. There is no denying it however. Claudia is very ill, Hermione -- and I'm not just talking mentally."
Hermione wiped the tears from her eyes as she threw the folder onto the table.
"So what's your new strategy then? Wait for her to die so you could inherit Lodge Industries legally."
Hiram balked, "First off, Hermione, if I wanted to kill her, I would have already. Secondly, while the charges may have been dropped, the FBI is still doing their best to indict me. Its one of the reasons why after all these years, I reached out to Claudia. When, and not if because it's a given at this point, that they discover Mateo's real will and that he not only acknowledged his hija ilegitimo but left everything to her -- I need her on my side. If they discover I don't and have never actually owned Lodge Industries and that I willfully knew this and proceeded to steal it away from the person who did without their knowledge, it would give them just the ammunition they need to destroy me. Wouldn't they? And finally, while I love my daughter, dearly, she cannot and will not ever inherit my business. The other families will never allow it. I need an heir. A male heir. And since God never smiled down on us in that regard I need someone to continue my legacy for me."
"And you want and believe that to be Jughead."
Hiram sighed, "At first I thought he was someone that I could easily manipulate, but he proved me wrong. At every turn, he proved me wrong. I thought he was a lost cause, which is why I spent so much time trying to groom Archie. However, in the last few weeks he has shown a great sense of leadership, cunning and conviction. These things would prove to be assets to the organization."
Hermione couldn't believe her ears, "Less than twenty four hours ago you wanted him dead. Now, all of a sudden, he's back to being your best chance to continue the Lodge legacy? What changed your mind so quickly."
"What you read in that file," Hiram said getting up from his seat picking up the folder. "Modern medicine has come along way since my father died. Its easily treatable. Expensive, though. More expensive than any insurance of Claudia's would be willing to cover. However, not out of the realm of my ability to assist with."
"You're going to use his mother's life as a bargaining chip to get him to do what you want?"
"Like my father always said. 'When opportunity knocks, you open the front door.'"
Hermione got up from her seat in disgust, putting as much distance between her and Hiram as she could physically muster.
"I always told people you weren't like your father, but this, Hiram, is a page right out of the Mateo Lodge playbook if I have ever seen one. This is wrong. This is sick. Evil in a way I never would have thought you capable of. I would ask you how you could do something like this but at this point, there is nothing you could do that would surprise me."
Hiram's anger had boiled over at that point, he swiftly until he stood directly in front of his wife.
"My father was many things. Many of which were horrible. Downright awful. Yet, he always did what was right for his family. I am trying to do the same."
"Claudia is your family. Jughead is your family," Hermione stated frankly as the tears spilled down her face. "How is anything your doing right for them?"
"A Lodge always protects a Lodge, Hermione. Even when they don't know they need it."
"I don't know who you are anymore," Hermione said in a hollow voice.
"You never did."
Hermione watched as Hiram walked past her and out the door. When she knew he was out of sight, Hermione sank back onto the couch and began to cry.
Chapter 18: We'll Never Get Free
The sound of Cheryl's nails tapping the dashboard had been bothering Kevin for the last twenty minutes. He had finally had enough.
"Can you not do that?!" he said gesturing to her nails.
"I can't help it. My cherie is in mortal danger," she replied as she pulled her hand away from the dashboard and back to her phone. "According to the GPS on Toni's phone we still have another fifteen minutes before we get there."
"Are we really sure about this?" Moose asked as he fidgeted behind the wheel of his truck.
"It's kinda too late to back out now Moose," Kevin said trying to place a comforting hand on Moose's shoulder, only to have it swatted away by Cheryl, who was sitting between them.
"I have to agree with Moose," came the sound of Reggie's voice over the speaker of Cheryl's phone. "There are six of us. And we are talking about taking on an army of Ghoulies and Serpents."
"Once again," Cheryl said irritated to have had to repeat herself. "We are not taking on the Serpents or the Ghoulies. I explained to you full well what the plan was before we left the school I am not going to repeat myself."
"Yes, but we are still just six people Cheryl."
"Ye of little faith Mantle. Wars have been won with less. Just keep your eyes on the road."
Cheryl hung up on Reggie and stared at the road ahead in silence. Neither Moose or Kevin said anything to her, but she knew they were thinking the same thing she was. Had they made a mistake. Were they way in over their heads. Again, it was just five high school students and a Keller Formerly Known As Sheriff off to face the unknown. A dangerous peril that none of them knew. All she did know was the gaping pit in her stomach. The endless anxiety and fear that crept up the moment she awoke to find Toni missing. She had to do something. No matter how stupid it seemed, it was better than standing around and doing nothing when someone she loved was facing possible death. Exiting out of the GPS app, Cheryl pulled out her photos. Scrolling thru countless pictures of her and Toni, Betty and Jughead, Archie and Veronica. People she hadn't been close to months ago were now the closest thing she had ever had to family.
She focused on the photo of her Cousin Betty and Jughead. Her mind racing back to FP Jones walking out of the bushes carrying his sons broke, bruised and lifeless body. A dark place overcame her. She pictured arriving on the field to find it littered with the body of Serpents and of spotting Toni among the slain. Cheryl started crying. Without saying a word, Kevin put his arm around her shoulder. He said nothing. Again, he didn't have to. Cheryl took a look down at her phone, a photo of her and Toni taken by Jughead at the Wyrm not too long after her rescue had popped up on the screen. She rubbed her thumb across the photo lovingly, before bring it up to her chest. Holding it close.
"I'm coming Antoinette," she whispered, as Moose made a left turn down a dirt road.
"Wait, what?!" Veronica exclaimed taking the phone from Betty's hand and enlarging the photo. "B, are you sure?"
"I'm positive. Jughead sent me the photo that his sister Jellybean took of he and his mom the last time he went out to Toledo to see her. I still have it on my phone."
Veronica watched nervously as Betty took out her phone, scrolling wildly. A few seconds later, she threw it out in front of Veronica, who held up her own phone for comparison. They were without a doubt, the same person. Veronica didn't understand what the hell was going on. Her father had never mentioned knowing Jughead's mother. Although, her mom did know FP before and they had run in the same circles given her past relationship with Mr. Andrews. Who knows maybe her father and Jughead's mother were friends. Maybe he had been here to lend her support. A lightbulb clicked in Veronica's mind. That had to be what her father had been hiding back at the Pembrooke. Maybe Jughead's mom was there. If that was the case though, why would her father try to hide it from her? Why would her father try and murder the son of someone who was his friend. Veronica looked to Betty, who was busy studying her phone. She looked exhausted. Overrun. Maybe, just maybe Veronica should have kept this to herself. At least until she had known more.
"Yeah?" Betty looked to Veronica, tears staining her eyes.
The guilt Veronica had been feeling in that moment was now compounded seven fold, "Why don't you go see Jughead. I know that's where you were headed before I unloaded on you."
Betty wiped the tears from her eyes, "I was going to wait for Archie. I called and told him Jug could have visitors. He and Mr. Andrews are on their way."
Veronica shook her head slightly and gave Betty's arm a reassuring squeeze, "Go. I'll wait for Archie."
"Are you sure you'll be okay?"
"I'm fine now, Betty," Veronica smiled. "Go to Jughead. If anything is going to help him get better faster ... it's you."
Betty gave Veronica a nod before walking down the hallway. Her nerves were frayed. More so than they had been over the last few months. Her mind kept reeling over and over again to her conversation with Veronica. It was bad enough that her father turned out to be a serial killer. The same father that used to take her and her sister to play on the swings at the park or the one that taught her how to drive. Who was always loving and supportive parent -- in stark contrast to her often rocky relationship with her Mom. A man she admired and looked up to. Whom she loved with all her heart and soul. A man who shot and strangled her friends. Who murdered innocent people. Who psychologically tortured her for months. A man who never showed her a mean bone in his body, who now sat in jail, facing the rest of his life in prison.
And all because Betty had been the one to set him off.
Deep down inside Betty knew her father was a grown man who made his own decisions. However, deep in her heart, she didn't know for certain she hadn't been the catalyst. She had written that speech as a way and in the hopes of bringing the town together. Instead, it seemed to be the thing that tore it apart. As she rounded the corner of the hallway that led to Jug's room. Betty paused. Her legs felt like jelly and she was suddenly wobbly. Taking a deep breath, she eyed a set of chairs, and sat down, head between her legs. Breathing deeply she did her best to quell the panic and nausea that was threatening to upend itself. Her mind then went to her mother. Her poor mother, whom she had come to see over the years as this strict authoritarian who had done her best to make her miserable. This awful shrew of a woman whom over the last year she had come to see as a personal with more breadth and complexity than she had ever given her credit for. A woman with a heart of gold and a checkered past who wanted nothing more than her safety and security.
A woman who walked away from a man she loved and into the arms of a man she had grown to love -- all in the hopes of creating a better life for herself. A woman who had given up her own child in the hopes of giving him a better life. A woman who regretted every second of it. A woman whom Betty had come to see had lived a life of regret and vulnerability. A woman who in the span of a few days, had lost almost everything. The wonderful life and reputation she had worked so hard to build; The husband she had grown to love; the son she thought she had found and formed a relationship with; her real son, whom she rejected and who died before she could ever tell him how much he was loved; and possibly, the man she loved -- the man she always truly loved -- to a quest of personal vengeance and absolution. A woman she had come to love and admire in a deeper way than she ever had. She understood her mother. Understood her flaws and failures in a way that last year would have seemed incomprehensible. She saw her mother in a way that no parent ever really wants their child to see them as: human.
The guilt that Betty had felt about setting loose her father was only compounded by the guilt she felt about the fallout from it. Not just with her mother, or Midge or Mr. Andrews but with what her actions did to Jughead. Out of everything that happened to her this year, getting to know him and falling in love with him had been the one shining light. The greatest gift she could have ever asked for and never knew she wanted. She had known Jughead since she was small, mainly by association. He was Archie's friend Jughead. He was always sweet and kind to her -- and a little goofy -- but she never thought of him as anything more than a friend by association. As they grew older, Jughead grew more insular and became less a fixture in her life. He clung to Archie like a fly to paper but he spent less and less time around anyone else. She had assumed it had a lot to do with the issues with his family and the constant bullying that led to issues to where he felt like an outsider.
It was his way of dealing with the pain. The less people who loved you, the less that could hurt you. It took her a while to realize how he and why he had felt this way. He had spent his whole life trying his best to avoid being hurt because, for Jughead, his life was nothing but. It took time to earn the trust to have him open up to her. Trust she had all but imploded doing what she thought she was to keep him safe. Little good that had done. She thought she would be able to keep Jughead away from the torture and violence of the Black Hood -- only for her actions to lead him down a more dangerous path. If you had asked Betty a few months ago what the greatest threat to Jughead had been, the last thing she would have said was Hiram Lodge. The thought made Betty shiver.
Every hair on her body stood still at the very thought that there had been a hit put out on Jughead by her best friends father. Who just happened to be a gangster. Her boyfriend, the sweetest, kindest, most loyal and supportive person she had ever known had almost been extinguished from this earth and for what -- even she didn't know. Sitting back against the chair in exhaustion, she tried her best to get her wits about her. The absolutely last thing she wanted was to lose it when there were so many counting on her to be strong. With a small sigh she wiped the tears that were forming in her eyes and made it the rest of the way to Jughead's room. She stopped in mid-walk at the door.
Jughead was lying on the bed. The blood long washed from his face and arms but the damage was evident. There were small cuts cross his face. Bruises of various shades forming on his cheeks and under his eyes. Wires were attached to his chest monitoring the unsteady beating of his heart while a tube ran through his nose to help him breathe. But it was the sight of his arm. The site that once held his Serpent tattoo, and a large layer of his skin that was no longer there, that sent Betty to her knees. Before she could say anything, she walked briskly, collapsing onto a chair near his bed.
A shaking, unsteady hand reached out and caressed the side of Jughead's face. He did not stir. Sobs broke out from the depths of Betty's chest. She had come to know Jughead as a light sleeper. Even the slightest movement woke him from his sleep. However, as she sat there, caressing his face, his still -- too still form shook something inside of her. The pain, agony and fear of the last two days overtook her. Summed up ever so eloquently in the sight of the man she loved, a man who had come so close to death -- who was still not out of the threshold of harm.
"Come back to me, Jug," Betty cried as she gripped his hand tightly, tears flowing freely.
Mary Andrews had been riding high. She had been working on this child custody case for the better part of a year before finally taking it to trial. This woman had married a man of incredible wealth and privilege for whom she had given up her own dreams and aspirations to marry. It was a controlling and abusive relationship made even more complicated by the birth of their child. When she had finally amassed enough courage and fortitude to leave him, he tried throwing every legal avenue and book her way to not only ensure she got nothing from their divorce but that she would never see their child again. Thanks to the hard work of herself and her firm, he had lost. She gained full custody of their child with no visitations and a hefty alimony and child support payment. It was a victory that Mary had needed. Not only for her career, but as a mother, for her piece of mind. She had every intention of going out to a champagne victory brunch with her colleagues when she had got the call from Fred about Jughead. Mary's heart sank at the news. Fred had espoused certainty that despite the gravity of the situation that Jug would be fine. That despite all the horrific details he had told her, that the worse was over.
Mary highly doubted that.
With nothing else on her docket at the moment, she had dedicated all her time to this custody case, Mary was able to get a few weeks personal time promising Fred she would be in Riverdale by morning. After hearing the news about Jug, her mind first and foremost when to Claudia. Upon the mention of her surrogate sister's name Fred had brought up the fact that FP had been forced to tell her what happened after Jughead went into surgery and from what he knew, she was a wreck. Of course she would be. She would be in the same situation had it been Archie. However, she was floored by the revelation that he had gotten from FP that her sister's mental state was less than stable, causing fear to rise up in Mary with every passing minute. As soon as she got off the phone with Fred, she immediately called Claudia and her anxiety only grew when it went straight to voicemail. She them called Wilma, Claudia's adoptive sister, a horrific shrew of a woman who thought little of Claudia or her family. Despite being younger than Claudia she was always horrible to her, a reflection of the awful parents who raised her. She did everything from making light of the Jones' poverty to Claudia's mental state, FP's struggle with alcoholism and the flippant way she always demeaned Claudia for nicknaming her son Jughead. Which was always rich coming from a woman who named her actual son, Bingo.
When even Wilma did not answer, Mary switched into literal panic mode, preparing to call the Toledo police department when she was interrupted by a knock on her front door. Throwing the phone on the nearby couch she walked with haste, wanting nothing more than to see who it was and send them away swiftly so she could focus on finding her sister. As the knock began again, she wanted to annoyingly yell at whomever was on the other side that she was coming, but stopped dead when she recognized the pattern of the knock. The same that would always tap her window late at night when they were children. Moving with a speed she didn't think she could achieve in heels, Mary ran to the door and flung it open. There standing on the other end was Claudia.
"Hey sis," Claudia spoke quietly as she pushed past Mary and into her apartment. "We need to talk."
Chapter 19: When The Last Tree's Fallen
"What the hell are you doing here?" Mary asked as she closed the door behind her and followed Claudia into her living room. "I have been trying to call you for a better part of an hour. Where have you been? Why aren't you in Riverdale with your son?"
Claudia took a seat on the couch, picking up Mary's discarded phone and placing it on the table before her.
"To answer your questions in no particular order; I just got back from Riverdale; I saw my son; and I am here because as I mentioned earlier, we need to talk."
Mary gave Claudia a once over as she took a seat beside her. She looked exhausted. Worse for wear. Overrun. Claudia noticed with a slight chagrin how Mary was looking at her right now. She hated it. However, honestly, she didn't hold it against her.
"Yes I took my meds."
"I never said you didn't."
"You didn't have to," Claudia sighed. "Its written all over your face. And for the record I would be by my son's side this very instant if there wasn't something more important that we need to discuss."
"Then why aren't you? What the hell else could be more important?"
Claudia swallowed hard. She had been nervous about dropping this particular bombshell on Mary, even though she had wanted to tell her since the moment she herself had found out. However, fear and circumstance kept her quiet; just as fear and circumstance were forcing her to confess.
"Do you remember when I was in high school I told you that I went looking for my birth parents."
Mary nodded, "And you came up with nothing and you just decided that it wasn't meant to be."
"Well that's not exactly true --"
"What do you mean? Claudia -- did you find them?"
"Sorta," Claudia replied as every fiber inside of her began to cringe.
Mary looked to Claudia impatiently, she could she the anger rising in her eyes.
"What do you mean by sorta. And -- what does any of this have to do with you not being there for your son?"
"It's the reason I can't be anywhere near my son right now," Claudia responded knowing if she was going to get this bombshell out of her mouth it was now or never. "Mary. My birth parents are Mateo Lodge and Emily Keller."
Toni's elation at the revelation of Fang's fate was short lived.
After Joaquin had explained to her everything that had happened, she had made the decision that retreat was their only option. She, Sweet Pea and Ambrose all went their separate ways, bobbing and weaving between the carnage to save what friends she could. They told them that Fangs was alive and of Hiram Lodge's deception. Under the guise that this was ordered by FP, Toni told them to meet up at the trailer park. The Serpents they crossed paths with first were tasked with gathering the injured, while others were tasked with spreading the word to as many as they could. Toni's main focus was on finding FP.
This had been a trap from the jump. Which means Jughead's sacrifice at their behest had been meaningless. She wondered if Jughead had known as he walked into the lion's den that he was walking right into Hiram's hands. She didn't know what would have been worse, to be honest. Walking to your death knowing you were doing to save others or walking into your death, knowing your sacrifice was worthless. Toni shivered. Her last conversation with Betty has assured her that Jughead was going to be fine. However, her mind could help but go to that darker place.
She had locked eyes with Sweet Pea as she rounded the corner of portable toilets that had been left over from the recent demolition of the drive-in.
"I told as many as I could," he said as he approached her hastily. "We need to get out of here. Make our way back to the trailer park."
"Not without FP," Toni insisted. "He's our leader. We have to protect him. And besides, if the positions was reversed, Jughead would do the same for any of our family."
Toni could see the reluctance on his face fade into acceptance. They were about to head out towards a wooded area near the road when the saw Ambrose emerge from the trees holding up an injured an unconscious FP. Toni and Sweet Pea were there in seconds. Exhaustion caused Ambrose to fall to his knees, laying FP softly on the ground.
"Oh my god," Toni said looking worried as hell at his ever still form. "Is he okay? What's wrong with him?"
"Concussion, most likely," Ambrose said trying to catch his breath. "I found him disoriented out by the forest. I have been trying to keep him conscious to little success. We need to get him to a hospital. There's a truck park out on the side of the road, we can use that to get him out of here."
Toni nodded as she had Sweet Pea helped Ambrose lift FP off the ground. As they began walking out towards the road, the sound of motorcycles stopped them in their tracks. Within minutes they found themselves surrounded by Ghoulies. The combination of the noise and the jostling woke FP from his head injury induce slumber. His sudden movement spooked his carriers who accidentally let him go, causing him to crash violently to the ground. Toni was down at his side in seconds.
"Toni? What's going on?"
FP blinked the world around him into focus. It looked like a war zone. They were surrounded by Ghoulies on all sides, in the distance he could see Serpents fleeing, trying desperately to gather the fallen. They had put up a fight but in the end, had lost the battle. He was crestfallen. All of this had been for nothing. Instead of rallying the Serpents to victory, he led them straight to their doom. FP pulled himself up onto unsteady feet. If he was going to go down, he wasn't going to do it laying down like a dog. The motorcycle's around them stopped abruptly. Encircling them as to prevent escape. Toni stood up as well, followed by Sweet Pea and Ambrose. She stared at the Ghoulie in front of her, brandishing a crowbar in his hands and a wild grin on his face. Taking one last look at her friends, Toni took a fighting stance, ready for the onslaught that was coming.
Except that onslaught never came. Instead there was a zip and a whoosh and before she knew it, screams. Within seconds she could see they were surrounded by fire, the remnants of the Ghoulies bikes had been but to torch by what looked like arrows. A smile grew wide across Toni's face as a pick up truck zoomed past them and created a barrier between them and the Ghoulies. In the bed of the pick-up stood Cheryl, like an ethereal red riding hood, bow knocked and ready, aiming at the Ghoulies who didn't scatter in the chaos she had created.
"Back off from my beloved you freaks!"
Claudia watched as Mary sat before her in stunned silence. Trying desperately to process what she had just been told. Several minutes passed before she looked up at her, mouth agape, and spoke.
“Mateo Lodge and Emily Keller? ”
Mary got up suddenly and began to pace before her, “How did you find out? When did you find out?”
Claudia swallowed hard, she was not looking forward to having this part of the conversation.
Hiram told me --,” Claudia said as she got up and grabbed Mary by the hands, guiding her back to the seat beside her. “-- the weekend of Alice’s wedding to Hal Cooper.”
Mary’s eyes went wide with shock and anger, “Gladys Marie Reilly Jones! You’ve known since you were sixteen and you never said anything about this to me until now!”
Claudia looked to Mary with a mixture of guilt and shame. The absolutely last thing she ever wanted to do was keep something like this from someone who had been her rock since she was a child. Who had supported her no matter how how stupid a decision she had made. Claudia could tell that Mary had been hurt by this omission and she knew all too well, this was just the first time in this conversation, that was going to happen.
“I didn’t know what to say or to think, Mary. You remember what I was like back then. Wild, impulsive. Incredibly reckless. You were off at college and I had no one to turn to or confide in when things got bad at home. I acted out. Hell, I can’t even count on two hands the number of times Fred had to bail me out of jail. Then this guy, whom I know by reputation only and it ain’t a good one, comes and tells me I’m his long-lost sister. I kinda -- freaked out.”
Mary wiped tears from her eyes, the realization hitting her hard.
“The bridge. Fred said that Hiram was the one that found you -- he brought you to the hospital.”
“Fred yelling at me isn’t what set me to take a swan dive into the river. Suffice to say that finding out the identity of my father and that he executed my mother gangland style was a bit much for an emotionally unstable teenager to handle.”
“What didn’t you tell me afterwards? I could have helped you!”
“No, Mare. You couldn’t have,” Claudia replied shaking her head. “That was also the weekend I met FP for the first time. We all know how that went down between you and I. Our period of estrangement followed. After our reconciliation, all that time apart, it didn’t seem relevant. I wanted nothing to do with Hiram or the other Lodges. He respected that. Sent me a birthday card every year but other than that we had no contact. No relationship. With all the problems that followed me over the years, Mary I never meant to hide this, but it was the furthest thing from my mind.”
Mary reached out and grabbed Claudia by the hands, “Honey, I’m sorry if I sound shocked, it’s just -- not something I was expecting. But I am sure you weren’t either. I didn’t mean for it to come across as harshly as it did.”
“You never have to apologize to me Mary. After everything I put you and Fred through, I kinda have it coming.”
“Yeah, you kinda do,” Mary admitted laughing slightly. “Fred was beyond pissed the amount of money he had to pay to bail you out of jail for taking a metal softball bat to that guys car. What was his name again?”
“Viper,” Claudia added nonchalantly. “And he deserved it. I go all the way out to the Wyrm to see him only to see him getting a happy from some River Vixen slut in the back of that stupid lime green Camaro. He’s lucky all I did was put a dent in his ride.”
“You did over five thousand dollars worth of damage -- the car had to be totaled.”
“And the only reason he didn’t press charges was because the Sheriff found out he was a decade older than you were and threatened to toss him behind bars if he didn’t walk away and forget it ever happened.”
“Ok, first off he wasn’t a decade older than me -- it was more like six years.”
“You were sixteen .”
“Again semantics. I may have been sixteen but I wasn’t close to being a child. To be honest, I don’t think I ever was.”
A pang hit Mary’s heart with those words. As sad as it was for her to hear that, she couldn’t deny that it wasn’t true.
“And secondly, old Sheriff Pierce only did that because he was friend’s with Fred’s dad and Fred asked him to cut me some slack. And if, we are being honest here, the only reason he did that was because he promised you to protect me and he didn’t want to let you down.”
Claudia was right. It would be years into their marriage before Fred would confess to her what he had done for Claudia while he had been away and she couldn’t help but love him more as a result. Mary studied Claudia carefully. While she seemed utterly worn out and physically spent, which honestly she would be if the positions were reversed.
"Honey, what's going on?"
Mary could see Claudia fight back tears, "I got to see him Mare. He looks -- awful. Absolutely awful."
"Fred told me that he's going to be okay."
"Yeah, but he should have never been there in the first place. And you know why he's there, Mary?"
Mary could see the rage building in Claudia's face. It was very rare to see her surrogate sibling so quick to anger. She couldn't respond in words, only a slight shake of her head.
"He's there --" Claudia faltered. "He's there because Hiram put him there."
All the color drained from Mary's face. She had known Hiram to be ruthless and underhanded but never had she ever known him to bring harm to a child.
"Claudia, what do you mean?"
"What I mean, Mary, is that Hiram escalated the conflict between the Serpents and the Ghoulies and when the time was right, he set them out against Jug."
Claudia could see by the look in Mary's eyes that she was overwhelmed. Trying desperately to process the bombshell's that had been laid before her. In haste and desperation, she grabbed Mary's hands.
"There are other things I need to tell you. And I promise you, when I am done, you'll understand. Hiram is more evil than I could have ever imagined. His plans for Riverdale -- more sinister. He needs to be stopped and I need your help to do it. For if someone doesn't put a kibosh to his plans, Mary, everyone and everything we love in Riverdale will be gone."
Chapter 20: The Animal Can't Hide
The arrival of Archie and Mr. Andrews helped calm her nerves.
Veronica Lodge had spent the better part of twenty minutes since Betty left to visit Jughead stewing in her own mind -- and it wasn't a pretty sight. A thousand thoughts of mayhem and malice danced away in her brain at the very real realization that her father had nearly killed someone important to her. Sure, she wasn't as close to Jughead as Betty and Archie were, and awkward vengeance kiss aside, he was still her friend. A very good friend. Who had been there for the two people who had become the closest to her. Someone with whom she often, well more often than not, disagreed with, but for whom she had suddenly realized she had grown to care for. Whose near death and the possible danger that still clearly existed for his life, left her shaken.
She had decided to not bother Archie with her and Betty's recent revelations -- at least not yet. She wanted her boyfriend's focus to be on his friend for now. She also needed a stronger platform to stand on. It's not everyday that you have to break the news to your boyfriend that your father tried to murder his best friend, a man he saw as his brother -- and that his own mother may be mixed up in all of it. It was a lot to take in and would take time to truly absorb. It had been almost two days since they nearly lost Jughead. That is where their focus should be. Hiram's Machiavellian mobster machinations could be dealt with another day.
Today they were going to put all their thoughts and energies towards Jughead. Hoping beyond all hope that he would wake up and alleviate at least one of their worries. While there was no doubt according to the doctors, that they believed Jug would make a full recovery, until he woke up and they could test him further, there was no way of knowing for sure. She had taken a seat near the nurses station as she wanted to see Archie the moment he arrived at the hospital. Truth be told, she was still coming down from her panic attack. While she wasn't overwhelmed with anxiety as she had been, her mind still raced, her nerves were still sensitive and her heart still pounded in her chest violently.
It had been so long since she had suffered a panic attack that dealing with its aftereffects felt worse than the attack itself. She hadn't had one since New York. Since her father had been arrested and her whole world came crashing down around them. She remembered little of it. All she could clearly recall was waking up in the hospital to her mother's assurances that once she was well enough to leave, they were going to go away for a while. Put some distance between the media circus that had enveloped them since the scandal. They would go to Riverdale. Looking back, Veronica thought, maybe, she should have been grateful for that panic attack. It made her see clearly for the first time in her life. Paved the way for her to re-evaluate her bitchy ways and vow to be a better person than her father was. It led her straight into the arms of Betty, Archie and Jughead -- and she's never looked back.
A tuft of red hair in her field of vision made Veronica nearly jump out of her seat as she raised to greet Archie and Mr. Andrews.
"Any news?" Archie asked, with a nervous anticipation in his voice. It was horse, as if he had been talking to much, or in her best guess, crying. There were dark circles under his eyes that had alerted Veronica to his lack of sleep.
"Nothing's changed. He's still unconscious. Betty's with him now. She's a wreck. I wanted to give her some time alone but its been a while and I'm starting to get worried."
Archie clasped Veronica's hand tightly as he looked at his father.
"Go on son," Fred responded, reading the question all over Archie's face. "I'll wait right here. I want to check on your mom, anyway, she took the news rather hard."
Veronica nodded along with Archie as they watched Fred take out his phone and they started down the long hallway to Jughead's room. Veronica could feel the sweat on Archie's hands. A shakiness that indicated to her that he was nervous. She didn't blame him. She was just as afraid. They didn't know what kind of condition Jughead would be in once they got there and while it was a marked improvement, relatively speaking, over how they found him, it would hurt just as much. They walked in silence, both unsure of what to say that hadn't already been said. Both uneasy about vocalizing the fears they both were feeling. Instead, they walked even faster until they found themselves at the threshold of the door to Jughead's room. Archie gathered up all the willpower he had inside of him to make a mad dash to the door way. Veronica followed suit. They both wished they hadn't. For it was there they found Betty, desperately holding on to Jughead's torn and battered beanie, weeping. Archie wanted to march ahead and hug his friend. He was stopped, however, by Veronica, who simply nodded at him to wait.
It was then Archie pulled his focus away from Betty and took in Jughead for the first time. If Veronica hadn't been holding on to him, Archie was certain he would collapse. Tears welled in his eyes as he turned to look at Veronica, who was trying her best not to cry. Jughead was pale. Scarily so. There wasn't an inch of his body that wasn't cut or bruised, his face an almost mangled blob of purple and yellow. Archie wanted to vomit. He had been around when Jughead had been hurt before. A scraped knee, a broken arm, a scar or two, but this -- this was a whole new reality. The pain and agony that Archie felt at seeing his friend, his brother, so -- broken -- shook him to the very core. He could hear Betty, just barely, as she looked up at Jughead destroyed. Wanting to touch him but almost seeming as if she was afraid to, she hesitated as she gently stroked his face. Her words more a mantra of encouragement not only for herself or for Jughead but for all of them.
Come back to me Jug --
"Back off from my beloved you freaks!"
Cheryl Blossom stood in the bed of Moose's truck, flaming arrow in hand, looking like a fiery goddess ready to rain hell down on a cadre of disbelievers. In the distance Toni could see three other trucks rounding up fleeing Serpents. The cavalry had arrived. The Ghoulies around them stood at a distance. Everyone waiting in anticipation for the next person to make a move. To iniate the others destruction. From within the crowd a lone clapping could be heard, the Ghoulies toward the right of Toni parted ways to show Malachi, who stood with a triumphant, smarmy grin plastered all over his painted face.
"Well if it isn't Cheryl Bombshell to the rescue, look at her, all dressed up like some costumed superhero. What are you going to do sweetheart, swoop down like some kind of Red Riding Hood and save the day. This isn't some fairy tale sweetheart."
Cheryl only smiled, "You're one to talk about costumes, what's yours? Marilyn Manson meets Pennywise the Clown or an Emo-Racoon? Its hard to tell."
At that moment, FP in all his might, made a play for the man who nearly killed his son, but the concussion and a wave of dizziness brought him to his knees. He was caught by Sweet Pea and Ambrose. At that moment, Kevin bailed out of the passengers seat to help them guide FP into the bed of the truck. Toni waited until FP was inside before she followed suit. Once all of them were secure in the back of the truck, Kevin climbed back in the passengers seat. He looked to Moose, who was out of his mind with fear. His hands shaking on the steering wheel and his eyes wide as saucers, Kevin's heart broke into pieces at the sight. Taking the young bulldog's hands in his own he looked at him with sweet-natured confidence.
"You've got this, there's nothing to fear. As long as I am here nothing is going to happen to you. Okay?"
Moose nodded and placed his hands back on the wheel.
"Just be ready when Cheryl gives the signal." Kevin turned and looked back at Cheryl. If you had told him this time last year that he would be in the back of a pick up truck rescuing Southside Serpents with Cheryl Blossom dressed as a emblazoned Amazon queen he would have stood there mouth agape for a few moments at the very impossibility of that situation and then tell you in his own way that you were full of shit. However, in this last year he had come to learn that nothing was impossible. Especially when Cheryl was involved.
"Oh, look how the mighty have fallen," Malachi sneered as he looked to FP in disgust. "He can't even stand on his own two feet without the help of two garden snakes and a fa-"
Malachi stopped dead in words and his tracks as Cheryl in anger, shot an arrow towards him, which landed just right of his shoe.
"You missed bitch!"
"Did I?" Cheryl replied nodding her head in the direction of a small line of fire that permeated from where the arrow landed heading towards an abandoned truck that Malachi could only now see, had a leaking gas tank. "Let's go!"
Within seconds, Cheryl bent down and the truck sped into high gear, hightailing it away from the scene as the fire finally caught the truck. A few seconds later, the remaining three trucks were beside them as they watched the explosion rip across the field. Loud cheers could be heard from the Serpents that had escaped onto the beds as Cheryl caressed the side of Toni's face.
"When I woke up and you weren't there -- I thought I would never see you again."
"I never wanted to leave you, but the Serpents, their my family. I had --"
"There's no need to explain, Toni. I understand. The Serpents are your family -- which means they are my family too. Whatever it is they need, if I have to give it, I will provide it for them."
Toni didn't think she could love Cheryl more than she did in that moment. In a sweet, sweeping motion, she swept back a rogue piece of hair that covered her beloved's face and kissed her. It was a moment that she wanted to last forever, but one that was sadly interrupted by a call from Reggie.
"Good work Mantle," Cheryl answered putting aside her frustration at their moment being interrupted.
"Thanks," Reggie replied. "We did a sweep of the area before we headed back onto the road, we got everyone we could see that was left. Most of them have already made a beeline for the trailer park. I don't know how you did this, but you did and I just wanted to say I was sorry I doubted you."
"Apology accepted, now get your eyes back on the road. The trailer park is about two miles down on the right."
Hanging up her phone and placing it in her pocket, Cheryl looked back at Toni with a wide grin on her face, "Now where were we?"
Toni smiled widely as the truck took a sharp right turn, a smile that quickly faded into horror. The other Serpents took a look in her direction, the same look of disbelief and pain swept across all of their faces. Cheryl quickly looked in their direction and gave an audible gasp. Billowy black smoke was rising up from the direction of the trailer park. As they got closer they saw a swarm of trucks and motorcycles parked just outside the entrance. Kevin pulled to a stop when he realized he could go no farther and the other trucks followed suit. Serpent after Serpent jumped out of the beds and ran towards the scene before them. Toni saw her grandfather in the mix, standing as close to the entrance as he could. She said nothing as she ran to meet him.
"I'm glad you're okay," he said as she pulled him into a hug.
"What happened?" she asked quietly already knowing the answer. "We were beset upon by Ghoulies. We did the best we could to evacuate, take what we could but there was no warning.
Cheryl was by Toni's side in seconds. She could only watch as the only world the woman she loved had ever known was literally on blaze before her. She watched as Toni looked around, surveying the scene, stopping on what looked like the charred remains of a playground off toward their right.
"We built that," she said in a hollow voice. "One of our first duties as Serpents. Fangs, Sweet Pea and I we built a playground so that the kids in the park had a safe place to play."
Cheryl watched as Toni began to fall apart before her. The heaviness of the last few days catching up with her. The realization that now everything she had, everything she had worked so hard for -- was gone. She could do nothing but be there to catch her as she fell into sobs and watched quietly as the place her love once described as a kingdom disappeared into an inferno around them. They may have rescued the Serpents and saved the day, in their own minds, but there was no hiding from the fact that the day had been a complete disaster. For the first time, taking in the scene around her, Cheryl realized how much they had actually lost.
Sunnyside Trailer Park had fallen -- and quite possibly, the Serpents along with it.
She was no stranger to holding cells.
In her profession she had many meeting with clients across the bars of a cell but none like this. Nothing terrified her more than walking down the long, dark isolated holding cell in the depths of the Riverdale Sheriff's department. It had been built years ago to hold the most violent and dangerous of individuals but had over the years devolved into more of a drunk tank. A place where those who had one too many slept it off for the night. Never in all of her years did she ever believed it would be used for its actual purpose. To hold a person so vile that a mere, ordinary jail cell wasn't enough. Never in her life did she ever want to be across the side of this particular cell. To be speaking to someone so dreadful. Yet, there was something heart breaking about how it ended up playing out for her. For not only was she about to talk on the opposite side of a jail cell to a monster -- but one that she knew. One that at one point called friend. When she reached the front of the cell. She stopped dead in her tracks. Watched as the person on the other end of glass stood up and looked at her with a mixture of pain and confusion. He got up and moved as close to the glass as she could. Out of reflex, she stepped back.
"Mary Andrews," he said to her in a sarcastic, almost condescending tone. "Well, I have to say, I am surprised. I thought you of all people would keep your distance from me. Too self righteous and dignified to put yourself in my presence."
Anger rose up in Mary's voice, "You almost killed Fred -- you tortured my son -- not to mention what you did to your own daughter. Believe me, Hal, if it were up to me, I would never look upon your face again."
"Then WHY ARE YOU HERE!"
Mary was taken aback by Hal's outburst and for the first time she saw how deadly he had become. Saw the killer he had turned into in his eyes.
"I'm here," she said regaining her composure. "To tell you a story. And when I am through with this story you are going to help me see it to a happy conclusion."
"And why would I do that? What would you offer me in return for my help?"
"You're going to prison for the rest of your life. That can't be helped. What can be helped is eliminating some of the pain and suffering the people you love have gone through and will go through if we don't succeed."
"If I am going to be spending the rest of my life in prison -- how could I possibly help you. What kind of use would I be?"
"You'd be surprised."
"Unless --" Hal said as a piece of the puzzle fell into place. "That is why you are here. I'm going to be sent to Shankshaw. You need someone on the inside don't you?"
"Before I confirm or deny anything -- there is a story I have to tell you. When I am done, the reasons for my being here. For needing your help will become clear. I am not doing this because I think you can be redeemed. You can't. You killed a child. That's unforgivable to me. I am doing this because someone I loved asked me to. Someone I love very much who is setting in motion a plan to save all of us and everyone and everything thing we hold dear from utter destruction."
"And again, even if I did help you -- what could you possibly offer me in return?"
All of her composure was dropped as she took in his manipulative grin, she was going to play hard ball. So she had to come on strong.
"You see yourself as some kind of one man judge, jury and executioner. A righteous man who slays the wicked in order to protect the people of Riverdale. You ask me what I can offer you in return? How about the chance to help bring down the greatest threat Riverdale has ever known. The greatest of sinners whose about to offer up Riverdale's very soul to darkness."
Hal looked at Mary, his interest peeked by the sudden quiet rage in her voice, "What exactly are you saying?"
"You see yourself as an avenging angel, Hal. What I am here to offer you is the opportunity to help slay the devil."
Chapter 21: Beg Me For Mercy
FP Jones awoke to the sounds of muffled crying.
His eyes snapped open, blinking furiously as he tried to assess his surroundings. He was in the hospital. Of that much he knew. The smell of disinfectant and the sight of too bright white lighting was all to familiar to him.
Having taken stock of where he was, FP turned his head to the left. Bad idea. He hissed in pain, squinted his eyes shut, and forced his head back on his pillow. He most certainly had a concussion. He was also almost certain that it was Alice Cooper who sat beside him. Her face tear stained and covered with grief.
FP? Are you okay? Do you need me to get the doctor --?
"No, Allie," he said rubbing the bridge of his nose. "I just need a minute to adjust that's all."
FP could feel Alice grab his hand tenderly. He wanted to give into her touch. To allow her to be there and comfort him like they had done back in their early days. However, it felt awkward. He wanted Alice by his side. He wanted nothing more. Yet, as it always seemed to be in their relationship, the timing was off. While he was never a fan of Hal Cooper, even when they were young, Alice had grown to love him. To bear two of his children. To create the life and family that she always wanted and for the longest time thought that she had. In the span of a few days she had lost it all and in a spectacular fashion. This wasn't something that she was going to get over right away. Hell, knowing her, it might not be something she could ever truly get over, but he knew that she needed time to figure that out. And as much as it pained him, it wasn't going to happen with her wringing his hands by his bedside.
FP blinked a few times. Feeling that he had finally adjusted to his surroundings, he moved his head slowly to look in Alice's direction. She looked a mess.
"How long have I been out?"
"Almost a full day," she replied in a scratchy tone. "One of your Serpent lieutenants, Ambrose Pips, brought you in yesterday morning."
"You've been here this whole time?" FP asked as he slowly sat himself up. Alice watched with nervous apprehension.
"I got a call from Betty. She, Archie and Veronica were here visiting Jughead when you were brought in. I've been here ever since."
"How is he doing?" FP asked, trying to do his best to hide the fear that now rose from the pit of his stomach. "Jug?"
"He's doing well. The doctor said from the tests that they've run there is no sign of brain damage and no residual effects they could ascertain from the fluid surrounding his heart. He's not conscious yet, however, they said he could wake up at any time."
Relief swept over FP's face and a great weight felt as if it had been lifted off his chest. Knowing that his boy would be okay and that it would just be a matter of time before he saw that big wide smile on his face was almost more than he could emotionally handle. He had been afraid. So very afraid. There were a few times in his life that FP admitted that he had ever been that afraid. Especially when it came to the life of his son. Not since he had raced home that day from the construction site with Fred, to find his wife post-breakdown sitting half naked in the freezing snow and his infant son's agonizing cries as he lay near frozen in his crib, had FP ever really known fear. Sure he had been to war and experience more horrors than he could ever imagine. This was a different kind of fear. The fear you get when it's someone you love and care for. Nothing this bad had ever happened to anyone so close to him before.
Looking back on that day he had been so certain his son would die. The memory of that time caused FP to shiver. He still remembered vividly wrapping his young son in a blanket while a frantic Fred called for an ambulance. How he sat with the door to their electric stove wide open in order to warm the room quickly as he hugged his son close to his chest. The site of his tiny blue tinged lips and fingernails were a sight that haunted him for years. Just like the bruised, battered and broken form of his boy that he pulled out from those bushes would be the things of his nightmares for years to come.
The first thoughts FP had after the relief that Jughead would be okay had settled in, was that he had to tell Claudia and Jellybean. Both of whom had been worried sick and who deserved to have those worries abated. The realization brought FP back to the present. Alice wasn't the only one with unresolved issues to attend with. While Alice had to grieve and mourn the loss of her husband and the life she had grown to love -- FP had to come to some type of conclusion regarding his own. He genuinely loved Claudia, despite their age difference, and wouldn't give up his family for anything in the world. Sadly, though, no matter how hard he tried he just couldn't make things work. Their lives together had been fraught with more disappointments and drama than he knew how to handle and when he tried to, he didn't handle them well. In almost the year they had been gone, Claudia and Jellybean seemed to prosper. Although Claudia experienced setbacks, setbacks would always occur, she seemed to get a handle on her wants, goals. She deserved to be happy. They all deserved to be happy. The hard thing was -- however -- how does one go about being happy without hurting someone else in return?
"You need to go home, Alice," FP said as he tried his best to steel his resolve.
"Yeah, I think I could use a shower -- change of clothes -- and be back in time for --"
FP shook his head, looking at Alice with hard eyes, "You don't understand. Allie, I want you to go and I don't want you to come back."
Alice looked genuinely taken aback. "FP, what are you talking about?"
All the barriers that FP had built to keep his emotions in check fell in that moment.
"We need to stop and take a look at our situations Alice."
Alice looked to FP, startled by his abruptness, "What?"
FP sighed as he rubbed his hands over his face in frustration. This was going to be a lot harder than he thought. Alice looked broken and about ready to fall to pieces.
"Allie, I want nothing more than this. Us. But we both have to come to the realization that right now -- it can't happen. You have to deal with Hal. With the fallout. To help be there for Polly and Betty. I know it hurts. I can't imagine how much this hurts. But Alice, you have to let yourself grieve."
"Hal's not dead," she replied matter-of-fact tone that let FP know immediately this was not something she wanted to talk about.
"No, Alice, he ain't dead. But -- for all intents purposes he might as well be. Hell, you would probably be better off if he was --"
Alice slapped FP across his already bruised face. "Forsythe Pendalton Jones II! How dare you say such a horrible thing?"
"I say it because your thinking it but are too good a person to say it out loud. Hal isn't dead. So you have to deal with what he's done, deal with everyone knowing what he's done, knowing he blew to shit everything you worked so hard to achieve. You need time to reconcile that. If you want this -- us -- I want it to come free of baggage. I don't want Damocles sword hanging over us. I want to start fresh."
"So do I."
"Then go take care of yourself. Your girls. I have to be there for my son. Bring my daughter home. Talk with Claudia. Our relationship has never been easy. Its the very definition of rough. But I loved her, Alice, like you loved Hal. A part of me always will. She deserves transparency and honesty."
Alice nodded. As much as she wasn't fond of Claudia Jones, she was an important part of FP's life. She was the mother of his children. Was there for him. Made him happy. While things may not have necessarily worked out for her and FP, Alice couldn't deny the fact that Claudia didn't deserve being lied to. For Alice, Claudia would always be the sullen but mischevious sixteen year old girl who got FP wasted the day of her wedding to Hal and convinced him to sing a karaoke version of Garth Brooks Friends in Low Places at their wedding reception. She had been livid and highly doubtful that FP just happened to get leave from the Army in time to return to Riverdale for their wedding. He swore that it was completely coincidental and looking back on it, it made her smile and wonder what strings he had to pull to make it a reality.
It also broke her heart into a million pieces thinking about it. It was supposed to be the beginning of her happy ever after with Hal. What it had turned out to be was a mess that she spent decades doing her best to cover up through ignorance and smiles. She hated to admit it but she wanted it to be FP she had married istead. However, she had been so caught up in being decent and respectable that she fell into the arms of a man who never really loved her. Who loved the image of her -- no -- the image of what he wanted her to be. She had been embarrassed by FP's drunken sing-a-long and did nothing to stop Hal and his cousins from kicking him out of the reception. However, when the DJ had played Don't Look Back in Anger, she knew it had been FP who had requested it. Oasis had always been their band. It was his way of apologizing and a farewell. Wishing her the happiness she thought she had wanted but didn't know had been in front of her the whole time.
It was one of the reasons she had been livid to hear about his elopement with Claudia Reilly. Mary's surrogate sibling had always been a source of gossip in Riverdale. Reckless, wild and impulsive she spent more time in juvenile detention than she ever did in school and her antics left her with a reputation in more respected circles as the town psycho. When she had heard, from Fred Andrews of all people, that FP had run off and married Claudia, she did her best to pretend it didn't bother her. She thanked him for telling her and spoke about her hope that FP was happy. She held her feelings inside until she got home. Thankfully Hal had been out of town and not there to see her as she downed glasses of Chardonnay, sang along to Slide Away and wept until she cried herself to sleep. She had become determined after that point to put FP and their past behind her. She committed more to her relationship with Hal, had Polly and didn't give him a second thought until he had returned to Riverdale. She had heard he had been back, along with his wife for over a year before their paths had crossed. In fact, the first time she had seen him she had been almost full term pregnant with Betty. She remembered it like it was yesterday when she saw him and Fred at Pop's. She pretended not to see them until Fred passed by and said hello. FP followed. Alice was polite but icy. FP seemed to get the point as he told Fred he would wait for him in the truck. Fred had waited until FP was out of earshot before looking at her in disappointment.
"Was that really necessary?"
"Was what necessary?" replied coyly, pretending to not care.
"Alice, cut the bull. You may have moved on from being a Serpent and now sit in your ivory tower of judgement, but I'm not going to let you do that to FP. Not now. He doesn't deserve it."
"Oh, and since when do you defend him?" Alice said seething. 'Last time I checked, you wanted nothing more to do with him. From I remember you were appalled that he ran off with a seventeen year old."
"It's called forgiveness, Alice," Fred shot back in an uncharacteristically harsh tone. "You should try it. And just so you know, that seventeen year old is now twenty two and just gave birth to a son. Let me correct that -- nearly died to give birth to her son. FP has been with her at the hospital every day since. This was supposed to be a chance for me to get him away from that for a minute. But, no, Alice, let's be petty. Let's be pretentious and spiteful for stuff that happened a lifetime ago."
Alice didn't know what to say to that. Fred was never one to be angry or raise a voice but his manner and tone spoke not only to his judgment, and rightfully so, of how poorly she handled the situation, but how much he cared for his friend. For the first time in a long time, Alice had felt horrible about her actions.
"Are they going to be okay?" she said when she finally found her voice.
Fred nodded, "Yeah, they think so now. It's been a hard few days though. Claudia's pregnancy was rough. She got diagnosed with Placenta Praevia early on and spent most of the pregnancy on bed rest. Mary, despite having Archie to take care of, has been doing her best to help her through it. FP threw himself into work to get his mind off of it. That was until last week when Claudia started bleeding and the kid had to be delivered about a month early. He just graduated from the neonatal intensive care unit this morning and should be able to go home soon. It was how I convinced FP to leave the hospital. Impromptu celebration of sorts."
Fred hesitated, knowing that Alice wasn't a particular fan of Mrs. Claudia Reilly-Jones. He felt, though, that her concern was genuine enough for him to reply.
"Claudia and FP had been trying for years to have kids with no luck. When they found out they were pregnant, it was a miracle. They were fearful that any misstep would lead to a miscarriage. No one moreso than Claudia. The complications. The bed rest. The early delivery. Its been hard on her emotionally. FP says she's been really depressed. According to Mary she been afraid to even hold Jughead since he was born."
Fred laughed, "Yeah, its a nickname. Officially speaking, he's a third, but Claudia started calling him that because they didn't have any blue preemie sized knit hats that fit. So the regular one they stuck on his head made it look like he had a mason jug on it. Claudia referred to him as her little jughead. The name sort of stuck. I know you guys had a rough history and it didn't really end on a high note, but, we are all adults here. We need to start acting like it. "
The sound of a car horn interrupted their conversation. Fred looked outside to see an irritated FP motioning him to hurry up from inside the truck. "I got to grab the food and get back out their before he decides to leave without me."
Alice watched Fred as he left. Guilt ridden and curious, she rubbed her swollen stomach as her daughter kicked her relentlessly. She knew at that moment what she had to do. She had waited a few days before she took a trip to Riverdale General. Hal was taking Polly on a weekend trip to visit her grandmother and Alice used her pregnancy as an excuse to stay home. Hal hadn't wanted to leave her but she convinced them that being pregnant she couldn't fly and that it was unfair to Polly to cancel a trip she was looking forward to so much. Once they were gone she scheduled herself a check up, an excuse to be seen in the hospital without raising suspicions. She had kept in touch with Fred after their confrontation at Pops. Knew exactly when neither he nor FP would be there and made her appointment for that day. Once her check up was done, she made her way to the nursery, wanting to lay eyes on the newborn FP -3 for herself. She was going to wait to see what they ended up calling him before she assigned a name to him for there was no way she was going to refer to him as Jughead.
It was only her intention to ever peek at FP's little boy. To see if he bore any resemblance to Charles, her son with FP, whom she had seen only briefly but missed terribly. Instead she had come upon the sight of Claudia, pale, tear-stained and looking worse for wear staring at her son from the observation window. She was hesitant to approach, but as a mother, it was a sight that broke her heart to see. At first Claudia said nothing to her. Not even acknowledging her, until Alice had made the comment that the boy had her eyes. This sent the young mother into a fit of tears, and as if on instinct, Alice held her as she cried. Without asking or really wanting to be told, Claudia unleashed onto Alice all her pain and agony, fear and guilt over her son's situation. For a moment their complicated past went out the window and they were nothing more than two young mothers who loved their children. Alice did her best to try and alleviate some of the fears Claudia had by sharing stories about her pregnancy with Polly. How it had been fraught with one problem after another everything from nine months of morning sickness to her daughter being breech. Claudia listened and asked questions and for the first time, it didn't matter to them who they were, where they were or the man they shared between them.
After their conversation, Alice helped to encourage Claudia to hold her son and was with her when she held Jughead for the first time. It was the first and only civil interaction the two women ever had. After that day they went on to their separate lives and the issues that came with it. Clashing years later when their children ended up in the same preschool and became fast friends. Alice did her best to keep Jughead and Betty at a distance when they were younger, not wanting to put herself or her daughter into the orbit of the Jones family. Neither she nor Claudia spoke publicly or to their significant others about the moment they shared in the hospital, going on to pretend like it never existed. Yet it remained to this day, the one and only thing that the two of them shared in common: the love they had for their family.
"Alice?" FP asked, snapping her mind back to the present. "Are you okay?"
Alice could only nod. As much as she hated to admit it. As much as she wanted nothing more than to lean on FP in her moment of need, she knew that if they ever had any shot at a future they both had loose ends that needed to be tied up. Issues that needed to be resolved.
"I think you're right," she sniffled. "I think we need to spend some time apart. Make peace with our pasts. I want to be with you but I need to do right by my girls first. Whatever issues I have with Hal, he is still their father. They are going to need help reconciling what he's done. And -- and as much as neither of us see eye to eye in regards to almost anything, Claudia is a good person. You need to do right by her. She deserves honesty and the respect that neither of us has really shown her."
"You know I love you --" FP replied as he took Alice's hands in his own as he tried to hold back his tears.
"-- And I always will," she cried as she gave FP's hands a tight squeeze, grabbed her things and headed out the room. Trying to hold back her emotions, Alice made it almost to the elevator before she broke into sobs. When the elevator doors opened, she made a beeline past groups of concerned onlookers, out the door and to the car. It was once inside and the door was closed that she screamed at the top of her lungs, beating her hands relentlessly against the steering wheel. Even though FP had been right, that they needed time and space, it didn't mean that doing it was going to be easy or that it wasn't going to hurt like hell. In the span of a few days she had lost it all. Her husband. Her family. The comfortable life she had become accustomed to. The respectability she worked so hard to achieve. Her confidence. Her self-respect. And while he had miraculously survived his rumble with the Ghoulies, for the foreseeable future -- she had lost FP. As she sat there in her fit of grief and rage, she felt the lowest she ever had. She didn't know how it could or would get any worse.
A call came into Alice's phone in that moment. Not in the mood to speak she picked it up and was about to shut it off when she saw who it was that was calling. Her heart sank as she answered.
Am I speaking with a Mrs. Alice Cooper?
"Yes," she replied doing her best to not sound like she was a teary mess.
This is Gil Shepherd from the Greendale County Coroner's Office. I am calling because you were left as a point of contact in regards to a photo being circulated of a young male, 25, named Charles Smith.
"Y-yes," Alice hesitated, barely able to breathe as the reality of the moment was taking hold. "I was searching for my son. I had given him up for adoption and in my search had come across information that led me to believe that he had died. Our local coroner's office had no one matching his photo come in during the time frame I was given so we set it out to neighboring counties in the hopes of finding some answers. I am guessing we found some."
Yes, ma'am. I am afraid so. We were able to match the photo that was sent to us of a John Doe brought in earlier this year. I'm so very sorry.
"H-how did he die?" Alice asked, not really wanting to know the answer but needing to know if Chic was indeed responsible for his death.
You're inquest made reference of a possible murder victim. And while Mr. Smith did have a skull fracture, likely caused by blunt force trauma, evidence of lacerations and bruises across his body -- that was not the cause of his death.
No, Mrs. Cooper. Evidence showed that while your son underwent a severe beating prior to his death, it was not ultimately what killed him.
"Then what did?"
While the injuries he sustained did contribute to his death, his ultimate cause of death was related to the other aspect of your inquest. Further examination showed that Mr. Smith suffered from a severely enlarged heart, more than likely caused by past hard core drug use. Toxicology showed no signs of drugs in his system at the time of his death however in my examination I was able to find organ and tissue damage consistent with the specific drug you inquired upon. Having said all that, my conclusion was that Mr. Smith died of a massive heart attack as a result of a combination of pre-existing heart disease due to a history of drug use and severe physical trauma.
Alice knew that hearing all of this was about the last thing she needed to hear. It shook her to her core. At the same time, however, it gave her an odd sense of closure. When she had started out looking for her son, she had done so in the hope to be reunited with him. To make up for lost time. Fate hadn't smiled on her in that respect, in fact, it only made her decision to give Charles up for adoption even that much more of a regret. Yet, at the same time, knowing the truth, no matter how hard it was to hear, was better than not ever knowing. Charles had been sick before Chic had laid a hand to him but it was Chic's hands that ultimately took her son's life. Whatever Betty had done to convince him to leave, she was grateful, for in this moment she didn't know what she would do to him if she saw him.
"About the last part of my inquest -- are you able to tell me what happened to him -- after --"
As a John Doe, he would have been sent for cremation and his ashes would be spread across a public mass grave that is used for those whose remains go unclaimed. There are a few that exist in the county and I have put out an inquest to try and find out which location your son's remains ended up being scattered. I'll give you a call as soon as I can determine which one.
"Thank you, Mr. Shepherd. For everything."
You're welcome Mrs. Cooper. And again, I am sorry for your loss.
The man on the other end hung up without another word as Alice just sat there taking it all in. Her first instinct was to run to FP. To tell him the fate of their boy and to cry together as they mourned him. Her second thoughts went to her daughters. To Polly and especially to Betty, who had become just as invested in the fate of her brother as Alice herself had been and who had taken the news of his death just as hard. It was in this moment that she took FP's advice to heart. She would mourn with her girls. It may be just the thing they needed to start the grieving and eventual healing process for their father. In what should have been the last straw of a horrific week became to her a weird symbol of the path she would take forward. After taking a few deep, long breaths, Alice started the car and drove off.
Chapter 22: I Am The People
Tom Keller awoke to the sunrise.
After the rumble and the destruction of the trailer park, a dour mood sprung up among their ragtag fellowship. Kevin, Moose and Cheryl helped to lead the effort in transporting those Serpents who did not flee after the fight to the only remaining patch of safety they had left, the Whyte Wyrm. While Reggie and Chuck helped Toni, Sweet Pea and a Serpent named Ambrose escorted FP and the other injured to the hospital. When it was all said and done, Cheryl and Toni had decided to stay behind at the Wyrm while Tom took Kevin and his fellow Bulldogs back to his house to ensure their safety should any remaining Ghoulies seek out retribution for their part in the Serpents escape. He had covered for the boys with their parents saying they went on a trip to Greendale to see a amateur wrestling match and were late getting back.
It was the least he could do. Tom knew that while he may no longer be the Sheriff there were people out there that still trusted his word. Walking down the stairs quietly, he stopped at the bottom to see the four of them splayed out across the floor and he couldn't help but smile. It reminded him of when Kevin was much younger and sights like this were a more frequent occurrence. Tiptoeing past the sleeping giants, he made his way into the kitchen, started a pot of coffee and sat down with his laptop wanting to read how the local press had handled the news of the fire. He searched for a good twenty minutes but came up empty. There wasn't a single word about the rumble and the subsequent arson of the trailer park to be found. It was as if it never happened. Tom knew he shouldn't have been surprised.
Hiram Lodge was a puppet master who seemed to pull all the strings. However, even Tom was surprised at the lack of amateur video of the incident anywhere on social media. Hiram's reach was long and powerful and for Tom there was nothing more frightening. Sighing deeply he closed the laptop and walked over to pour himself a cup of coffee. Before he could even grab a cup out of his cupboard, there was a light rapping at his back door. Surprised and somewhat suspicious, he walked over cautiously before peeking through the blinds. He was both surprised and alarmed to see who was standing there. Determined to not wake the boys, he opened the door slowly.
"Mary?" Tom asked quizzically as he peeked at glance at the microwave clock. "It's 6:30am. What brings you here at this hour?"
"Hey, Tom." Mary Andrews smiled as she held up two fresh cups of coffee. "I know its early but if you have a minute -- there is something I need to talk with you about."
"Talk about, what, exactly?"
Tom was taken aback as the smile on Mary's face quickly faded.
"Hiram Lodge," she said in a matter-of-fact tone. "I know what he is planning for Riverdale and I need your help to stop him."
Tom said nothing, merely nodded and opened the door wider, gesturing for Mary to come inside. Once the door had shut, Mary sat the two cups of coffee on the kitchen table and took a seat.
"Before I begin Tom, I need to ask you something. Its rather personal but its important for me to know so that I can gauge where to begin our conversation.
"Ask me anything," he replied taking the seat across from her. "I got nothing to hide. And if it helps knock Hiram down a few pegs, so be it."
Mary hesitated, taking a long calculated look at Tom before she spoke.
"Tom, I need you to tell me everything you know about your aunt Emily and the circumstances surrounding her death."
Veronica Lodge hadn't slept well.
Her time with Archie and Betty visiting Jughead in his hospital room only fueled her decision to get to the bottom of the mystery that was unfolding before her. Both her boyfriend and best friend were particularly devastated seeing the person they have loved and cared for their whole lives lying so unconscious. So bruised. So pale. Veronica had to admit, it hit her pretty hard too. To see Betty in tears, begging Jughead to wake up. To see Archie, trying his best to hold back the water works as he sat holding Jughead's hand for dear life. It struck a kind of chord in Veronica. A fierce determination to find out the full extent of her father's nefariousness in the hopes of quashing this nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach that he wasn't finished with Jughead just yet. This led her right back to the revelation that she and Betty had that morning in the hospital halls. That her father and Jughead's mother knew one another. An impossibility of a possibility a mere day earlier. From all Veronica had gathered thus far, from her quiet inquiries to Archie and Mr. Andrews to what she could suss out on her own through extensive online research -- there wasn't that much to tell.
Her parents had been largely absent last night as they attended a campaign function thrown in their honor by the Riverdale League of Women Voters. And, thankfully, were going to be spending most of the next few days in a last ditch, door to door, grassroots style campaign tour for votes. Having nicked a copy of her itinerary for tomorrow, she was determined to ensure that wherever her mother visited -- Fred Andrews would not be that far behind. Her father's determination to place her mother in a position of power in the town only fueled her determination that -- while she loved her mother fiercely and wanted nothing more than for her to win -- stopping her father's plans in their tracks was a more important priority. If that meant putting the kibosh on her mother's political aspirations or doing a secret investigation into her boyfriend's best friend and best friends boyfriends largely up until now very absentee mother, so be it. An investigation that for the time being had to remain a secret.
While she didn't want to hide things from either Archie or Betty, the two of them had way too much going on in their lives at the moment and Veronica was too uncertain exactly what it was she was looking for to burden either of them with it just yet. She had gone into this deal with her parents with what she believed was a clear idea on what they were doing and where it was all headed. Only to have all those ideas upended because dishonesty is what her family does best. As she sat upright in her bed, surrounded by all the evidence she had collected thus far, Veronica sat contemplating the direction in which her life had taken her. In the span of less than a year she went from living a life that was less in the world of Candace Bushnell and more so Truman Capote. Which, not to knock Capote's brilliance, is not a world one wishes to ever reside.
A knock on her bedroom door broke Veronica out of her concentration.
"Veronica, if you have a moment, I would like to talk with you," her mother's voice echoed from the other side.
"If you're not going to be honest with me," Veronica spat angrily. "Then I have nothing to say to you."
"Mija, please," Hermoine begged sincerely. "I want us to be on the same page with this. There is a lot that you don't know and I don't know how long you're father has stepped out for, so its important that we take the opportunity to talk about this while we can."
Every fiber in her being told Veronica to tell her mother off. To stay mad and ignore what sounded like a plea for her daughter's attention. Yet despite all of her misgivings, there was a part of Veronica that equally wanted to believe in her mother. That wanted to recreate that strong dynamic they had once had back in New York. The one where they were blissfully unaware of machinations that unfolded around them and were nothing more than a loving mother and daughter. Veronica knew it was foolish to think they could ever get back to who they had been before, but she knew that having an opportunity to talk with her mother without her father's interference was rare these days so she had to take advantage of it where she could. Reluctantly, she opened the door.
"You have five minutes," Veronica countered as she gave her mother a meaningful stare and took a seat on the edge of her bed. Hermione hesitated momentarily before sitting down on a chair across from her daughter.
"I want to start off by saying that I am sorry about the other day in the car. When you confronted me about whether or not your father had anything to do with what happened to Jughead -- and I said nothing. I shouldn't have done that."
"So you admit that Daddy was behind trying to have Jughead killed?"
"Why? Because he tried to stop Daddy's takeover of the South Side?"
"It's more complex than that."
"Then please, enlighten me. You said you wanted us to be on the same page, so by all means mother, get me up to speed."
Hermione sighed. She was taking an incredible gamble but it was a risk she was willing to take. Hiram's latest revelation regarding his plans for Jughead and Claudia were beyond even what she was able to stomach.
"Your father wanted Jughead dead -- but not just because of him becoming a thorn in your father's side regarding the South Side. Your father wanted Jughead gone because he came to believe that he was, personally, no longer of use to him. He was going to use Jughead's death as a catalyst to secure the wavering loyalty of someone he deemed more important."
"You mean Claudia Jones?"
Hermione looked at Veronica in shock, "How did you --?"
"I saw Daddy and younger woman on the same floor as Jughead's hospital room yesterday," Veronica recalled as she reached behind her and grabbed an enlarged copy of the photo she had shown to Betty and handed it to her mother. "I thought it was strange so I took a picture. When I showed it to Betty, she confirmed it to be Jughead's mother."
"You showed this to Betty! Hermione exclaimed horrified. "Mija, you shouldn't have. You have no idea the kind of danger you just put Betty in --"
"Then, please, enlighten me!" Veronica spat back. "Please tell me why my father would try to recruit Archie into his organization, when all he did was talk about how much he hated him? Tell me why my father had one of my friends beaten to an inch of his life? Tell me why my taking a picture of my father -- with my friends mother -- is dangerous? Tell me!"
"Because she's your father's sister!" Hermione cried wiping away the tears that were spilling freely from her face.
Veronica sat there stewing in her anger, so involved that at first she didn't understand what her mother had just said. Then like the smallest of whispers in the back of her mind, it crept up and she finally realized what had just been said.
A little fall of rain touched the brim of Archie's nose, causing him to stop in his tracks.
He had woken up early and went for a run to clear his head and despite all of the talk of bad weather, he knew he just needed to get up and go. His mother had come in late last night after he and his father had returned from visiting Jughead. Archie was so incredibly grateful. He had absolutely no doubt that when word had reached her about Jughead that she would do her absolute best to be there as soon as she could. Jughead was family. Claudia was family. If Mrs. Jones couldn't be there, for reasons Archie understood now better than he ever did, then he knew that his mother would move heaven and earth to do so. From the moment he had walked into the door and saw his mother waiting for them in the kitchen, Archie burst into tears. His mother didn't hesitate. She strolled over to him and enveloped him into her arms.
"Honey, it's okay," she whispered as she held him tight. "I'm here. It's gonna be okay. Jughead's gonna be okay."
He pulled away from her in that moment, tears and fear plastered across his face, "It was horrible Mom -- FP carried his body out of the woods and -- and he wasn't breathing and --"
"Your father told me," Mary said holding her son's face in her hands. "That you had helped save his life. Archie, sweetheart, I am so proud of you."
"Mom, I was so scared. I was so afraid that he was going to die and I never told him how sorry I was for being so horrible to him this past year. He still hasn't woken up and I --"
"I had a long talk with his doctors," Fred interjected. "They have every reason to believe, Archie, that Jughead will make a full recovery."
Archie's face has screwed up as if in pain as fresh tears flowed, "But what if -- after everything I've done -- he doesn't forgive me?"
Mary smiled softly, "Archie, you never have to worry about that. There is nothing you could do that Jughead wouldn't forgive you for."
"But -- Dad and FP -- they had a falling out. They didn't speak for years. What if -- what if that happens to me and Jughead?"
Fred and Mary exchanged a look before Fred intervened.
"Son, what happened between me and FP -- it happened because we were both stupid and stubborn. We didn't listen to each other, nor did we have the same foundation that you and Jughead have. You and Jug have been close since the moment you were both born. The first time Jughead came here as a baby, I remember clear as day, your mother laid him down in the crib next to you -- you both made this weird gurgle that your mother swore up and down was laughter."
"I came to learn later on it was probably a gas reflex," Mary added getting abrupt looks from both of them. "It was still cute though."
"As I was saying," Fred continued. "Hours later when FP came to pick him up and take him home, we found you hugging him for dear life. When your mom reached down and pulled Jughead out of the crib, you both started to cry. You didn't want to be separated. You're gonna have ins and outs. That's just part of life. If you remember, however, that you and Jughead were raised like brothers. Brothers fight. They argue. They disagree. They go for long periods without speaking, sometimes. But in the end, Archie, they got your back. Yes FP and I were estranged for a long time but when the chips were down, Archie, when I really needed him. He was there for me, past drama cast aside. Jughead will be there for you to."
Another drop of rain brought Archie back to the present. He continued running. His mother would only be in town for the day, she was going to head out to Toledo tomorrow and spend some time with Claudia. As much as Archie wanted his mother to stay. To be here with him to help him sort through all of the chaos of the last year, he knew she had little time she could get away from her work. And that in all honesty, he had a strong foundation and support system behind him. Claudia, really, had only his mom. Besides, the election was closely approaching and Archie knew that he had more important things to do. Beating Hiram Lodge had become a new and renewed commitment of his.
As he turned the corner onto his street he paused to catch his breath. Rubbing his hands over his face in exhaustion he looked down the road to his house. His mind hearkened back to a time when he was ten. When he, Betty and Jughead were playing kick ball in the street outside his house. A simpler time when they were all young and innocent. Where their biggest worries was watching out for cars or making sure they didn't accidentally kick a ball into a window (which Betty had totally done once and she cried for at least a week over it). He smiled softly as the rain began to pour down lightly.
He took off running again. His mind moving past their innocent childhoods to their complicated current lives. To the heavy burdens they now carried. To mistakes they regretted and wanted nothing more to take back. To Jughead lying unconscious in a hospital bed, pale, battered and scarred. So quiet and so still that only the beeps of the machine monitoring his heart assured Archie that he was still alive. To watching Betty weep over him, begging him to come back to her. And to Hiram Lodge, sitting in a darkened room somewhere, smiling the smile of a man whose achieved victory.
Not for long.
Archie ran up the steps to his house with a spring, trying his best to quell his rising anger. He was going to wipe that smirk off of Hiram's face if it was the last thing he did.
Chapter 23: The System Is Done For
The rain came pouring down in buckets.
Betty watched from the window as Archie Andrews sprinted up the stairs and into his home. He must have gone on a morning run. He did that a lot. Mostly to clear his head when things got to be too much for him to handle. For Betty, her crutch was writing. Grabbing her diary from its hiding spot under her vanity, she traveled over to her bed, plopped herself down, and began to write. The last three days had been some of the worst of her life and she had no way of knowing how to process them. How was one supposed to process the fact that their father murdered four people or that their boyfriend was beaten nearly to death or that the once safe idyllic town she grew up in was now ravaged by gangland wars and mafia conflict?
Yet, somehow, when she was alone in her room with only her diary, all the bad things made sense. Words came spilling out of her in a way that was both heartbreaking and cathartic. She hadn't written a word since the night of the riots. How she frantically searched for her father after he had attacked Cheryl. How she came to the hospital to see if he was okay only to see that he had murdered Dr. Masters. Slitting his throat and leaving him to bleed out on a hospital bed. Forgotten in all the chaos that had engulfed the hospital at that moment. She wrote of her father's revelation to them of his plans; the part that Betty reluctantly played in it; his attack on her and her Mom; and finally gaining the upper hand long enough to knock him out and call Tom Keller for help. She had wrote of her father's arrest and talking with Archie and his father. Of admitting his role in almost killing her best friends father; of Jughead calling her to say goodbye.
That is when Betty stopped. Her hand trembling at the words she had just written. Her mind dialing it back to when FP stepped out of those woods holding Jughead's limp body. How he wasn't breathing. How Archie and another Serpent performing CPR as FP began losing his mind to fear. She had fainted after that only to come as the paramedics were taking him away. The car ride to the hospital she barely registered. Cheryl's support and kindness. To days of fear and anxiety until finally she laid eyes on Jughead again. Seeing him for the first time after two whole days of never knowing if she ever would again. Looking so pale and thin and broken, the beating of his heart steady and strong yet uncertain. Her pleas for him to come back to her stifled by the arrival of Archie and Veronica. Watching Archie's face melt in sadness and horror as he took up the seat across from hers. Holding on to Jughead's hand for dear life as he looked to Betty for reassurances she could not give.
She couldn't write any of that down. Not yet. Not until she knew that Jughead was awake and she knew for certain he would be okay. She continued to write about her worry for her Mom, who looked tried her best to hold it together as she recalled to Fred Andrews what had happened. She was still writing when her mother barreling into her room. She looked anxious and weary.
"Come on Elizabeth. We have to go," her mother replied hastily. She had sounded out of breath, as if she had been running. "I've found him. I-I found your brother."
And with those words, she walked right out the door she had just entered. Leaving Betty both stunned and terrified. Without saying a word she returned her diary to its hiding place and followed her mother downstairs. Alice Cooper had already grabbed her coat and her keys and was waiting for Betty at their front door when she had reached the bottom step.
"Mom, what's going on?" Betty asked cautiously. "What do you mean you found him?"
"I'll explain on the way," her mother replied handing Betty her coat and opening the front door. "But we have to go. Now."
Betty said nothing but followed her mother outside. She said nothing as they got into the car and drove off. In fact the two stayed silent until they reached the border of Greendale, which seemed strangely unaffected by the downpour they had just left from.
"After you told me about what Chic said had happened between him and Charles," her mother spoke with a slight quiver in her voice. "I needed to know for sure. I had to know if Chic was telling the truth. So I paid a visit to the coroner, to see if anyone matching the photo you had of Charles had turned up over the last few months. He didn't find anything. He did, however, send Charles' photo along with a few details regarding what may have happened to him out to other counties. I-I got a call from the Greendale County Coroner this morning, Betty, I'm so sorry. Chic was telling the truth. Charles is -- dead."
Betty's heart broke as she listened to her mother stumble. There was both a sadness and an exasperated relief in her saying it. Something she felt as if her mother had been keeping in but was just now allowed to say.
"I'm so sorry Mom."
Alice wiped away tears as she took a turn down a dirt road.
"Thank you sweetheart," Alice continued. "I asked the coroner to help me find Charles' remains and I thought we should pay our respects. If you're okay with that?"
"Of course, Mom," Betty replied as she placed a comforting hand on her mother's arm. Alice nodded, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze before turning into the cemetery.
Veronica Lodge did her best to process the information that her mother had just dropped.
Claudia Jones -- Jughead's mother -- was her aunt.
"What are you talking about?" Veronica muttered finding the words spilling out of her mouth faster than she could get a handle on them.
"I know its a lot to take in."
"H-How is that even possible? How can I have an Aunt I have never heard of --"
"She's your father's half sister. The result of an affair your grandfather Mateo had --"
"-- not to mention that she just happens to the mother of one of my closest friends. H-Have you know this whole time?"
“You need to understand Veronica, that before I married your father, I knew nothing about this. We were married for several years before your father dropped this particular bombshell on me."
"H-How long has Daddy known?"
"Since he was in college. Your grandfather confessed it to him shortly before he died."
Veronica felt suddenly overwhelmed. Her father knew. Her father knew that Jughead was his nephew. Was his family. And he still tried to have him killed.
A surge of panic cut Veronica's thoughts short. She felt her palms begin to sweat -- her breathing became difficult -- her heart pound. Not again. Please not now.
"If I am going to understand any of this, I need you to start at the beginning."
Hermione smiled softly and nodded in agreement.
"As I mentioned earlier, I didn't know about any of this until many years after your father and I were married. I knew Claudia existed but only as a close friend of Archie's mother. Almost like sisters, they were that close. And I knew she had a reputation for being -- volatile and reckless. Her adoptive family didn't pay much attention to her and well, sometimes neglected children do what they can to get attention."
"When did Daddy tell you about their connection?"
"Not too long after Jughead was born. There were complications, you could say, and Claudia was in the hospital for a while. Your father was concerned and kept tabs on her. I had caught him on the phone talking about her and I became enraged. I thought he was cheating on me. You were only a few months old yourself and my insecurities about being a wife and mother were heightened. So I confronted him about it. We argued and once we both calmed down, he told me the truth."
"Mateo Lodge was many things. His wandering eye was notorious. He had a reputation for sleeping around and his women of choice tended to be much younger than him. Claudia's mother, Emily, was a local girl who came to work for the Lodge's as your father's nanny. She was fourteen."
"It was the late seventies, times were different. Your grandfather was 22 and as hard as it may be for you to fathom in this day in age, it wasn't that big a deal. Doesn't make it right, but you had people with different ideals of what was and was not inappropriate."
"So her family just let her leave home?"
"Again, times were different. Add to that, Emily's family was incredibly poor. Always struggled for money. An opportunity to work for a family like the Lodge's would have been seen as an opportunity too good to pass up."
"So how old was Emily when she gave birth to Claudia?"
"Emily died when she was sixteen, your father had just turned six, and there is an almost four year age difference between him and Claudia. Do the math."
Veronica felt as if she wanted to vomit. She had heard stories about Mateo Lodge. How awful and evil he was. Her family was always hesitant to talk about him. Especially her father. She had just chalked it up to them not having a great relationship. What she knew about her grandfather were the things the other families would say about him. Whispers in passing about some of the deeds he had done. In all honesty, she didn't really believe most of them. They sounded too awful to be true. However, after what her mom had just told her, she was beginning to believe otherwise.
"Wait --" Veronica said as a new horror dawned on her. "Emily died at sixteen. What happened to her? How did she die?"
Hermione hesitated. She wondered if she was putting too much on her daughter.
"Please, Mom. Tell me. I'm going to find out one way or another, it might as well be from you."
"She was murdered," Hermione sighed deeply. Veronica could see by the change of expression on her mothers face how deeply this troubled her.
"Murdered? B-by Grandpa Lodge?"
"The details of what happened after Emily gave birth are -- murky at best. All we know for sure is that not too long after Emily started working for your grandfather she became pregnant and continued to live in the Lodge house until it started become obvious she was pregnant. She relocated to a safe house in Greendale where some time after she gave birth to a daughter she named, Gladys Maria Lodge. This is where the details get confusing. According to your Grandfather, it wasn't long after giving birth that she realized who he was and what he really did. She ran and went into hiding, taking their daughter with her. When he eventually found Emily, she had told your grandfather that the child had died, but it didn't take long for him to realize she had given the baby up for adoption. She was found dead not too long after. She was sixteen years old."
Veronica felt hot tears fall down her face. Partially out of sadness for this woman she had never known who suffered and died at the hands of her family. And partially for herself. In the last few months she came to realize just how wicked her family was, but she never realized the half of it. There weren't words that could describe the level of diabolical the Lodge Family truly was.
"Grandpa Lodge?" Veronica asked hestiantly, not really wanting an answer but knowing she needed confirmation.
"Your father said he never confessed to having her killed but he did say he was incredibly penitent."
"H-How was Emily killed?"
Veronica watched as her mother tensed. "Those details are unimportant."
"Mom, I need to know. You just can't drop a bomb on me like this and skip over the unsavory parts. I think we are long past trying to shield me from these things."
"You're right," Hermione conceded as she steeled herself to respond to her daughter. "She was found beaten to death in a dump in Greendale. It was all over the papers at the time. Just like Jason's murder was."
Veronica's heart sank. Emily was beaten and left for dead on the orders of her grandfather. Just as Jughead has been beaten and left for dead by her father. And they were family. Maybe not as close as she and her mother were but the same blood ran through her veins as did Jughead's. Her first cousin. Her friend.
"What are we going to do to stop this? How do we stop Daddy? Protect Jughead?"
"There are pieces in place. Wheels being set into motion. Exactly what they are I cannot know. I cannot be seen to be involved."
Veronica wiped the tears from her eyes, "What do you mean, you can't be involved?"
"Your father is close to getting everything he has wanted -- which means he is going to double down on making sure nothing gets in his way. He's going to be keeping those of us who have been the closest to him in his plans even closer. I can't make a move against your father without him knowing. And while in his own way, your father does love me, that doesn't mean that I am safe from his wrath. At first -- for the longest time, I never thought he would be capable of placing me in harms way. After Jughead, however, I am not so sure."
Veronica could hear the terror in her mother's voice. The tremor in her hands she tried to hide. Her mother was afraid -- utterly and truly afraid -- and it frightened Veronica to her core. She stopped and took a good look at her mother, before enveloping her into a hug. Hermione fell into her daughters arms. Nothing was said. Nothing had to be said. It didn't erase the difficulties that stood between them, only time and effort could heal those wounds, if at all possible. It was more a gesture of shared strength at a time when both needed it the most.
"It has to be you, Mija," Hermione whispered to her daughter as she pulled out of their embrace. "Being Hiram's daughter affords you protection that i don't -- and won't ever have. That gives you an advantage, you have to use it."
"There is only so much that I can do. However, there are those with whom your father has hurt just as much who may be in a position to help. I will reach out to them. See if there is some way we our mutual involvements can be beneficial. In the meantime, there is something that I am working on, that will at least, slow your father down. When the time is right, and only then Veronica, I will tell you. Understood?"
"In the meantime, continue to help Archie campaign for Fred. Stand beside Archie and Jughead. Act as if nothing has changed. And the most important thing Veronica -- you must tell no one what I just told you. This is dangerous ground we are treading and right now may not be the best time for honesty."
Veronica gave a frustrated huff as she walked back over to her bed and sat down.
"I don't like lying to Archie, Mom. We made a promise to be honest with each other -- Not to mention Betty already knows that there is something going on between Claudia and Daddy -- Then there's Jughead. Mom, he's my friend, one of the first I ever made in Riverdale and now you tell me he's family -- how do I just pretend like I don't know that?"
"As far as Archie goes, sweetheart, you need to understand something. Your father began recruiting Archie into the organization, only because he believed that Jughead would be a lost cause."
"Why would Daddy want to recruit Jughead into the mob?"
"The same reason any powerful man from a patriarchal organization with only a daughter would need to -- he needs an heir."
"And he wanted Jughead?"
"Jughead is family. A Lodge by blood if not name. Grooming him to take his place would have gone over much better with the families than someone he could prepare and marry you off to."
"So, you're telling me that he used and manipulated Archie for some masochistic sense of machismo?"
"In a sense," Hermoine relented as she saw the range of emotions sweep over her daughter's face. "Save that anger for the days to come. You will need every bit of it. Just know, that I understand you love Archie a great deal and want nothing more than to tell him the truth. But know this Veronica, the only way to keep Archie safe is to make sure that your father sees him as useful. As long as Hiram sees a use for Archie, he's safe. The moment he loses his usefulness, there is no telling what he will do. So its important that he not be seen as crossing your father in any way. So keeping this secret from him may be the only thing to keep him safe -- the same for Betty."
"But she saw the photo of Daddy and Claudia --"
"Come up with something she'll believe -- a fib to satisfy her curiosity -- and then redirect her concerns elsewhere. Her father just turned out to be a serial killer and her boyfriend nearly died. She should be there for them -- not trying to solve some mystery that doesn't need solving."
"So not only do you want me to lie," Veronica chided, not liking where this situation was heading. "You want me to manipulate my friends."
"We are at war, Veronica, and sometimes war makes us do and say things we otherwise normally would not. While you and your friends may think that because you took down Clifford Blossom, you could do the same with your father -- you can't. That isn't going to be possible. If your father is going to be stopped -- and for good this time -- it needs to be done the right way. With people who know your father and know what they're doing. Getting either one of them involved is only going to get them hurt -- or worse."
Her friend -- no, her cousin -- had gone toe to toe with her father and it nearly cost him his life. As much as she hated to want to admit it. Her mother had a point. She knew Archie and Betty too well. Knew that after what happened to Jughead, there would be nothing to stop her friends from wanting to take her father down. While they had been successful in catching Clifford Blossom for the murder of his son, her father was an entirely different beast. Smarter. More calculated. More ruthless.
"What about Jughead?" How am I supposed to walk around and not pretend that he isn't my family?"
"You can't just all of a sudden start treating Jughead differently," Hermione countered. "Your father will notice. For the time being, be his friend. As you always have. Use this opportunity to build on that friendship. He nearly died. Use that as an excuse to get closer to him. Spend more time with him. Be subtle though. Get closer to Jughead, develop a relationship with him. It will only make the revelation of your family bond that much more stronger."
"But where would I even start?"
"Well, hospital stays are expensive," Hermione said smiling softly. "Fred Andrews had insurance and his bills were still astronomical. I can't even imagine what the cost would be if he didn't."
A wide smile spread across Veronica's face as she realized where her mother was heading, "The ransom money I got from Nick's family. But Daddy's got it locked away in that trust, how would I ever get a hold of it?"
"It's going to take some clever legal wrangling but I think we both know of a lawyer who would like nothing more than to knock your father down a peg or two."
"Once I get a hold of the money," Veronica said as she paced back and forth putting the pieces of her plan in place. "I use some of it can set up a trust in Jughead's name, then make arrangements with the hospital administrator to automatically withdraw any expenses accruing from either his or his father's recent hospital stay. That way Daddy won't be able to touch it."
"It's also important that you put the remainder of that money in a trust that only you can access and the sooner the better. That money will be your leverage against your father."
"Your father's plan for the South Side, go far beyond the prison. He wants to consolidate the entire area into -- something," Hermione said choosing her words carefully. "To what, I am still trying to figure out, but there is one critical piece of the South Side that he doesn't own yet. It's keeping his takeover from being complete. Although, he is currently in negotiations with it's proprietor as we speak."
"What's the name of this spot?"
"The Whyte Wyrm," Hermione responded coyly.
Veronica's grin only widened, "And if I were to contact said proprietor and make him a counter offer, I could outbid Daddy for Wyrm thus putting a wrench into his plans for the South Side."
Veronica still hadn't forgiven her mother for all the deceit. All the lies. But right now they had a much bigger obstacle between them -- her father -- and if taking down her father and his nefarious plans for Riverdale meant putting aside those issues for the time being, it was something she could deal with.
Hiram Lodge sat in a chair in the Riverdale Sheriff's office, flipping through the contents of a large tan file folder as Sheriff Michael Minetta watched with unease. When he had first been tasked by Hiram to become the new man of the law, he couldn't have even begun to imagine the things he would be asked to do. While he had been an associate of the Lodge family for some time and had been used to being asked to look the other way or help fudge details here and there, this was the first time he had been involved with outright corruption. And honestly, he didn't know how he felt about it.
"You did good," Hiram said finally looking up from the folder. "You got me exactly what I needed."
Minetta flinched slightly as Hiram threw the folder back on his desk, "You should know by now that I always deliver."
"And that you do. Your work is always exceptional."
Hesitating, Minetta picked the file from off of his desk and flipped through the pages, "May I ask -- after all this time -- if you knew this was out there -- why didn't you look into it sooner?"
Hiram smiled, shaking his head in amusement, "Not at all Michael, I am glad that you asked. You see, I love my sister. I respect and admire her. Out of all my siblings, we are the most alike. Working together, we could accomplish great things."
"Then why did you go after her son, if you wanted her on your side?"
"I will admit that maybe trying to kill Jughead was a misstep on my part. I let my emotions get in the way. To answer your earlier question, watching my sister at Jughead's bedside was heartbreaking. However, it gave me insight into gaining from my sister the one thing I never truly had -- real loyalty. And while my plans for Jughead will forge ahead as I originally planned, should the need arise and I must find other avenues to secure Claudia's trust, what better way than this."
"Don't take this the wrong way," Minetta said placing the file back down on his desk. "This seems kinda cruel, don't you think?"
"On the contrary, cruel was keeping this information to myself for so long."
"Yeah, but the number of people whose lives are gonna be upended by something like this --"
"Is one of the reasons I have kept it to myself for so long. This is a betrayal of the people who love her the most. Whose support and trust she has always depended so much on."
Minetta looked at Hiram curiously, the realization finally dawning on him, "I get it now. Those people whose lives would be affected by this information the most are the ones Claudia trusts -- whose she's most loyal to. If she suddenly loses that loyalty and by something seemingly not of your doing --"
"I will always love and support my sister no matter what," Hiram said getting up from the chair and grabbing the folder off of the desk, his back towards the door. "She is, a Lodge after all. And more so than I think anyone else around her realizes."
Chapter 24: You Poisoned Me Just For --
A few hours after Alice's visit, FP Jones was given the clear to go home. He didn't however, travel far.
He went up two flights to the room where they had moved Jughead after he had been stable enough to leave the ICU. Once there he had been reassured by his doctors that Jughead's life was out of immediate danger. He would recover, thankfully, and the sooner he woke up the sooner they would be able to determine how long that would take. With the exception of the scar on his arm, which, thankfully, didn't cut as deep as they had originally thought, they weren't expecting any permanent damage. He had gotten lucky, the doctors had told him. A genuine miracle, if you were a religious person, which FP never was. They told him to expect Jughead to look worse for wear, at least until he woke up, and that his heartbeat would be a little irregular until the medicine helped work the remaining fluid out of his body. It was nothing to worry about. Nothing to fear. That was easy for him to say, that wasn't his kid lying there.
When he was done talking with the doctors, he made the long walk down to Jughead's room. Well, it wasn't really that long a walk but hell, it felt that way. He stopped right outside the door. Nervous about what he would see. The last time he had laid eyes on his son, he was close to death. While he was out of that realm of danger, him being in that bed, lying there, would be an all too grizzly reminder. Taking in a deep breath, he rounded the corner and into Jughead's room. What he saw there stopped him dead in his tracks. There, sitting at Jughead's bedside was Mary Andrews.
Mary had looked up in his direction. It was now that he could see that she had been cradling Jughead's hand, her face awash with tears.
"FP," she whispered, letting go of Jughead's hand and walking over to FP embracing him into a hug. FP welcomed it.
"I hope you don't mind," Mary said pulling out of their hug and wiping away her tears. "But I have to leave for Chicago tonight, I told Claudia I would visit Jug before I left."
Just the mention of his wife's name broke FP's heart even more than it already was.
"H-How is she? Really?"
A bright smile broke across Mary's face. It caught FP off-guard.
"Yes," Mary said motioning FP to a set of neighboring chairs. "I know what Wilma may have told you but you can't take a word that woman says at value."
"When I talked with her last, Wilma said she was having setbacks --"
"FP," Mary said grabbing his hands to calm him. "In our time away from Riverdale, I have to say that Claudia and I have only strengthened our bond. Our sisterhood. And there is one thing that I came out of this with."
"And what's that?"
"That being sick isn't the be all end all of who and what she is. That it is part of her. Always has been. Always will be. But its not who she is. I think we've all been guilty of not really understanding that. Sometimes she breaks but that doesn't mean she's broken. We need to stop treating her like she's fragile. Walking on eggshells, keeping things from her that shouldn't be kept. We are all guilty of it. I just didn't understand how much that acting that way hurt her. Watching her every move and action. She's no different than any of us, FP. Before I came here, I saw her and she seemed so confident. Put together. So strong. I thought for sure, she would be in pieces, because if the roles were reversed, I know I would be. But she wasn't. It had been so long since I had seen her just be herself that the first thing I asked her was if she took her meds. FP, the look in her eyes, she was so hurt. My heart breaks just thinking back on it. She told me that she had been in constant contact with the hospital. Knew Jughead was going to be okay. Afterwards we had a long talk and I came to the realization that all these years I have been treating Claudia horribly and not even known it."
"I think we all have," FP said as the realization and guilt began to dawn on him. "The time that they have spent away, leaving me here with Jug, has only made me come to realize how much he is like his mother. It used to frighten me. I used to think he was fragile too. But he's not, Mary, he's strong. So much stronger than I ever give him credit for. And one thing's for sure, he didn't get that strength from me."
Mary gave FP's shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
"You don't give yourself enough credit. The both of you -- are the strongest people I have ever known. To have come from where you did --"
"-- and came out no better than my old man --"
"You are ten times the man your father ever was," Mary's voice was stern. Almost chastising. "Don't you ever think differently."
"I still ended up in the Serpents. Still ended up wasting my life in a bottle. Chasing away the only good things that have ever happened to me. How am I that much better than him?"
"You've made mistakes FP. We all have. We all have done things in our pasts we regret. However, what matters is that we learn from them. That's something your Dad never did. It wasn't something he was even capable of. "
"When I look at him, lying here, all I could think to myself was how much I promised that as long as I lived, I would never lay a hand on my child."
"And you never have --"
"I may have never struck him, but that's not to say I have always been gentle to him. Even so, it was my actions. My stubbornness that led him here. If had only taken the time to listen. Understood what was really going on between him and Hiram, maybe I could have done something to stop this. Instead, my boy almost died, and for what? My pride?"
"Your pride didn't put Jughead here. Hiram's did. FP, I am not the kind of person to judge anyone by their parents. In all honesty, I always felt sorry for Hiram. To have a father like Mateo Lodge -- it had to be horrific. I am starting to think though, now, after all this time that Hiram is on the same level of his father. If not worse."
"He's gonna pay for what he did to my son."
"And he will," Mary said reassuringly. "But for right now, all you need to do is focus on Jughead. Help him to get better. Rest assured, in due time, Hiram Lodge will get exactly what is coming to him."
Betty watched as her mother got out of the car hesitantly. There was a combination of nervousness and painful regret ebbing away at her face, which looked to be on the edge of tears. Betty got out to meet her and solemnly they walked the few short feet to a large square plot with dozens of tiny little markers. Instead of names, they had only numbers. A small stone with the simple words AT PEACE where the only identifiable markings to be found. Betty's heart sank at the realization that no only had her brother grown up having a terrible life where he felt unloved and unwanted but that he died a horrible death and was tossed away in some mass grave, destined to be forgotten.
"Do you know what happens to the dead when their unclaimed?" her mother asked breaking their moment of silence.
"No," Betty replied shaking her head. Even though she knew full well, she felt that her mother telling her this information was something that she desperately needed to do. So she played along.
"Their bodies are cremated," her mother continued. "And their ashes are buried in a single mass grave. This is the spot where Charles ashes were buried. I needed proof -- and here it is."
Betty felt the pain in her mother's voice. She knew that giving Charles up for adoption was one of the biggest regrets of her life and how she had wanted so desperately to have him back in her life that she was willing to look past all of the warning signs that Chic had been throwing out to her. It was a sad end to what should have been a happier ending. Something Betty was getting all too familiar with.
"If only," her mother sighed, her voice now heavy with regret. "If only I had stayed with FP, then Charles would --"
"Mom," Betty interrupted forcefully. She knew her mother was going to hold herself responsible for what happened to Charles and Betty was going to have none of it. There was only one person who was responsible for her brother's death and that was Chic.
"-- My son, would be alive," she countered as her voice cracked with emotion, tears now freely streaming down her cheeks. "I wouldn't have been married to a murderer."
The venom in her words were not lost on Betty. It was obvious that the revelation of her father as the Black Hood was something that was still incredibly raw for her mother. For all of them really.
"But then I would have never had you," her mother smiled at her with a voice filled with a much different type of regret. "Or your sister."
Betty watched with a heavy heart as her mother lost all sense of composure. The pain, regret it was all just too much. As the tears began to flow down her face, Betty watched as her mother bent down and touched the headstone. It wasn't the contact she had been hoping for when she set out on this journey but it would be all that they would ever have. It was all too much. Taking out her phone, Betty walked a few feet away from her mother, partly to give her the privacy she deserved in that moment but also, because she didn't want her mother to hear. She had given her sister her space. Wished her well as she set off to raise her children outside of Riverdale. But too much had happened for her sister to ignore. She had to know. Hitting her speed dial button, she was annoyed when the call went immediately to voicemail.
"Polly, we need you here. I know, I know that you haven't had the best relationship with Mom, but -- a lot of things have happened and you have to come home -- please. Call me back."
Betty turned off her phone to see her mother openly weeping. Her hand still splayed across the simple grave marker.
"Charles, honey, I'm so sorry."
In that moment Betty watched as her mother collapsed into tears and she was by her side in an instant. They said nothing as they sat together in the cold, wet grass -- the storm that they had driven out of seemed to finally have caught up with them. In more ways than one. After what seemed like forever, and as the rain grew more and more heavy, Betty looked at her mother with a understanding softness.
"Mom, its time for us to go home."
Veronica Lodge stood outside the coffee shop dressed in her favorite black pleated skirt, vintage brown turtle neck, and a pair of ballerina flats with the widest grin plastered across her face.
"VOTE FOR ANDREWS!" she shouted as she handed out flyers to those passing her by on the street. "A VOTE FOR ANDREWS IS A VOTE FOR RIVERDALE'S FUTURE!"
Shortly after her conversation with her mother, Veronica made contact with Sierra McCoy who practically jumped at the chance to take on her father. While she worked out the details of their plan, she made the decision to canvas some of the more popular areas of town to try and work on some solo campaigning for Mr. Andrews. Although she had made plans with Archie to meet with him and his dad later that night, she wanted the opportunity to go out on her own as a show of not only solidarity with Archie and others in her support of Fred but to try and talk people swayed by her families seemingly heroic actions during the riots to change their votes. Who better to try and dissuade people of her father's carefully choreographed measure of valor than that of his own child.
"VOTE FOR ANDREWS! A VOTE FOR AND --"
A sudden, loud and earth shaking thunder broke Veronica from her cheers as a heavy and immediate downpour led her to abandon her electioneering and take shelter inside the coffee shop. Drenched from head to toe and carrying a large pile of now wet pamphlets in her hands, she threw the waterlogged sheets in the trash and took a seat at a nearby table.
Great. Just great. There goes that.
Veronica flagged down a waitress and ordered her favorite mocha, deciding to see if the rain let up enough for her to walk back to the Pembrooke or if she was going to have to bother her mother to have her send a driver to pick her up. She was trying her best to avoid that at all costs. Currently her parents were out canvasing with the electorate on their own and the last thing she wanted or needed for that matter was to cross paths with her father. Her earlier conversation with her mother, the revelation that not only did her father try to have Jughead killed -- but that he tried to kill his own nephew -- left her with a particular anger the likes of which she had never known. Her father had was known to do shady things from time to time -- to tow the line between good and evil -- but his actions against Jughead were a line in the sand for her. One that he did more than cross -- he obliterated it.
As she waited for the rain to abate, she made the most of her time posting to social media about her support of Mr. Andrews, having a lengthy conversation with Mr. McDermott, local bank manager to set up a trust in Jughead's name and to a Mrs. O'Dell, a hospital administrator, with whom she left a message to call her back regarding paying Jughead and FP's hospital bills. When all her calls were through and she ordered yet another mocha, she stared down at her phone contemplating calling her parents to pick her up, but instead she though back to Jughead. Her friend. Her cousin. He was family. This entire time she had family so close and yet so unknown. He was someone she had known and yet, in a way, didn't. She thought it was strange. Jughead was a part of her life and had been for almost an entire year and yet she had antiquated their friendship based off his relationship with the other people in her life.
Jughead was her friend but he was Archie's brother and Betty's boyfriend. Those titles held more meaning for her than him being her friend. In all honesty, she couldn't even remember if she had ever spent any alone time with him where either Betty or Archie or her father or someone else weren't present. She made a vow that she would have to change that. There would have to be a subtly involved, not only to keep her father but Jughead's suspicions at bay. He had no clue and considering his somewhat tenuous -- albeit dangerous -- relationship with her dad, she was uncertain how he would take it. If she took the time to be a better friend, she had no doubt that he would be more welcoming to her and maybe, to her mother.
The waitress returned with her mocha and proceeded to place a second cup, a latte, on the table as well.
"I'm sorry but I didn't order that," Veronica said looking up from her phone confused. The waitress just walked away, leaving her frustrated.
"You didn't order that, I did."
Veronica looked up to see a woman she immediately recognized. At first, all words escaped her. She merely nodded and watched as she took a seat in front of her. There was so much Veronica wanted to say. Wanted to know. And now she was going to get the opportunity to find out.
"You don't have to anything yet," she replied with a bright smile that Veronica could see reflected in her green eyes. "I know that a lot has happened in a short amount of time and its a lot to process so I don't blame you if you don't know what to say. And, in all honesty, its kind of unfair of me to just surprise you this way, but if there is one thing that I have learned over the years is that you take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself."
Veronica hesitated, tears welling in her eyes, "There is so much I want to say to you. I- I don't even know where to start."
"Well, how about with introductions," she replied as she extended out her hand. "Hola, Verónica, mi sobrina. Soy tu tía, Claudia."
Veronica extended out her hand to shake Claudia's and in that instant when their hands shook, Veronica could feel their was a connection between them. They were family -- and more importantly, for Veronica, it felt as if she was meeting a close friend, for the first time. Tears fell down her cheeks.
"Es un placer conocerte finalmente -- tía Claudia."
Chapter 25: -- Another Dollar In Your Pocket
"Hermione told me where to find you," Claudia said as she sipped her latte, answering the first question that popped into Veronica's head. "She told me that she had a conversation with you and that it might be best if we met -- sooner rather than later -- in order to answer any questions she really couldn't."
"And there are so many," Veronica beamed as she put her phone away and took a sip of her mocha. "But do you really think that meeting in a place this public is necessarily safe? What if someone recognizes you?"
Claudia laughed, "I have been a fly on the wall to this town for most of my life, trust me, sobrina, no one is gonna notice me."
Veronica felt a pang of sadness at her assurance. She had remembered back when her mother had told her about Claudia's childhood. How she had been ignored. Unloved. She couldn't imagine how lonely that had to have been. Claudia could sense Veronica's uneasiness. She sadly smiled. Hermione had told her that her daughter had been incredibly empathetic but the last thing she wanted was for her to feel sorry about something she couldn't change.
"Don't be sad, Veronica," she said reaching out and giving her niece's hand a reassuring squeeze. "That anonymity has come in quite handy over the years. Now, we don't have a lot of time. I have to be on a plane back to Toledo tonight, so if there is anything you need to ask me, please do so."
Veronica sat in silence for a moment, shuffling through all the questions she wanted answers to, all the things she wanted to know, and broke it down to the things she felt were the most important. The things she needed to know in order to move forward with whatever it was her mother had said was coming.
"My mother said she couldn't move against my father, but had hinted that someone else was, can I assume she meant you?"
"Yes," Claudia replied bluntly. "Does that bother you?"
Veronica took a long labored breath, "At one point it would have -- but these last few days I have been opened my eyes to the person that my father truly is -- "
"And you don't like what you see?"
Claudia could see the sadness and disappointment that spread across Veronica's face. It was the same reaction she had when she realized just how awful a person her brother really was.
"The thing about Hiram is that you always want to believe, and he has the capability, of making you think that he has your best interest at heart. Hell, part of me feels that deep down, he even thinks that is true. But your father -- he feels that his love for those who are important to him justifies him to do whatever it is he wants."
"I don't think my father is capable of love," Veronica replied bitterly.
"He is," Claudia smiled sadly. "It's just not a healthy love. Your father loves us -- in his own way. And there are times when I feel like its genuine but in all honesty, Veronica, its destructive. Not at all something you ever really want to be a part of."
"How did you find out about being a Lodge. My mom said Daddy was in college. How old were you?"
"Sixteen," Claudia replied taking another sip of her latte. "It was the weekend of Alice Smith's wedding to Hal Cooper. A weekend that to this day lives in infamy. So much happened that set us all on the paths that the rest of our lives would take, its hard to believe looking back on it."
"How did you find out?"
Claudia smiled sheepishly, "The first thing to know is that teenage me was a bit of a hellion. My adopted parents never really paid that much attention to me. They spent most of their time drinking and fighting with each other and my siblings spent most of their time being judgy of me because I was adopted and not really their sister. Aside from Mary Maiden, as she was known back then, I had no one. But, even having Mary in my corner did little to stop me from wanting to be the center of attention -- and in a quiet little town like Riverdale, the only way to be noticed was to be loud."
"And you were loud?"
"So what all did you do?"
"Its more like what didn't I do. Any rule that existed, I broke, and with incredible glee. The more taboo, the more I enjoyed doing it. My juvenile record was four large manila folders thick by the time I turned seventeen. I hung around with the worst of men, mostly Serpents, although I remained uninitiated. More like Serpent-adjacent than Serpent myself. No matter what went down though, Mary always had my back. Always. When she went away to college, I felt adrift. There wasn't anyone for me to talk with or to talk me out of some of my more questionable ideas. Unbeknownst to me, she had left that responsibility to Fred Andrews, whom Mary had been dating, while she was away. Fred was literally the best and the absolute worse person for such a job."
"Did you two not get along?"
Claudia laughed loudly, but later regretted it.
"Not getting along is an understatement. Fred hated me."
"I didn't think Mr. Andrews was capable of hating anyone."
"I think hate might be too harsh a word," Claudia spoke in between sips of her latte. "But to a straight-laced, by the book, do-good gentleman like Fred, I was the worst person alive. His time as my warden and my behavior while Mary was away did nothing to change that opinion, or his abrupt dislike of my existence. The over three grand worth of bail money he had spent in the time she was away did little to change his mind either."
"Three grand?" Veronica said looking at Claudia shocked.
"Like I said hellion. It would have been worse had Fred not stepped in after I totaled a Serpents car with a metal baseball bat. Thankfully he had an in with the Sheriff at the time and we were able to get the charges dropped or I would have been looking at serious jail time. And before you get your hopes up, he did it more for Mary than for me."
"What happened after that?"
"He took me back to his house and we argued for the better part of two hours. Harsh words were spoke that Fred admitted to later that he regretted saying. I left shortly after. What he said upset me but I was too proud to let Fred see that it had. So I got in my car and drove to the Wyrm. That's where I first met your father."
"Daddy was at the Wyrm?"
"And although he did his best to try and fit in he stuck out like a sore thumb," Claudia laughed. "At first he said nothing, just kept staring at me. After a while. I confronted him, asked him what he was looking at and he offered to buy me a drink. Never one to turn down free anything, I accepted and we started talking."
"What did you talk about?"
"Each other. Our lives. The more I spoke the more eager and excited he got, I just thought he was trying to hit on me. But -- there was something about talking with Hiram that made me feel safe. I told him things that I never told another soul. He just ate it up. After a few hours, I was stone drunk and your father offered to give me a ride home. I agreed. I had convinced myself at that point he was trying to get into my pants. When he pulled over about half way back to my house, I decided to make my move, so I kissed him."
"You kissed Daddy?"
"I didn't know we were related at the time," Claudia replied giving a look that just screamed like she wanted to vomit. "And in my defense as well, he didn't really stop me right away. Which in hindsight, bothers me even more."
"I may have, at one point," Veronica admitted embarrassed. "Kissed Jughead."
Claudia's eyes grew wide.
"It was this whole thing and margaritas may have been involved and looking back on it with that I know now, it kinda makes me want to vomit."
"Well its interesting to know," Claudia admitted shifting uncomfortably in her seat. "That weird incestuousness relationships aren't limited to just the Blossoms."
The two sipped their coffee's as they sat in silence processing these revelations. After an awkward few moments, it was Veronica who spoke up.
"So what happened -- after the unpleasantness?"
Claudia sighed, "Your father finally came to his senses and confessed who he was. Why he was there. At first I didn't believe him but the more he spoke, the more it began to line up with my own research into my biological parents. I know that I was born in Greendale at the home of a man who had been friends with my mother. His sister was a midwife, who had tremendous luck in bringing forth living children, stillbirths were still a great concern back then. I visited them once. The man was kind and answered what questions he could, his sister, not so much. He said that he had tried to protect my mother from my father and that she wanted to keep me. However, she realized that she would always live her life in fear. The man promised to help her but she didn't want to place the burden on him. While he was welcoming, the others in his household were far from it and my mother made the decision to give me up for adoption. She then returned to Riverdale to convince my father that the child had died -- she was killed not too long after."
"My mother explained to me what happened to Emily, I am so sorry."
"We are not are fathers," Claudia said adamantly. "Their sins are not our own to suffer for or forgive. Never forget that."
Veronica gave Claudia a look that only went to further solidify their connection. If there was anyone who seemed to understand what it meant to have a father like hers, it would be someone who had a father even worse.
"What happened after that?"
"I freaked out. In all my imaginative scenarios for who my parents were and what happened to them, this was the furthest from my mind. If you grew up in Riverdale at the time you knew all about the rumors regarding Mateo and Emily. To know that I came forth into the world as a result of such unpleasantness was more than I could bear. I got out of the car and ran down a short distance to a bridge overlooking Sweetwater River. In my haste and emotional unsteadiness, I jumped off it."
Veronica nearly dropped her mocha as her eyes grew wide in shock.
"If your father hadn't dove in after me, I wouldn't be here. He did CPR and drove me to Riverdale General. Stayed with me until they contacted Fred Andrews. It would be months before we would speak again."
"What happened when you did?"
"I told him that I needed time and space to process all of this. It was hard for me to get past what happened to my mother and the role that our father, our family, played in her death. He told me to take all the time I needed. It would take years before I ever opened myself up to Hiram and I regret ever having let him in."
"What ultimately changed your mind?"
Claudia took another sip of her latte before placing the cup on the table, looking at Veronica sternly.
"I thought he was going to die."
Jughead Jones opened his eyes to the blues skies above him and green grass beneath his feet. He had been looking up, and when he brought his head back down, he found himself surrounded by a sobering reality. He was in the cemetery, standing before the grave of his mother. His heart busted into millions of pieces, remembering how Hiram Lodge had came up from behind her in his hospital room and stabbed her in the heart. How he had caught her as he fell to the ground. Weep and cried for help until nurses had piled in. His father, who had been just down the hall had run in right after them, his eyes welling with tears and sobs as he fell against the wall. Watching as they tried and failed to resuscitate her. Jughead remembers screaming and crying about the blood and Hiram Lodge but soon found himself restrained. When he took a better look around him there had been no blood. No stab wound. It only made his confusion grow, his sorrow more profound.
When he came to, he had been greeted by his father's tear-stained face, he seemed to have aged ten years since the last time he had seen him. That is when Jughead had learned the awful truth. His mother was dead. Not slain but some nefarious villain, but taken down by a heart attack, the result of an untreated inherited heart condition. His father was having trouble getting out the words, especially when he informed Jug that he had to be the one to tell their sister, who was inconsolable and currently being taken care of by Alice and Betty. His father had told him that what he had saw was a hallucination, a way for his mind to process what he had seen. And that the doctors were going to keep him a few more days and run some tests. The same tests the ran on his mother when they realized she had a breakdown. It had been the one thing he had always feared. The one reality he always knew was possible.
After informing Jughead of the testing, the doctors came to collect him. He didn't want to go and while it may not have seen like the most appropriate time, time was the most important factor in early diagnosis and treatment. When he got back it was Veronica, not his father who had been there to greet him. He had told Jughead that Mary and Fred had been by to check on them and taken FP home to get some rest. What he didn't know, and didn't find out until much later, was that his father's blood pressure had shot up and that after running an EKG was told to go home and rest lest he join his wife and leave his children orphaned. Veronica had shown up around that time and promised to keep an eye on Jug while Fred and Mary took care of FP at home. The tears that ran down Veronica's face mirrored his own, the shock and the devastation.
"I can't believe this," she whispered as she took a hold of Jughead's hand.
"Neither can I."
They sat in silence up until the doctors returned to inform them that the test they had run had come back negative and that his hallucination was more than likely a symptom of his grief. It was a relief and something he was more than happy to share with his father. One less thing for him to have hanging over his head. The days that followed were a blur. He barely remembered seeing Betty or Archie, or consoling his sister. Barely remembered getting released from the hospital or getting ready for the funeral. Or the funeral itself for that matter. All he remembered after talking with his dad, was opening his eyes to this moment. And honestly, he didn't know if he should be grateful or not. He recognized his clothes as the same he had worn to Veronica's confirmation and realized for the first time that he wasn't alone. A few feet behind him there was a stone bench and on it sat the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. She was short, about five feet two at the tallest and looked around his age. She was dressed in a poofy white dress straight out of an episode of Mad Men. Her long, curly raven hair was worn in a high ponytail and her piercing green eyes were wet and red and raw from crying.
"Hello," he said as he approached the young girl, who looked up at him with sorrow. "Are you okay?"
She merely shook her head.
"May I join you?" he asked as he gestured to the empty space next to her.
She again, nodded her head. Jughead sat down and for the first time realized she was crying into an embroidered handkerchief with initials EK carefully stitched in black thread.
"EK," he said carefully touching the edge of the handkerchief to make sure he read it correctly. "Does that stand for your name."
The girl looked up at him and for the first time he saw her smile. A pained smile, but a smile none the less.
"Emily," she said. "My name is Emily."
"Hello, Emily. My name is Jughead."
"Jug-head? Is that the name that your parents gave you?"
"No," Jughead laughed. "It's actually Forsythe but there are two other people in my family who share that name. So my mom gave me a nickname, its just kinda stuck."
"Its kinda sweet," Emily sniffled.
"Are you okay?"
Emily shook her head, "No. Someone I loved has died."
Jughead watched as Emily pointed ahead of her. He looked up and for the first time he noticed that he hadn't been standing in front of his mother's grave. The marker before him read Gladys Maria Lodge. Startled he got up and looked down at Emily.
"What's going on?" he asked as a wave of fear overcame him. "What is all of this?"
"You already know."
"I'm asleep. I'm dreaming all of this."
"Maybe, maybe not," Emily said wiping the tears from her eyes and grabbing Jughead by the hand. "Follow me, there is something I need to show you. We'll talk on the way there."
"All of the things that I've seen --"
"For all science knows about the human body, the mind is still its greatest mystery," she continued. "It is said that when one comes close to death, they see things. The bodies way of dealing with the trauma they experience."
"Is that what this is?" Jughead asks as a flood of images come back to him. He stops in his tracks. "Penny. The Ghoulies. Am-Am I dying?"
"Not anymore," Emily asked nonchalantly. "There is another school of thought that says that coming so close to death is a supernatural experience. That it opens the mind to things that have occurred in which the person injured has no knowledge of or things that have yet to come."
"What is this then?"
"That's up for you to decide. You actually have lots of things to decide. While you are no longer in danger of dying, there is a choice that lays before you."
"And what choice is that?"
"To wake up or stay asleep."
"Why would it be a choice. I want to wake up."
"Jughead, whether what you saw was a figment of your mind or a portent of the future remains unclear. All I know for sure, is that if you wake up, there will be pain. And not just for you, but for everyone around you. Not everyone will survive it. If you stay asleep, the only pain they will feel is the loss of you in their lives, something they will in time, get over."
Tears fell down Jughead's face as they stopped by a nearby tree. There he saw Archie, Veronica and Betty weeping in front of his grave.
"The decision, Jughead remains yours," Emily replied as she let go of Jughead's hand and began to walk away.
"Wait!" he said calling after her. "Who -- what are you?"
Emily only smiled, "As far as who, you'll find out in time. And as far as what -- when your ready, there's a girl in Greendale that will tell you everything you need to know."
Jughead turned his head for a split second to look at his friends and then back to Emily, who to his surprise, had vanished into thin air. Rattled, his breathing deepening, his pulse racing, he turned his head back to the sight before him. He saw the tears, the pain and anguish rip across Betty's face. A look that Jughead never wanted to see in his entire life. Archie stood to her right, his stoic face doing his best to mask the tears that were falling and Veronica to her left, eyes blood red as if she had been weeping for days. It was then Jughead noticed it. In Betty's hands, clutched for dear life, was his beanie. He didn't know how much more of this pain and anguish he could stand. That was, until Betty stepped forward. With beanie firmly clutched in hand, she stepped forward and bent down before the gravestone, her tears even stronger than they had been before. She reached out with one hand, caressing the inscription FORSYTHE PENDALTON JONES III - Jughead To His Friends and openly wept harder.
"Come back to me, Jug," she begged as tears washed down her face.
Oh, Betty, please stop. I can't stand to see you this way.
"We're not done yet -- do you hear me?"
I hear you, Betts and my heart can't stand it.
There was a part of Jughead that was pragmatic. That believed in things that he understood and knew. And yet, if there was anything that this year had taught him, it was to be open to things beyond your understanding. There was a part of him, a deep part, that wanted nothing more than to listen to and heed Emily's warning. His dreams had been too specific. Too bizarre. While his mind wanted to tell him that it was just his head making ways for him to try to deal with the trauma before him. His heart was telling him there was much more to it than that. His heart was telling him, however, that there was much more truth to what Emily had told him. If he returned, there would be pain. Suffering. Those who loved him would pay a heavy price. And yet, as he stood there, watching his friends mourning. Watching Betty crumble as she did. Beg him to return to her, was more painful than anything he had ever had to bear.
"Our story's nor over, its just beginning," Betty cried as a single tear ran down her face.
That was the last straw. Jughead could take no more. No matter what the future had in store for them, the pain or suffering or whatever came his way, he would deal with it. What he couldn't deal with, was seeing the woman he loved. He respected. He worshiped. The woman who taught him to have confidence in himself and to put his trust in others. The woman who moved heaven and earth to make him happy when happiness was the farthest thing he could have dreamed of. That woman, in a state of utter and uncontrolled despair.
"So you come back to me."
It wasn't a question or a request, it was an order. One that Jughead would dutifully follow.
I would never leave you.
Jughead closed his eyes. Taking in a deep breath, he was suddenly aware of bright lights and of pain. A really sharp one in the back of his skull as he realized he was trying to lift his head, which weighed about a thousand pounds. He opened his eyes slowly, allowing the light and his retinas to adjust. The first thing he saw was his father. FP Jones was huddle in a chair at his son's bedside. Bruised and looking worse for wear and from where he could tell, fast asleep.
"Dad?" Jughead croaked as he felt a harshness in his throat. His voice sounding weak and scratchy and small but loud enough to jolt his father from his respite. Jughead doubted he ever really was sleeping. Relief had washed across the older Jones' face as he realized that the words had come from his son. Taking along sigh he picked himself up off the chair gingerly, hissing in pain. It didn't matter. All the wanted to do was to close the distance between him and his son. When he reached the bed, he grabbed Jughead's hand and gave it a tight squeeze.
"I'm gonna get the doctor," FP replied moving faster than his legs could take him. "He's awake! I need a doctor, my son is awake!"
Marsha Mason watched as a flurry of people rushed into the Jones boys room. A sigh and a smile swept across her face. Picking up the phone, she made the call she had been waiting days to make.
Veronica Lodge sat in the Andrews living room waiting for Archie to arrive. Her beau was out doing some last minute campaigning for student body president and was running late. While she waited for him to return, she had sent Fred to do some last minute door-to-door while she set up the presentation for their game plan for the night before the election. She didn't mind waiting in Archie's house alone, there was always Vegas, who while Veronica wasn't fond of dogs, had taken a shine to her. As she sat there preparing the dockets and documents for her presentation to Mr. Andrews, her mind kept taking her back to her conversation with Claudia at the coffee shop and the revelations she had learned.
"What do you mean, you thought he was going to die?" Veronica asked as she scooted her chair closer to the table.
"Your father always kept in minimal contact with me," Claudia began, also scooting her chair closer. "A card on my birthday, random money and gift cards would just arrive at my house. I could have stopped it but didn't. FP and I were on hard times it really helped. So I tolerated it. Always told FP it was from my parents or my sister Wilma. He always seemed to buy it. My --"
Veronica could see Claudia hesitate. Whatever she was going to tell her appeared to be difficult for her to say. She wanted to say it, but appeared as though she just needed a push to do so. Reaching out, Veronica took Claudia's hand and gave it a squeeze, telling her it was okay to continue.
"My pregnancies were fraught with difficulties. It was a hard time for me and my family. Hiram kept his distance but was there. In the aftermath of it all, he was always there. It made me begin to believe that maybe he really cared about me. That he wanted to be a real brother to me. So, when things began to get difficult with FP and his drinking it was Hiram I turned to. There was one time, right before I took my daughter and left Riverdale that FP and I got into the biggest of fights. I couldn't stand to be around him and didn't want to leave the kids with him, but I needed to get away. This was before Mary and Fred decided to get divorced so I dropped them off at the Andrews and told them I just needed a few days away. Mary understood. I immediately called your father."
"What did you say? What did he do?"
"I told him what happened and that I needed to get space between myself and Riverdale. So he invited me up to the cabin in Lake Montauk. No entourage. No bodyguards. He drove me up there himself. Said that you and your Mom went to visit your Grandmother in Riverdale so it wasn't a big deal. The plan was to drop me off. Give me a few days of peace and quiet and time by myself to reflect."
"I'm guessing that didn't happen."
Claudia shook her head adamantly. "No, it didn't. A freak storm hit. Flooded out the roads. Hiram would be stuck with me until the roads cleared. It wasn't too bad at first. We had a chance to talk. Catch up on each others lives. We had a nice dinner. For the first time I felt like I was building a relationship with my brother. I had family. It wasn't too long after eating that I noticed something was off with your father."
"He looked pale. And sweaty. He said he had just worked out in the gym and I thought nothing of it. As the night wore on though, he looked worse and worse. It wasn't until he vomited all over the living room that I began to worry something was seriously wrong. I don't know much in the way of the human body, but there were enough former military medics among the Serpents that you learn a thing or two about medical emergencies. Hell, if I had finished high school, I probably could have gotten a job as a CNA or something. I managed to get him to lie down and take his vitals. Its then he told me that his chest hurt. That is when I knew we were in trouble. I thought he was having a heart attack. I mean, I know he was young but I know how Mateo died so I freaked out and tried to call an ambulance but the storm knocked down the cell towers. In that time period. In the hours we waited for help, all the while believing I could lose him at any minute, I began to question how harshly I treated him. How wrong I was to judge him based on our father's actions. I apologized for judging him so harshly, he said he was sorry that he took the wrong approach but all he wanted was to get to know me better. It was emotional and heartbreaking and really brought us closer together."
"I remember this," Veronica said abruptly. "My mom was freaked out because she couldn't get a hold of Daddy and then when she did she looked even more freaked out but tried to hide it."
"When the storm let up, Dr. Patel and a few of your father's bodyguards arrived. When your mother hadn't heard from your Dad, she sent them to check on him. They got him to the hospital. Thankfully it wasn't a heart attack but a really bad case of food poisoning. I was so grateful, that I cried. Tears of joy. Looking back I feel like such an idiot."
"I think I would have too if it had been me," Veronica said trying to make Claudia feel better about what she obviously thought was a huge mistake. "What happened next?"
"All I remember is that in the aftermath, it was like there was never any tension between Hiram and myself. We were thick as thieves. He clued me in on his grand plans for Riverdale and I fell for it. All of it. He told me that when he helped remake this town, he wanted and needed me by his side. So I went along with his plans and his demands of me. The first thing I did was leave my husband and son behind to take my daughter to go live with people who hate me."
"Why would he do that?"
"He convinced me that if I well and truly left FP and had no where to turn to, I would turn to them. Mary and Fred were having problems, so the last I wanted to do was burden them. It made sense at the time. Everything he asked of me, I did it, even turning my back on my own son because I thought it was for his own good. This whole time. I sat by and did nothing. All the while, your father was pulling my strings like the willing puppet that I was. Everything I believed in, everything that I did was nothing more than a lie."
"H-How did you find out? That Daddy had lied to you about his plans for Riverdale?"
"The difficulties that I experienced through my pregnancies still follow me. So when I moved to Toledo he sent his personal physician, Dr. Patel, to help me out. In reality, he was there to keep an eye on me. A few weeks ago, Ravi came to me. Told me that he was tired of lying to me. That I was too good a person to be under Hiram's thumb. He told me that what happened at the cabin was a manipulation on Hiram's behalf. That whole incident in the cabin had been orchestrated down to the last detail. He basically had recreated the scene of our father's death. He took me to the cabin where he died. He waited until he knew there was a storm coming. Knew the roads would be impassable. He took a supplement called Hawthorn, that in enough of a dosage, has side effects that mimic a heart attack. He even had me lie him down in the very bed our father died in and repeated back to me things that he had said before he passed."
"I think I'm going to be sick," Veronica replied as a wave of nausea hit her. "Why would he do that?"
"He knew that I was close to trusting him. He wanted to do something that solidified the deal, so to speak. It was the most traumatic experience he had ever gone through. The thing that really changed his mind regarding how he felt about our father. I guess he felt it would do the same for me in regards to him. Obviously it worked and while I was skeptical, it wasn't until Ravi told me of Hiram's plans for Jughead that I truly believed him. After that I did everything I could to protect him but Hiram was steps ahead of me. By the time I realized what Hiram was planning to do to Jughead, it had already been done. All I could do was pray he survived and vow to rain holy hellfire down on my brother if he did."
"How do you plan to do that?" Veronica asked quizzically. "My mom was kind of vague about that part."
"Your mother told me what you have planned in regards to purchasing the Wyrm," Claudia replied dodging the question "I have something else in mind but its not something we can talk about now."
"Meet me at Pops after closing. There I will fill you in on everything you need to know regarding my plans for your father. For now, proceed as you have been. Wouldn't want to raise your father's suspicions."
A bright shine of light broke through the cafe windows.
"Looks like the rain stopped," Veronica smiled.
"Well then I guess I must be going," Claudia said standing up and leaving money for her latte. "See you tonight, sobrina."
And with that Veronica watched as Claudia left the cafe. While she had some questions answered, she was left with a bigger question as to what she was dealing with. As she continued to set up the presentation for Archie and his Dad, she looked at the clock on the wall. Only a few more hours until hopefully she would get answers. Whether she wanted to know or not, Veronica was in deep now. Not just to stop her father but to save her family but her friends, her boyfriend -- hell, even the whole of Riverdale from the hurricane that was Hiram Lodge. She only wished she would have the guts to see it through. As she put the finishing touches on her presentation, she sighed, took a bottle of water out of the fridge and sat on the living room couch.
Hiram Lodge walked into the door of his apartment, throwing his jacket on a nearby chair.
She's at my house Mr. Lodge.
Startled Hiram turned to see Archie Andrews sitting in his study.
"Archie?" Hiram asked as he cautiously walked through the door. "What are you --? How did you get in here?"
As Hiram walked cautiously further into the room, he could see the uncharacteristic anger splayed across the young mans face. For someone known for such kindness it was rather unsettling. When Archie finally turned to face him, there was a strange look of what Hiram could only describe as satisfaction, ebbed all over it. It shook Hiram to his core.
"The door to the servants quarters," he answered matter-of-fact. "That Veronica keeps unlocked for me."
"Oh, well I guess I will have to see about getting those locks changed," Hiram replied walking around to his desk and taking a seat in his chair.
The anger that had Hiram had seen only a glimpse of was in full view and it was terrifying and for the first time, Hiram could see that the young man was brandishing a knife.
"Well what have you got there, Archie?"
Hiram watched as the knife began to fidget in the young man's hand.
"After my Dad was shot, I felt lost. Powerless. You -- You took advantage of that. Manipulated me. I know that it wasn't Mr. Cooper who shot at my dad during the town hall or attack him in our house that night the Black Hood was arrested. Something tells me that you know who it was, Mr. Lodge. That you hired someone, to go after my Dad."
Hiram watched as Archie got up from his seat and walked around until he was right beside his chair. Hiram stood up to meet him.
"The same way, that I know you got Andre to kill Papa Poutine -- as well as that boy at Shadow Lake. Do you even know his name? I was there, I practically saw him murdered. And then there's Penny and the Ghoulies who -- who -- almost killed Jughead -- at your bidding."
A wide smile broke across Hiram's face, "Oh, Archie. Such delusions you have."
"You're smart, Mr. Lodge," Archie grinned maniacally. "So of course, all, or really any of this will be hard to prove. But that doesn't mean you're going to escape punishment for what you've done. To me. To my family. My friends To this town. One way or another, you're going to pay."
Chapter 26: I Am The Sickness
When they had returned from the cemetery, Betty had tried once again to reach Polly with no luck. After getting off the phone she had made the decision to give her mother some space. Not wanting to leave her mother, alone, however, she stayed upstairs with her bedroom door ajar just in case. After settling in, she called the hospital and talked with Marsha Mason, who had told her that thankfully, FP had been released -- but that Jughead was still unconscious. The doctors expected him to make a full recovery and that the assessment of his condition upon awakening would be the determination of how long and difficult that recovery would be. He still had some residual fluid that was causing an irregular heartbeat but that it was going to take some time before it made its way completely out of his body.
However, they didn't expect it to leave any permanent damage. Marsha had told Betty she was working the night shift and if there was any change in Jughead's condition, she would be the first person she'd call. Betty thanked her immensely and proceeded to sit down on her bed, in front of her diary, trying to come to terms with the events of the last few days. She had remembered where she had left off. Where she had the greatest of problems with her words. What had happened to Jughead. She had wanted to, no needed to, wait until she knew for sure that Jughead was fine. That he was awake and talking, but there was just something in the visit with her mother to Charles' grave and her talk with Marsha that gave her the confidence to write what she thought before was unfathomable. She picked up her pen and gave a large sigh before committing it to paper.
I nearly lost Jughead.
Just writing those words caused Betty's heart to beat faster and harder against her chest. As much as she wanted to stop there. To go no further, she willed herself to continue.
He was nearly beaten to death in a stupid but altruistic sacrifice on behalf of a people and place he never knew meant that much to him. There is a part of me that is mad at him for being so reckless. So stupid. For putting his life on the line in such a cavalier way. For not thinking about me or his father or his sister or Archie, or anyone else who loves him for that matter. Yet, there is a part of me that loves him even more because deep down, that's the kind of person he is. Someone loving and loyal and true who would sacrifice his own life for the greater good.
I listened as he called me to say good-bye. I watched as his own father carried his body, beaten, bruised and without breath out from a wooded area where he was left to die. I watched in horror as our mutual best friend laid his hands on his chest and worked to keep his heart beating until I collapsed in my grief. I watched as the people he loves and I love fell apart waiting for word on whether he was going to leave us. And for the last few days I have kept vigil, exhausting every prayer that I have, to will him to come back to us.
I can't do this without him. Its the honest truth. It was Jughead who reached into the forest and led me out the darkness. Who has been there for me. And I for him. I was lost and he helped me find my way and he was drowning and I pulled him to shore. I need him now more than I ever have. The forest once again rises up to try and claim me. The darkness ever looming to swallow me whole. I need the light to shine through and lead me back again to the other side. I love Jughead. I almost lost Jughead. And I don't really know how to process that.
A loud noise from downstairs broke Betty out of her concentration. Setting the diary aside, she opened the door and called out to her mother. When there was no answer, she hastily made her way downstairs. It was there she found her mother, surrounded by all her craft supplies, doing the last thing Betty ever expected she would be doing.
She was scrapbooking.
"What are you doing?" Betty asked as she cautiously approached her mother.
Alice turned to Betty with a wild look in her eyes that made her cringe.
"I'm making a scrapbook about your father."
This was the last thing Betty needed right now. She was barely hanging on to her own sanity, the last thing she needed right now was her mother going off the deep end.
"Ok, Mom -- Maybe this isn't such a healthy idea?" she responded hoping that her question would knock some sense into her.
"Why?" Alice asked, her wild eyes seeming to get even wilder. "We've scrapbooked about everything else! Holidays. Birthdays. I mean, we are going to need a record of all the families he's destroyed. Including ours."
Betty didn't know how much more of this she could take. While she knew her mother was doing her best to process her pain and her grief, her absolutely giving in to her more crazier notions on how to go about that was pretty much the last thing was going to do any good. Luckily, before Betty could really respond to her mother the way she wanted to, her phone rang. She took one look at the Caller ID and her heart stopped beating in her chest.
"It's the hosptial," she said breathlessly as she answered putting some distance between her and her mother in the process. "Hello."
Betty, it's Marsha. I have some news.
Betty only nodded, listening intently at what she was being told. Out of the corner of her eye, Alice Cooper watched as her daughter started to tremble. The more time passed, the more pronounced it became. Alice stopped what she was doing and walked up behind her daughter, concern ebbing on her face.
"Elizabeth, honey. What's the matter?"
"Thank you Marsha," Betty finally responded as she wiped tears out of her eyes. "I'll be right there."
Alice watched as Betty hung up. Clasping the phone in both her hands, she turned to her mother with the uttermost look of joy and despair on her face.
"He's awake," she whispered as if saying the words allowed jinxed them somehow. "He's a-awake --"
In that moment Betty gave off the loudest cry of happiness mixed with despair mixed with relief that Alice had ever heard. It seemed to snap her out of her scrapbooking nonsense as she walked up to her daughter and cradled her in her arms. In that moment all the pain. All the grief. The worry. The despair. The utter happiness. The most profound of joy came out in some of the most guttural cries Alice had ever heard. She had realized in that moment that Betty had been holding it all in. Afraid to really feel it. They collapsed to their knees, with Betty sobbing uncontrollably and Alice doing her best to soothe her daughter's tears. They stayed that way for longer a time than she had realized for that is how Polly Cooper found them when she came through the door, twins in hand. All Alice did was look up at her eldest daughter, her beautiful grandchildren, and for the first time in days a smile, a genuine smile, crept across her face.
"Jughead's awake Polly," she said as she continued to soothe Betty. "He's going to be okay."
FP Jones watched with intense anxiousness as the doctor examined his son. He watched while the nurses took his pulse and blood pressure. The doctor shine a light in Jughead's eyes, asking him to follow his fingers and bombard him with questions about his name, where he was and who was the president. Finally he watched in scrutiny as the doctor listened to his heart and lungs. When the assessment was over, the doctors told FP they would take Jughead for further testing later for precautionary measures, but had no reason to believe there would be anything to worry about. The heavy weight that had been sitting on his chest since he got the call from Betty had finally and completely been lifted off and he could once again breathe. When the doctor was done, he thanked him immensely and took a deep breath before taking a seat at his son's side. FP was elated.
Jughead looked far from happy, however. There was a weird look of anger and sadness that loomed across his face. It bothered FP.
"Penny for your thoughts, boy?"
"What did I miss?"
"What do you mean?" FP asked sliding uncomfortably around in his chair.
"You look like you got the shit beat out of you, so obviously something happened while I was asleep. So, what did I miss?"
FP swallowed hard, he knew he was going to have to tell Jughead about the rumble. The bruises on his face were a dead give away to his son that something went down, he was just hoping to get more time before he had to.
"What you did," FP began with the utmost reassurance. "Brought every Serpent out of the woodwork. You -- You would have been proud of them, boy."
This did nothing to change Jughead's mood, if anything it made it worse. FP was hesitant to continue on but knew that once he started talking about the rumble, he wouldn't be able to just put it to bed. And that the last thing he wanted was for him to hear it from someone else.
"It looked like we were going to win the day -- but in the end. There were just too many Ghoulies. It was like shooting snakes in a barrel."
"Why? Why did you go?" Jughead asked as he tried his best not to cry.
"I wanted to avenge you."
"I had an agreement with Hiram Lodge," Jughead interjected through gritted teeth. He was seething with anger and disappointment. Jughead had offered himself up to prevent the violence and bloodshed, but in the end it happened anyway. Penny had been right when she said that his sacrifice had been for nothing. He was heartbroken because of it.
"There was no stopping the others," FP countered with an anger rising in his voice. "They were churned up about you and Fangs, even though Fangs is --"
FP hesitated as he watched Jughead's heart monitor speed up. Maybe this was too much, too soon. His son had just woke up from a coma, the last thing he needed was to have all this stress piled on him. However, in the end, he knew that once he started talking about it, there was no real way to stop it.
" -- Fangs is alive."
The genuine surprise and relief on Jughead's face made FP want to weep.
"Fangs is alive?"
All FP could do was nod as he watched his son process what he had just been told, "But I thought -- a deputy called you. Told you he was dead."
Jughead watched as anger spread across his father's face, "Yeah, that was a lie."
"A ploy, you mean," Jughead responded as the heartbreaking realization began to dawn on him. "To goad the Serpents into a fight they couldn't win. All of riot night was a Hiram Lodge orchestrated mouse trap -- and the Serpents followed me right into it."
FP watched as the pain and anguish crept across his son's face. He wanted nothing more than to wipe it away. Make him forget the pain and agony he was realizing in that moment. However, he knew that the worse was still to come. As much as he was hurting, there was no way to shield Jughead from the truth, no matter how much it may hurt.
"Sunnyside Trailer Park fell. Our trailer is still standing -- most of them burned."
Taking a deep breath, FP moved closer to his son. What he was about to say, would have to be the hardest thing he would ever have to tell his son. While he wanted nothing more than honesty, between them, the image of his son in those woods. Bleeding and not breathing, haunted him. Haunted ever fiber of his being. Jughead would be mad at him, that's for sure. But he would be alive to be mad him. That's all that mattered. He had planned to call Claudia after this was all over. Take Jug to Toledo for a while. Away from the chaos and danger, where he knew the long arm of Hiram Lodge could not reach them. It all predicated, however, on the ability for FP to do the one thing he hated doing -- lie to his son.
"Jug -- after the rumble some of the Serpents defected. Some of them joined the Ghoulies. Others were arrested. More went into hiding -- the rest -- they left town. The Serpents -- they don't exist anymore."
FP watched as Jughead's anger, mostly directed at himself began to rise. His son was mad. Fuming. He needed to find a way to take his mind off of what he had just told him, for the one thing FP knew for sure is that when his son was angry, he acted on impulse, exactly the last thing that he needed right now.
"The Serpents -- we had our time," FP mused. "There is nothing more for you to do than to get better and to be there for Betty."
The very mention of Betty's name sent every hair on Jughead's body to stand still. He thought back to riot night. The last words that Malachi spoke to him before they started laying hands on him.
The only scary thing is -- what we're gonna do to your girlfriend when we find her.
"Betty?!" Jughead asked breathlessly, fear and panic rising in his voice. "What happened with Betty!?"
"Hal Cooper -- " FP answered trying his best to hide the venom in his voice. "-- is the Black Hood."
It had been an hour before Fred and Archie Andrews returned home. By that time, Veronica had her presentation down to a science. After the better part of an hour, they had switched to the meat of their game plan. They were going to beat her mother at her own game. No matter where she went, Fred would't be that far behind.
"My Mom is going to try and use the events of riot night to her own gain. Try and paint Riverdale as some underworld wroth with gangland violence. Blame the Serpents and the Ghoulies for the destruction. We just need to show everyone how wrong they were."
Fred had to give Veronica credit. She worked long and hard to support him in his campaign against her own mother. That took guts, a lot more than Fred thought he had at the moment. He knew at this moment that the election was pretty much a lost cause.
"I know you mean well, Veronica, but considering that both the Ghoulies and Serpents were actively involved in the commotion," Fred sighed as he sat back against the kitchen counter. "Not to mention the rumble that brought down the trailer park -- trying to paint them as victims in all of this is going to be almost impossible to prove."
"We know the truth, Dad," Archie replied earnestly. "And more importantly, you know the truth. People in this town know you, know your honesty. If you come clean about Mr. Lodge and his role in riot night, people will believe you.."
Fred was less than convinced. If there was one thing he knew about Hiram, it was that the truth never really mattered all that much when he was involved. Taking a look at her watch, and noting she didn't have a whole lot of time before her meeting at Pop's, she need to make a hasty, believable exit.
"All right, while you boys mull over the plan, I'm gonna run by Pop's before they close. Get some food to Betty and her Mom."
"Ronnie, I'll go with," Archie said reaching for his coat. "I can drive you."
"No," Veronica replied way too harshly than she had meant. "I already have a driver waiting for me. And besides, I feel like Betty could use some alone time with her best friend right now. What you need to do is to stay behind and convince your Dad that our plan is going to work. I'll be gone no longer than an hour, at which time I plan to go over the itinerary for the next few days in great detail."
Grabbing her coat and purse she sighed and took a long hard look at Fred.
"Luckily for you Mr. Andrews, I will not rest until you've won this election."
Walking outside of the Andrews home, she found a town car waiting for her. Claudia had texted her not too long after their meeting in the coffee shop that she would send someone to get her when the time came. Walking up to the car, she was surprised when the passenger side window rolled down and the most unexpected face was there to greet her.
"Hello, Miss Veronica."
"Smithers!" Veronica jolted trying her best to hide the overwhelming glee. "What are you doing here?"
"Miss Claudia sent me to get you. When your father dismissed me, she was more than willing to use my services, of which I have been more than happy to provide. Now, hop on in, they're waiting on you."
Smithers only smiled. "You will see when we get there Miss Veronica, that your father has many, many enemies."
With that the window rolled up and taking a deep breath, Veronica got in the back seat.
"Smithers -- take me to Pops," she muttered earnestly.
"As you wish, Miss Veronica."
Claudia Jones sat nursing a chocolate and cherry milkshake, a creation of her own that dated back to that disastrous summer she tried to work at Pop's. It was special, something that she only ever really enjoyed when she was on her own, away from the bustle of everyday life. It brought back memories of simpler times, happier times when life wasn't bogged down by complexities and tragedies. A time Claudia wanted nothing more than to get back to. It made her smile.
"Now that's something I didn't think I would see again."
Claudia turned around in time to see Tom Keller walk in, sans Sheriff uniform, and take a seat beside her.
A beat passed between them before Tom Keller turned to Claudia, irritated.
"Why didn't you ever say anything to me? This whole entire time you knew and yet, said nothing."
"What was I supposed to say? Huh? 'Oh, hey there Tommy, guess what? You know your Aunt, the one that was murdered, the one that your family practically worships the memory of, well turns out she's my long-lost biological mom.' Yeah, that would have went over so well with your parents. Those same parents who gave you shit for seeing Sierra. Who gave you shit for hanging out with Hiram and Marty. How well would it have gone over with them to know that their precious Emily had a child with someone, who as they used to so eloquently put it, was different. Something tells me, it wouldn't have gone well."
"I'm not them, I would have never treated you like they would have. It was you and me and Mary from the sandbox, if you had told me the truth, instead of pushing me away, it wouldn't have mattered what my parents thought. I would have been there for you."
"Like you were there for Sierra? Or Marty or Hiram? You cut them out of your life rather abruptly, tell me that had nothing to do with your parents."
Tom shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"That situation is a lot more complicated than I have time to get into, and beside the point."
"Then what is the point?"
"The point is, I had a right to know. I had right to know that one of my closest childhood friends was really family. If I had, maybe I wouldn't have made some of the decisions that I made."
"Oh, you mean like turning your back on me once you left for college and never looking back, kind of decisions?"
"I thought of you like my sister."
"You never treated me like it!"
"That's because I was an idiot. I let myself get caught up in myself and pushed away the people and things that mattered to me."
"It was more like you grew up and got into girls and I didn't matter anymore."
"Well in all fairness, you grew up and got into trouble and it seemed like nothing mattered to you anymore."
"If I had known you were going to be such a dick about it, I never would have had Mary tell you," Claudia said getting up from her seat and heading towards the back of the diner.
"That's the whole point behind my anger, Claudia. You should have been the one to tell me!"
Claudia stopped dead in her tracks and turned to look at Tom. There was anger on his face, yes. Disappointment. But, yet, pain. He had been genuinely hurt.
"I had my reasons for not telling you sooner or telling you myself."
"I know, Mary told me that too."
Claudia took a seat next to Tom, regret ebbing on her face.
"If anything these last few days have taught me Tommy, its that, we can't waste our lives on regret."
"We were both young and stupid."
"We wasted so much time."
"We can't dwell on the past, but we can focus on the future. Your family. I want you to be a part of my life -- of my son's life. I want to be part of your children's lives. That is, if you want that."
"Yeah," Claudia smiled as she leaned in and rest her head against Tom's shoulder. "I would like that a lot."
"I know, technically speaking, you're my cousin, but you are now and have always been, my sister."
"The feelings mutual big brother."
From the sidelines, Mary's heart melted. She had been hoping when she had gone to let Tom in on their secret, that this would be the outcome. The three of them had been so close. A kind of makeshift family. The years had torn their lives in different directions, but now they were coming back together under a united cause. Hopefully, when it was all said and done, they could go back to the way it had used to be between them. The Three Musketeers. There for one another no matter what. An alert on her phone pulled Mary's attention away.
"Hey guys," she said grabbing their attention. "I just got a text from Smithers. Veronica is on her way."
"Veronica?" Tom asked quizzically.
"Yeah," Claudia admitted sheepishly. "I have brought together a cabal of interesting personages whose determination to stop Hiram is as passionate as my own. Would you care to meet them?"
"Well then," Mary said smiling. "If you will come with me. We have a meeting to prepare for."
Tom watched as Claudia got up and followed Mary into the back of the diner. Within seconds a secret door opened from behind a nearby wall. All Tom could do was smile, as he followed them down a flight of stairs, the wall closing swiftly behind them.
Chapter 27: I Am The Swarm
"I need to see him."
Nothing more had to be said. Alice turned to Polly, who shook her head happily through tears stained eyes.
"Go, take her. The twins and I will be fine here."
Polly bent down and kissed Betty on the forehead.
"I am so happy Jughead is okay."
Betty could only nod. She couldn't remember how she had gotten to the car or how they drove away from the house. They just sat in silence as her mother drove her to the hospital. What was supposed to be a ten minute ride seemed to go on forever. The silence was killing her but she found herself unable to speak. She could barely breathe. All she could think about, all she wanted, was to walk into that hospital -- no run into that hospital, up as many flights of stairs it took to get to Jughead's room -- to see him awake and alive and smiling at her with the smile that she never thought she would see again. She never wanted something so bad in her entire life. As they continued to drive, mere blocks away from Riverdale General, it was her mother who broke the silence that lingered between them.
"I just wanted to say, how sorry I am Elizabeth."
"For what?" Betty asked finding it hard to get the words out of her mouth.
"For being so harsh on your relationship with Jughead. I let my own baggage with your Dad and FP cloud my judgement. Jughead is a good boy, who obviously loves you and you obviously love him."
"I do," Betty said in response, finally being able to find her words. "With all my heart."
Alice smiled sweetly, "I'm happy for you Sweetheart. And I promise -- from now on I am not going to be as hard on Jughead. I'm still your mother, so its not like you will be getting a free pass to do whatever you please, but know that as long as he treats you right, I will support you and your relationship. One hundred percent."
Betty felt wet hot tears spill down her cheeks. It was all she ever wanted from her parents in regards to her relationship with Jughead. Something that she thought she would never get. Who knew it took almost losing everything for her to finally get it.
"Thank you Mom."
"Don't mention it sweetie," Alice smiled as she gave her daughter's hand a light squeeze.
"I know this is probably not my place nor would this be the right time to bring this up, but when you've worked your way through your grief about Dad, and I know it seems impossible, but believe me, you will get through it. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that when we've all moved on from this mess, if you want or happen to want to see yourself and FP --"
"Elizabeth! Now is not the time to bring up such --"
"I would be totally okay with it."
Alice found herself momentarily taken aback.
"Yes. Mom, I mean it would be a little awkward seeing as you would be dating my boyfriends father but, no more awkward than the fact that I share a brother with my boyfriend, but its obvious that FP makes you happy. Happier than you had been with Dad in a long time. I know I don't know all the details and the situation is complicated, but if it makes you happy, I'm all for it."
"Thank you," Alice said trying her best to hold back the tears so she could concentrate on driving.
"There is only one thing I ask you do first."
"What is that?"
"Tell FP about Charles," Betty noted sincerely. "Tell him how he died, show him where he is buried. This isn't just something for you to grieve on your own. He was FP's son too. He deserves a shot to make his peace with it."
"I promise, Elizabeth. I'll talk with FP."
"There is only one thing I ask in return."
"How did you know Charles was FP's son? Because I never told you."
"A great detective never gives away their sleuthing secrets," Betty smiled widely. "Besides, what you really should be worried about is how exactly I'm going to tell Jughead that Charles was our older brother."
"You think he'll have a problem with it?"
"No, I just think he'll think its weird."
"Well in your defense sweetheart, weird does kinda seem to be his thing."
"You're not wrong," Betty concurred as the rounded the final block towards the hospital.
"I need to speak with her -- give me your phone," Jughead proclaimed, trying his best to lift himself into a sitting position. A jerking hiss of pain sent him to lie back against his pillow.
"Like your hell you are!" FP exclaimed as he crossed the room to his son's bedside. "You are not doing anything right now but resting, boy."
Jughead fidgeted, "But I need to talk to Betty. I need to know if she' okay."
"Jug, she just found out her father's a serial killer, she's far from okay."
FP regretted his choice of words the moment they left his mouth. Jughead only became more agitated. He doubled down on his efforts to get out of bed, the strong grimace on his face an indication of how much pain the effort was causing. Not wanting his son to suffer, FP kindly put a hand on his shoulder, forcing him back onto the bed.
"Forsythe -- stop."
Jughead ceased his efforts and snapped his head in his father's direction. He could count on one hand the times his father had called him by his given name, and each time held a significance. He knew in that instance the gravity and seriousness his father was trying to convey. He relaxed and allowed himself to be forced back down. From his semi-propped position Jughead took a good look at his father for the first time. He looked like Jughead felt. A face wash with bruises and cuts, tinged with both relief and fear. He looked older than the last time Jughead had saw him. The look that he held in his eyes was one Juhgead had only seen a number of times before.
It was the look of pure and genuine fear. Terror. A look his father had genuinely held whenever his mother would get sick. A look that always sent a chill down Jughead's back. He remembered all too well how stressed his father would get during those times and how he normally turned to the bottle at times when it hurt the most. It was a pain he never wanted his father to have to endure -- especially on his behalf. So he did the only thing he knew how. He grabbed his father by his hands and looked him in the eyes.
"It'll be okay, Dad."
FP's heart melted at the gesture and the realization of its significance. He took a seat on the edge of the bed and looked down at his son with tears in his eyes.
"I almost lost you, boy," FP faltered. "I've never been more terrified in my entire life."
Jughead held his father's hands even tighter. FP was shaking.
"I know I haven't always been the best father, but you mean the world to me. I would lay down my life to keep you safe."
A chill ran up Jughead's spine, "Don't ever say that! Please."
FP ran a comforting hand through his son's hair.
"I love you, boy."
"I love you too, Dad."
Despite the pain that shot up in his body, Jughead worked his way into a seating position. FP went to protest but soon found himself enveloped into a hug. It was unexpected and at first the elder Jones didn't know how to react to it. That was until his son started sobbing into his shoulder. FP didn't hesitate as he pulled his son closer to him, soothing the back of his head as he cried.
"It's gonna be okay, Jug. You're gonna be okay."
Veronica Lodge found her anxiety heighten the closer they got to Pop's. So much so that by the time they arrived she had been at the precipice of a full blown panic attack. Luckily, she had remembered Betty's words to her at the hospital and with a few deep breaths and personal reassurances, she was able to talk herself down. By the time they had pulled up in front of the diner, she was still on edge, but felt more confident she could handle whatever lay ahead. They had barely made a full stop when the door opened beside her and Pop Tate's smiling face greeted her.
"Hello, Pop," she replied as he helped her out of the car.
"Miss Claudia asked me to greet you when you arrived. Go over a few things with you before you meet with her and the others. Let's go inside, shall we?:
Veronica nodded as she followed Pop Tate into the empty diner.
"This diner has been in my family for a very long time," he began as he took his place behind the counter. "And it didn't always start off as a diner."
"It didn't," Veronica said curiously. "What was it before?"
"A speakeasy. A place where locals came to wet their whistles during prohibition. The diner was merely a front. When prohibition ended, there was no longer a need for it and it continued on as merely a diner."
"Whatever happened to the speakeasy?"
"It's still here. I have mainly been using it for storage. I could use a fresh coat of paint, but all-in-all time has been good to it."
A million ideas popped into Veronica's head at once, "Can I see it?
"Of course, its just on the other side of the counter. There's an old phone booth by the restrooms. Knock on the right wall. Miss Claudia and the others waiting there for you."
Pop's watched as Veronica shifted nervously.
"I know this is a lot right now, Veronica. But trust me, you have nothing to be afraid of."
Veronica nodded and swallowed hard as she got up off the counter and made her way toward the restrooms. She walked inside and did as Pop instructed. Within minutes, a door opened beside her and there Mary Andrews stood waiting.
"Hello Veronica," Mary smiled as she opened the door wide gesturing for her to enter. "We've been waiting for you."
As Veronica walked past Mrs. Andrews and down the steps she was enamored at the sight before her. It was like stepping back in time. She could easily see the live jazz and the flapper skirts as if it were yesterday. It was dusty and a little broken down but as Pop had mentioned, it was no worse for wear. With a little time and attention, it could be up and rolling again.
"This place is beautiful! I love it!"
"I was hoping you would say that."
As she reached the last of the steps, Veronica could see Claudia at the head of a long table, surrounded by the most unlikely group of people. There was Tom Keller, Riverdale's former Sheriff; Sierra McCoy, Riverdale's former Mayor; Ravi Patel, her families longtime personal physician; and Joaquin DeSantos, a Serpent and former boyfriend of Kevin's.
"Please take a seat," Mary motioned to an empty seat at the end of the table as she moved to take a chair next to Claudia.
As Veronica took her seat, Claudia gave a look around the room, a smile on her face.
"I want to thank you all for coming. Your agreement to be involved means a great deal. Before we begin, I also want to take a moment to thank Mary, whose work was instrumental in getting your cooperation and to Rose Blossom, who while she may not be able to physically be present with us tonight, has, thanks to Mary's influence, promised to back us financially in our endeavors."
"It wasn't really all that hard," Mary admitted. "Given the long connection between the Lodge and Blossom families, Rose was adamant that Penelope and Claudius are involved with Hiram somehow. And in her own words she would 'give anything to punish that bitch for what she did to my Cheryl'. So whatever we may need in regards to liquidity going forward, she is more than happy to provide for us."
Veronica couldn't help but smile at that. Cheryl didn't deserve the torture and abuse that her mother consistently subjected her too and if bringing down her father meant Penelope Blossom went down with him, she was all for it.
"We are all very different individuals with different ideas who have united under a common banner with a common purpose -- to save Riverdale and the people who live here. Recently both have been threatened by Hiram Lodge, a mobster and master manipulator who has for the better part of two years worked behind the scenes to craft a plan to take over this town from the inside out. He is also, as you all know now, my biological half-brother."
Veronica watched as the mood in the room shifted. Especially between Mrs. Andrews and Mr. Keller.
Claudia gave Veronica a knowing smile before continuing, "Each of you are here because your lives have all been greatly impacted by my brothers machinations, which makes you all ideal candidates to help orchestrate his downfall. However, what you may not be aware of, and something that I myself was blind to until fairly recently, was the fact that for all of his misdeeds, my brother is merely a player in a much larger picture. A conspiracy, if you will, that is older than any of us -- older than even our parents. A conspiracy that threatens not only the very foundations of Riverdale but the future of all of those we love."
With a nod, Mary passed around folders to each person sitting in the group.
"A conspiracy?" Sierra replied skeptically. "That sounds a bit far fetched?"
"I thought the same thing," Mary replied as she took her seat back next to Claudia. "But take a look inside the folder, Sierra, and then tell me whether or not you think its far fetched?"
Sierra looked at Mary annoyed and flipped open her folder. After flipping through a few sheets she stopped dead in her tracks, a look of terror plastered across her face.
"Tom!" she exclaimed as she passed the folder along to the former Sheriff who immediately paled.
"Claudia, how did you get this?"
"Research," Claudia replied bluntly. "When Hiram let me in on his plans for Riverdale, there were certain things he said that struck a cord. Things that I know I heard before. So I did some digging. The more I looked, the more I uncovered, the more questions I had. The more information I found. As of right now, whats in that folder is all that I know and I am hoping with all of your help, to find out more."
Tom sat rifling through the paperwork in front of him, disbelief and fear spreading across his face.
"Claudia -- this is unreal. If this is true -- how long has this been happening?"
"I think since before the founding of Riverdale. I have a theory that Riverdale was founded for this purpose."
"Why?" Veronica asked finally having the courage to speak. She had began looking through the folder on her own, and was floored.
"I don't know," Claudia said sympathetically. "But I am hoping that Hiram will be the key to unlock that certain box."
"Why Hiram?" Joaquin asked throwing his folder back on the table. "Why would bringing him down be key to all of this?"
"All of this is cyclical," Claudia admitted as she got up and began to pace the room. "It follows a pattern. The murder of Emily Keller shook Riverdale as much as Jason Blossoms murder did. The Riverdale Reaper, aka Louis Cooper, struck fear in the hearts of town only a few short months later, just like his son Hal would do after Jason's death as The Black Hood. If you follow the original pattern, the outline, Hiram fits a specific role. He may not be the one pulling the strings but he knows who is. Stopping him is the only way to stop the cycle from completing itself.
"If we follow the pattern, Daddy is the one of the major players," Veronica admitted giving Joaquin a knowing look. "We bring him down, we may be able to bring this whole thing down with him."
"I'm still not so sure --"
"Mr. DeSantos, I know you have doubts," Ravi said speaking for the first time. "But believe you me, none of us are safe. At this very moment Hiram and those working with him have plans for us, for those we love, for all of Riverdale. Either we take him down or he takes all of us. No matter what it takes."
The sat in silence, for longer than Veronica had care to know. Dr. Patel's words hung in her head. No matter what it takes. The meaning was not lost on her, nor anyone else in that room. If this was true, and everyone seemed to have a strong feeling that it was. It wasn't just about stopping her father's plans for Riverdale. It was about life and death and that if they were gonna play this particular game, they had to be willing to play by those odds. Taking down her father meant more than just sending him to jail for his crimes. They had to be willing to accept that the only way to stop Hiram -- may be to kill him. And while none of them wanted that to be the case, they couldn't shy away from the possibility of that outcome.
"And I was like a gentle lamb led to slaughter," Tom Keller said breaking the silence. "And I did not know they had devised plots against me, saying --"
"Let us destroy the tree with its fruit," Veronica continued recognizing the quote from her CCD classes. "And let us cut him off from the land of the living -- that his name be remembered no more."
The words. The acknowledgement hung in the air around them. None of them wanted her father dead. It was a last resort option. They would do their best to stop his plans without bloodshed. However, if push came to shove and her father had to be stopped -- lethally -- as much as it pained Veronica to even think of it -- they weren't to hesitate. Looking at her Aunt in the eyes, the acceptance of the road ahead of her clear, Veronica asked the simplest, yet most difficult of questions.
"Where do we go from here?"
Chapter 28: What's Your Alibi?
Cheryl sat at a nearby table watching as Toni grabbed them some sodas from behind the bar. It had taken the better part of an entire day to help get the Serpents settled in the Wyrm. With help from Kevin and Moose, Cheryl had managed to get all the displaced Serpents safely there while Chuck, Reggie and the others helped get those Serpents who had been seriously injured to the hospital to seek medical attention. FP was among them. The latest update from Ambrose was that FP had a concussion but that he had been released. He made a beeline straight for Jughead, who was out of harms way but still hadn't regained consciousness.
After getting the Serpents settled, Cheryl and Toni made a few quick runs to pick up blankets, food and other supplies that they would need to help settle their friends in for the long haul. Or at least till they were going to figure out what they were going to do. With the trailer park gone and most of the Southside owned by Hiram Lodge, there was no real place for them to go beside the Wyrm and in all honesty, it would only be a matter of time before it was no longer safe for them there. The only option that lay before them was to run -- to pack up and leave Riverdale behind them. An option that Cheryl prayed was a last resort, but one that was becoming more and more a reality.
"So I just got off the phone with Fangs," Toni said as she took a seat next to Cheryl. "And he and Joaquin are on their way back to Riverdale. Should be here by morning."
For the first time since this whole ordeal started, Cheryl smiled widely.
"I'm happy he's okay," she replied giving Toni's shoulder a supportive rub.
"But, you will never guess what else he told me?"
"Well, it hasn't been confirmed," Toni replied in a hush voice as if she was trying to keep what she was saying from being overheard. "But Fangs overheard a conversation between Joaquin and Ambrose, who had just talked with FP, and it looks like Claudia Jones is on her way back to Riverdale."
Cheryl stopped sipping her Cherry cola and looked at Toni rather astonished.
Toni nodded in excitement, "I hope its true because honestly I cannot wait to meet her!"
Cheryl put her soda down and looked at Toni puzzled.
"Why would you be excited to meet her? From what you've told me, she didn't seem all that fond of the Serpents and that she was the reason FP never let Jughead hang around with you when you were kids?"
"That's true, now, but that wasn't always the case. My grandfather said that Claudia was never a Serpent outright, but that she ran with snakes when she was younger. And the stories that he and some of the other guys tell about her back then are legendary."
"The very definition of the word. My favorite is this one that Fangs uncle used to tell about how she once totaled a 1976 Camaro with a metal softball bat set to the tune of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit."
"Why on earth would she do that?"
"According to Fangs uncle it was because she was dating a bartender and she caught him cheating on her in the backseat of his car. So she grabbed a softball bat and as the music from inside the Wyrm was playing so loud, you could hear it all the way in the parking lot, she proceeded to tear up his car. She did so much damage it had to be totaled. By the time the cops arrived she threw down the bat and started to laugh. Rumor has it that she did the Gene Simmons from Kiss' signature pose as her mugshot."
"Raining fiery hell down upon unfaithful men -- I can respect that."
"Lots of people did. Still do. My grandfather among them. He is especially protective of her. Said that even though she never officially joined the Serpents, that she would always be considered a member -- regardless of how she would come to distance herself later on. They even have a nickname for her -- Queen Cobra -- because it's said that she annihilated anyone or anything that had the misfortune to cross her."
"What I don't understand," Cheryl said as she shifted in her seat. "Is how she went from being okay with hanging around Serpents to wanting to make sure that her children had no contact with them?"
Toni shook her head, "I don't know, I asked my grandfather the same thing. All he would tell me is that Claudia was complicated. Whatever the case, I still want to meet her. Its rare to meet a woman, Serpent or not, who has gained the respect of even the most misogynistic among our ranks. These are some of the toughest, most brutal men I have ever met Cheryl, but even the mere mention of her name and they get frightened."
Cheryl honestly didn't know what to think. She didn't know Jughead in the way that Archie or Betty did. Before Jason's murder she barely acknowledge his existence and knew nothing of his family other than their poverty, which in her ivory tower of wealth and privilege she found to be distasteful. Looking back at how she thought of and treated Jughead actually disgusted her. How she sat in judgement of someone and their circumstances from position of superiority. Knowing that her own family was actually worse for wear. Demons disguised as angels.
She knew nothing of FP until Jason's murder brought him into her orbit and she would be the first to admit she didn't think too highly of him. Being around Toni and the other Serpents. Getting to know the kinds of things that FP helped do for them changed her opinion on him in many ways. He made mistakes as a man and as a father, but he did the best he could with what he was given. And honestly, that's all any of them can do. She knew quite a bit more about Jughead's mother than his father. Almost everything she knew about Mrs. Jones came from her parents, who weren't in any way shape or form a sources of reliable information.
Most of it would come in passing. She remembered brief mentions of the name Claudia growing up and had even asked her parents once when she was old enough who that was. Her parents gave an uncomfortable exchange and said merely "an old friend." As Cheryl grew she began to understand more and more the words that were being passed back and forth between her parents. Words like "crazy", "unstable" and "hospitalized" came up more than a few times in their exchanges regarding Claudia. Cheryl thought none of it, only merely felt bad that someone her parents knew that seemed to be suffering so much. It wasn't until their freshman year of high school did she connect Claudia with being Jughead's mother and from that point on, it became a sensitive subject for all involved and she just dropped it off her radar.
She wondered what, if anything, Toni new about Claudia Jones' mental health issues and what place did she, Cheryl, have to even be thinking about them. She had made the decision to at least broach the subject with her beloved when the door of the Wyrm opened and to their surprise, Kevin Kellar and Moose Mason walked in. Spotting them immediately, the boys made a beeline for them, smiles on their faces, a mixture of sadness and discomfort in their eyes.
"Hey," Kevin said taking a seat at the table next to them. Moose followed suit. "We just figured we would stop by. See how you were all doing?"
"Well considering we're all homeless and enemy number one of the local mob, a rival neighborhood gang, the police force, and not to mention half the town," Toni replied bluntly. "We're all just peachy."
"We're sorry we were so quick to rush to judgement," Moose replied in a tone that Cheryl notes reeked of sorrow and regret. "And I speak for all the Bulldogs when I say that we were wrong -- about everything -- and if there is anything you need -- at any time -- please don't hesitate to ask."
Toni smiled slightly taken aback.
"Your apology means a lot Moose, thank you, and the rest of the Bulldogs. If you guys hadn't come with Cheryl when you did -- I don't know how we would have all gotten out of there."
"I'm just glad we were able to help," Kevin replied meekly. "I wish we could have done more.
"Well I know of one thing you can do right now," Cheryl replied taking a sip of her soda, "Tell us what news do you bring of the outside world. We've been held up in here since yesterday, how is the rest of the town fairing since the riots?"
Kevin sighed deeply. There was a lot that happened and so he did his best to try and narrow it down to the things he felt were the most important.
"Well, the clean up is still underway. Sheriff Minetta made quick work of rounding up the 'guilty parties' and sending crews out immediately to deal with the property damage and debris. Of course, the Lodges are getting all the credit for the clean up since Minetta was their man, so to speak."
Cheryl wanted to vomit. The fact that the whole town was falling right into Hiram Lodge's dirty deeds without so much as an inkling into the real plans he had for the town.
"I swear some times we are surrounded by gullible idiots. Do continue."
"Veronica tells me that she and Mr. Andrews have stepped up their campaign to stop Hermione from becoming Mayor. Do what they can to try and put a wrench in at least some of Hiram's plan. Give us a win --"
A sudden text message alert broke Kevin's concentration.
"It's from Betty," he whispered as he hit the alert and read the text. A giant smile grew across his face. "It's about Jughead --- he's awake! The doctors say he's gonna be okay."
Cheryl watched as Toni gave a great big squeal as she jumped up in her seat.
"Hey everybody, listen up." she screamed at the top of her lungs, getting everyone's attention. "We just got a text from Betty. Jughead's awake and they say he's gonna be allright!"
Cheers, claps and makeshift toasts explored in the bar all at once. Toni took her seat and was immediately enveloped into a hug by Cheryl.
"I am so happy, Toni."
"Me too," she replied as she gave Cheryl a hug back. "Like Kevin said, we needed a win -- and this was just the kind of win we needed. Look at everybody. Their spirits are up. Genuinely smiling for the first time since the rumble."
"I'm happy to see it," Kevin beamed. "Its good to know that he's going to be awake to see his mother and sister when they get here."
"What?!" Toni exclaimed. "The rumors are true. Claudia Jones is coming back to Riverdale?"
Kevin shook his head in confirmation, "Yeah, my Dad told me. He and Mrs. Jones were childhood friends. They had a bit of a falling out a few years ago, but this whole thing with Jughead caused them to reconcile. He told me just before we came here that Mrs. Jones and Jellybean are on their way back to Riverdale. He wanted to make a point of properly introducing us. I mean, I always knew my Dad and Mrs. Jones had been close once. He sends her a text from us wishing her a Merry Christmas every year and she always replies back the same and usually includes a holiday themed photo. In fact, I think I might still have the one she sent this year, if you want to know what she looks like."
Toni nodded her head eagerly as Kevin scrolled through his phone.
"Yep. Here it is," he announced as he turned his phone around for the group to see.
Cheryl had to admit she was incredibly beautiful. Green eyes. Dark hair. Lightly tanned skin. From afar she looked like an older version of Veronica. She was about to comment as such when she was cut off by a declaration from Moose.
"Oh, my god!"
Kevin looked at Moose curiously.
"Moose, what is it?"
"I-I've seen her," he stammered. "Here in Riverdale."
"When?" Toni asked curiously as she shifted closer to Moose.
"Yesterday," He continued. "At the hospital. Marsha promised to cover with my Dad as to why I bailed out on school but only if I brought her a burger from Pop's. We didn't know how long our little rescue mission would go so before we came to pick up Cheryl, Kevin and I dropped her food off at the hospital. Kevin stayed in the truck while I ran inside real quick. As I was leaving I saw Mrs. Jones and --"
Kevin could see Moose tense nervously, as if he was afraid to finish what he was going to say.
"What, Moose," he encouraged. "What else happened?"
"She wasn't alone," he admitted sheepishly.
"Who was with her?" Cheryl asked, a breathless edge in voice.
"H-Hiram Lodge," he replied flatly. "She was with Hiram Lodge."
Alice Cooper didn't bother parking the car, merely made a pit stop in front of the doors to the hospital to drop Betty off.
"Thanks Mom," Betty said as she smiled sweetly at her mother.
"Don't mention it sweetheart. Now, go, see Jughead. I'll park the car and be right behind you."
Betty didn't hesitate as she bailed from the car. Walking -- more like half running -- through the hospital doors and down the hall. She didn't care who looked at her funny. Those who tried to stop her from running. She didn't even bother with the elevator as she bolted straight for the stairs skipping a few on her way up to Jughead's floor. It didn't matter that she was wearing the wrong shoes for running. How her lungs ached or heart beat thudded in her chest from running so hard. It didn't matter -- none of it did. Only Jughead mattered.
When she reached the floor, she flung open the door, slamming it hard against the wall behind her. Uncaring that she had chipped away some of the concrete in the process. She ran down the hall and around the corner, nearly knocking over some plants and almost running directly into a set of chairs. She didn't care. She didn't stop. She couldn't. It wasn't until she rounded the final corner and saw FP standing in the hallway did she stop and begin to walk at a more frenetic pace. FP looked up as he heard the footsteps and smiled once Betty was close.
"Mr. Jones? How is he?"
"He woke up about an hour ago. Doctors ran a bunch of tests -- they think he's gonna be fine."
Betty could see the relief that swam over FP's face and for the first time since this ordeal had started -- she gave a deep breath.
"I did the same thing," FP replied as Betty flustered, not realizing that she had done that so loudly. After a moment, she smiled, FP was just about the only other person besides herself who really knew what the other had been feeling through. She knew in that moment what her mother saw in him and secretly hoped deep down that when it was all said and done that they found their way back to each other. After all life had put them through they deserved love and happiness too.
"Can I see him?" Betty asked meekly as she tried to peer into Jughead's room.
"Of course," FP replied astonished. "Just a few things before you do though."
"Yes, of course."
"First off, I may have, accidentally, told him about your Dad and being the Black Hood. I'm sorry, I know this whole thing is still a sore spot for you and your Mom. I didn't mean to cross a line --"
"No, Mr. Jones, its okay! He needed to know, and honestly, I don't think I could have been the one to tell him. You have nothing to be sorry for."
"Thank you, Betty. The second thing is, there's still a bit of fluid around his heart, making it beat a little irregularly, but its nothing to be concerned about. Doctor said its normal until the fluid works its way out of his system completely and they have him on drugs to do just that. So don't get frightened if his monitors do something a little weird."
Betty could only nod. Her anticipation to see Jughead reaching a fevered pitch.
"And finally. Please do what you can to not bring up what happened to the Serpents after the riots. Right now, all Jug needs to concentrate on is getting better, the last thing he needs is to try and jeopardize his recovery by getting involved in Serpent business right now."
As much as Betty hated to keep things from Jughead, she realized that the guilt he must carry for putting the Serpents into this mess may make him do something stupid and put himself in harms way to do it. Betty was not about to have that. Not again.
"Now, with that said, go on. He's been waiting for you."
Betty could see out of the corner of her eye, her mother turn the corner of the hallway. She paid no attention to it as she brushed past Mr. Jones and into Jughead's room. The biggest, brightest most beautiful of smiles greeted her as she entered the room.
"Hiya, Betty," Jughead whispered in a voice that sounded hoarse and tired.
Betty couldn't find the words to speak. She rushed into the room, throwing her jacket on one of the nearby chairs. Carefully and gingerly, she slipped off her shoes, and climbed into bed next to Jughead. She caressed his face with her hand, tears spilling down her face.
"Hiya Jug," she whispered back laying a kiss on his forehead, then his lips, before laying her head on his chest. She could feel his head lean into hers. His hands wrap around her gently and tenderly.
All that mattered to her was the warmth of his skin. The gentleness of his touch. The sound of his breathing. The beating of his heart. As she lay there listening to his heartbeat, she made the solemn vow that from this day forward -- no matter what came their way -- she wasn't going to let anything come between them again.
He had come back to her -- and she wasn't going to take that miracle for granted.
From the hallway outside of Jughead's room, FP smiled. There was a way that his son lit up when Betty was around. A kind of warmth and happiness he had never been able to give him. His boy found love and FP couldn't be more proud. A hand reached from behind and squeezed his shoulder. He didn't have to turn around to know that touch -- he would recognize it anywhere.
"Why don't we go down to the cafe," Alice Cooper said softly. "Get some coffee. Give them some space. There's something I need to talk to you about."
Claudia Jones, Mary Andrews and Tom Keller sat in a booth at Pop's drinking milkshakes. It was late, with their meeting having ended roughly an hour before, the once Three Musketeers stood behind to catch up on old times. The diner had re-opened for business after their meeting and despite the time, was incredibly busy.
"I just wanted to say, that I cannot wait to get back to Ohio, see my daughter, and apologize for leaving her with those cretins for as long as I did."
"Well I think just seeing you and knowing Jughead's okay will be good enough," Tom said as he finished off his milkshake.
"He's right," Mary said encouragingly. "Jellybean won't care so long as your home."
"I miss this," Claudia said nostalgia filling every fiber of her being. "The three of us, just hanging around. Reminds me of simpler times."
"Well once you get back to Riverdale and Mary can arrange an extended leave from the law firm, the three of us can make a thing out of this," Tom agreed. "Take the time to catch up. We're family. We need to start acting like it. I want Kevin to know you and Jellybean and get closer to Jughead. You two were and are my sisters. You mean the world to me."
"And you to us," Mary chimed in gleefully. "You know, if you had asked me a year ago that we would all be here and that we had Hiram Lodge to thank for it, I would have never believed you.
"Well, let us be one of many good things to come," Claudia said as she took another sip of her milkshake making a strange face after she did. "Things that will hopefully only get better once my brother has been brought to justice."
"What's wrong, all milkshake'd out?" Tom asked jokingly.
"I should have had Pop Tate make my shake before he left. Whomever made my shake must of made a smoothie or something before and didn't rinse it out right. It tastes like bad citrus and smells like --" Claudia replied taking a big whiff of her shake. " -- apricots. It wasn't as bad as it is now, I have been trying to power through it, I think it must have settled --"
Something that Claudia had said triggered something in Tom, who looked at her with abject confusion.
"Did you just say it smelled like apricots?"
"Yeah, smell for yourself," Claudia said sliding the shake in front of him.
Tom Keller took one smell of the drink and immediately his eyes went wide.
"Claudia," he asked as he grabbed a napkin and pushed the drink off to the side. "How do you feel?'
"What do you mean, how do I feel? I feel fine --" Claudia replied as she stood up in the booth only to be overcome with a wave of dizziness. She sat back down hastily.
"Claudia?" Mary asked concerned.
"All of a sudden, the room is spinning," Claudia replied breathlessly.
Within seconds, Tom Keller had moved out of the booth and was crouching on the floor besides Claudia. He felt her forehead and immediately his fingers flew up to her neck to take her pulse. He took a good look at her eyes and had her open her mouth.
"Claudia, other than dizzy, how are you feeling?"
"Well, other than feeling like I'm about to pass out, my stomach is killing me all of a sudden --"
"Mary, call an ambulance," he said looking at Mary in fear, his fingers never leaving Claudia's neck.
"Tom?" she asked as she pulled out her phone and dialed. "What's going on? What's wrong?"
Tom turned to Mary, panic stretching every inch of his face, his fingers firmly affixed to Claudia's pulse point.
"I'm pretty certain Claudia's been poisoned."
Hermione Lodge walked into her apartment and flung off her shoes. She had spent the better part of the night campaigning at local establishments around town, doing her best to use the riots as a way to gain focus to move the vote in her favor. While she wanted nothing more than to lose the election as an ultimate middle finger to her husbands nefarious deeds, she was in too deep not to pay the price for it. She would play along and hope beyond all hope that the people of Riverdale came to their senses. She had been hoping that either her husband or daughter would join her but both seemed to be too preoccupied with battling one another than aid her in a political battle. Throwing her purse on the table, Hermione was about to grab a glass of wine when she heard the sound of something breaking in the other room. She reached for her purse to grab the gun that, thanks to their most recent break in, she now carried with her always. However, a sound she never thought she would hear stopped her in her tracks.
"Hiram?" she called out making her way to the study.
Hermione ran as fast as her legs would take her, stopping dead in her tracks at the door to the study. It was there she saw Hiram, thrown up against his desk, a knife sticking out of his stomach. Hermione screamed.
"Hiram! Oh, my God! H-Hiram?"
Hermione ran to her husband's side. He was semi-conscious. Noticing his cellphone beside him, she picked it up and quickly dialed 911. After telling them who she was, what had happened and where they were, she hung up, turning her attention back to he husband, who was now seemingly lucid.
"Hiram? It's me. It's Hermione," she said as she tried to hide the panic in her voice. "Hiram, what happened?"
Hiram seemed to snap back to reality in that moment, grabbing Hermione by her arms.
"Hermione!" he said in a frantic panic. "He was here. He --."
"Who?" Hermione asked confused. "Who was here. Who came after you?"
Hiram coughed and Hermione realized maybe she had gone too far.
"Don't say anything. Save your strength. The ambulance is on its way."
"You don't understand -- ," was the last thing Hiram said before the darkness overcame him.
To Be Continued . . .