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            Betty stares in trepidation at the bottle spinning too quickly (too slowly). Unable to breathe, she still almost chokes when the bottle lands on Veronica, rather than her. She’d chosen the perfect dress, the perfect lipstick, the perfect moment swaying in Archie’s arms to tell him how she felt but this has been a night so far from perfect she could laugh in the face of it all. She's always hated the word, anyway.

            “Oh, no. No way. I’m not doing this,” Veronica is shaking her head, but Betty’s heart has already plummeted to the luxurious rug below.

            She can’t bare to take a look at Archie and see his response to Veronica’s denial. (Is he disappointed? The question provides a backbeat to the relentless drumming of her heart.)

            “Fine. But you should know, house rules state that hostess gets to take the skipped turn.” Cheryl’s smile is razor sharp. The coordinating stinging in Betty’s palms almost startles her. Almost.

            How had they ended up here?

            Oh, right.

            Veronica Lodge had blown into town like a fresh breeze, all dark edges and sly smiles. She doesn’t seem cruel the way that Cheryl does; she seems mysterious, untouchable, already accustomed to a big-city life Betty has only been able to dream of so far. When they’d kissed at cheerleading try-outs, Veronica had tasted like juicy plums and sugar and something almost sinister. Betty had wanted to stop right away. Or never.

            And then Betty, torn up into shrivels on the inside and aching and utterly confused, had invited Archie to be both of their dates, because for all her pining, suddenly she wanted Veronica exactly as much as she’d wanted Archie, and she couldn’t choose.

            Idiot, she thinks to herself as Veronica stands and Archie scrambles to follow.

            Time seems to stand still, and Betty thinks she should probably start breathing again, but then Veronica says, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you twice, Cheryl Bombshell. Betty and I are a matching set. Besides, we were both his dates to the dance tonight.”

            Veronica grips Betty’s wrist so hard she knows she’ll bruise later, but with her heart in her throat, Betty trips in her haste to twine her fingers through Veronica’s. Cackles and jeers rise up behind them, lead by Reggie Mantle himself, but all Betty sees is the dark, dark look in Archie’s normally light eyes.

            The closet door closes behind them with an ominous thud.

            “Oh, Archiekins, we meet again,” Veronica sighs. She’s pressed in between Betty and Archie, looking overjoyed, really, to be there. Betty wants to find jealousy coiling inside her, but decides it’s something else instead.

            Archie, however, ignores Veronica in favor of grasping Betty’s wrists on either side of the girl. His eyes are narrowed, urgent. “Betty, are you okay with this?”

            There’s a mild trickle of irritation that Archie apparently still thinks she’s fragile, delicate. That coil of heat inside of her turns from nerves to lust. She raises an eyebrow. “I’ve been trapped in worse places, with worse people.” 

            Deliberately, she smiles and reaches forward to tuck Veronica’s hair behind her ear. Archie’s eyes follow the movement like a fish on a string. Between them, Veronica shivers. There's a slow song, haunting and eerie in the confines of the closet, playing outside. There's something like a haze Betty feels trapped in, but it's not a bad feeling.

            “You’ve done this before?” Archie chokes.

            “Ah-ah. It’s our turn to ask a question, Archie,” Veronica smiles. Betty swallows hard, breathing in Veronica's expensive hair product. She licks her lips.

            “Do you remember what I told you at the dance?” Betty breathes. The question is out before she can stop it, so she distracts herself and Archie instead by pressing more firmly against Veronica, shoving her against Archie’s chest. In heels, they’re almost the same height. Betty drags her eyes down Veronica’s beautiful legs and back up to meet Archie’s.

            “Uh huh,” he answers, gaze flicking down the front of Veronica’s dress. Veronica smiles softly, entranced. Betty shivers when she feels warm fingertips on her hips, and then again as Veronica places those same fingertips just under the hem of Archie’s shirt.

            “Do you have an answer to the question Betty asked you at the dance, Archie?” Veronica breathes. He groans and drops his head to Veronica’s shoulders as she begins scraping her nails gently against his hipbones.

            “Veronica can vouch for me,” Betty grins. “I think I’m an okay kisser, if you wanted to try it out.”

            Archie doesn’t answer. There’s fire in his blue gaze when he looks back up at her. Betty feels suddenly as though she’s drunk although she never drinks anything at Cheryl’s house, too afraid to get caught up in a roofie or a disease, but the feeling burns away when over Veronica’s shoulder, Archie’s lips meet hers.

            Veronica moans in time with Betty’s whimper, twisting around between them to press a sucking kiss to Betty’s neck. The sensation is almost lost in Archie’s lips against hers, his hands reaching around to cup her face so sweetly she wants to cry.

            Veronica between them should feel wrong, but Betty can only think yes yes yes as Veronica’s tongue strokes across her collar bone.

            She licks Archie’s lips and feels him groan, feels his fingers move into her hair, but has to pull away to gasp for air. Veronica takes advantage of the movement, immediately meeting Betty’s lips with her own tongue, tracing the outline of the lipstick smeared across her cheek now. If Archie is drowning, Veronica is a drink after being parched. Betty’s brain bounces back and forth with the sensation of four hands, not two, and lips and tongues and oh, dear god, Archie’s teeth

            Archie moves forward, trying to reach, and that’s precisely when Betty stumbles into a fourth person in the closet.

            Eyes blown wide, Betty sucks in a breath to scream, but a strong hand covers her mouth. Veronica and Archie stare, flabbergasted. Betty registers vaguely that whoever this person is, they smell really good, not in a doused-in-cologne sort of way but in a natural way that does nothing to quell the heat inside her.

            “Jug,” Archie breathes.

            “Yeah, so maybe a closet wasn’t the best hiding spot for research purposes in the middle of a notorious Blossom party-” Jughead’s sardonic voice rumbles against her left ear. Betty shivers against the boy in spite of herself.

            “Jug, listen, I’m really sorry, but-“

            “But what? What possible excuse could you have for ditching your best friend over the summer? Or were you just about to tell me to get out so you could get on with your little menage a trois?”

            Betty meets Veronica’s eyes, but Veronica’s chest is still heaving and she’s clearly still amped up.

            “Yeah, yeah, Holden Caufield, either join in or shut the hell up,” she snaps, and Betty cries out as quietly as she can manage when Veronica turns back to Archie and drags his face down to hers. The mix of red and black hair, and the shock of Veronica’s dark skin against his pale makes for the most enticing thing she’s seen outside of porn (not that she watches porn, thanks very much, Alice Cooper would have a stroke if she could prove it).

            Archie sucks on Veronica’s tongue for a moment before turning wild eyes on Jughead. Betty holds her breath, reaching out to clutch at Veronica’s fingers as Archie leans over and suddenly Betty is the one in the middle, two boys crushing her between their hard chests.

            “There aren’t any excuses. I’m so sorry, Jug. I've missed you. Here, let me-“ and then Archie Andrews is kissing Jughead Jones in Cheryl Blossom’s closet.

            Jughead groans, the sound reverberating through Betty’s body and doing strange, strange things to her nervous system. She reaches for Veronica, and Veronica follows, pressing up against Archie’s back and giggling against Betty’s lips.

            “Amazing, oh my god,” Veronica whispers and Betty grins against her mouth because yeah, it is.

            “Don’t think that this means we’re friends again,” Jughead growls.

            Archie simply hums and nips a hickey into Jughead’s throat. He groans, his dark head falling back against a coat rack.

            Betty doesn’t have a clue what makes her do it. Already, her body has been on overdrive, bouncing between Veronica and Archie for days, aching and heavy with want. Now, though, now she’s crushed up against Jughead and he’s so tall and lithe and dangerous looking underneath his cute crown beanie. She thinks of long days in treehouses with him and Archie, curled up under blankets at night at the drive-in, waving at him through Archie’s window, his dark eyes on her from Fred Andrews’ front porch as she dutifully loads into the car with her family to go to church.

            She leans back against him and presses a kiss beneath his ear.

            Jughead sucks in a breath. Archie goes still. Veronica squeals with as much dignity as one can.

            “Oh, god, okay, Jug, take Betty. Veronica, baby-“

            Jug, take Betty. Archie’s voice rings in her ears. She twists, smiling up at a bewildered Jughead as sweetly as she can.

            “Hi,” she whispers.

            “Betty,” he breathes.

            Then she leans forward and presses her mouth sweetly to his. She wonders if to him she tastes like plums, and loves that suddenly she is indistinguishable from Veronica. She wonders if he can tell that her mouth is still tingly from the slight stubble on Archie’s chin.

            Mostly, she just sinks into him. Veronica’s kisses make her buzz underneath the skin, something manic and divine. Archie’s make her hum with pleasure and quiet giggles, floaty and free. But Jughead. Jughead’s makes the constant thread of anxiety in her head go silent, makes the heat flooding her stomach suddenly take root and spread. She feels giddy and happy with Veronica and Archie, but Jughead. This feels ancient and right and suddenly she forgets that she’s in Cheryl Blossom’s coat closet, forgets she's a sophomore in high school, forgets her own name.

            His hands are on her bare midriff, her shoulders, sweeping her hair out of the way since it’s down for once. He tongues her clavicle, tugs at the hem of her top to swipe at her cleavage, even. She moans at the same time Veronica does behind her, and then hears her huff a laugh.

            “Think that’s funny, Audrey Hepburn?” Jughead snarks. In the next instant, he’s leaning over Betty to nudge Archie’s lips out of the way so he can bite at Veronica’s tongue. Veronica makes a small noise of surprise, and Betty’s insides clench so hard she thinks she might cramp.

            Archie registers the door handle turning before any of the rest of them do. Suddenly Jughead is ripped from Betty’s arms, falling back behind the curtain of heavy winter coats, invisible. Light floods the closet. She crosses her arms and glares at it, and Cheryl illuminated there.

            “Ugh. Neither of the girls is even naked. What a waste of closet space,” Cheryl says.

            Behind her, Reggie boos.

            Suddenly the weight of what just happened settles inside Betty’s chest. The world is truly spinning now, Cheryl’s red lips and hair blending together in front of her. Air is coming too quickly, and not enough.

            She thought she wanted Archie, and that, that was dangerous enough, too risky, too much happiness that could be lost, but this, three people, three people she can see and want and someday maybe even love, she just can’t-

            Tears spring to her eyes, and with them, she dashes forward out of the closet, breaking into a dead run.

            “Oooh, maybe the new girl got a little ginger in, after all!” Cheryl mocks cruelly, but Betty barely hears her because she’s already up the stairs.

            She sprints, in heels, all the way to Pop’s across town. Her ankles are bleeding and blistered by the time she makes it, so she fumbles her way through taking them off. She sits her shoes next to her in the booth, like their sharp stilettos will protect her from anyone that might want to sit next to her.

            Pop stares at her for a moment, then brings her a double vanilla milkshake with three cherries on top. Betty stares, counts one two three, then breaks into tears anew.

            “I can get you strawberry instead, Betty,” he says, clearly panicked.

            The word strawberry reminds her of Archie’s bright red hair, darkened in a closet, and she sobs harder as she waves Pop away.

            Her milkshake is half gone, each cherry set quietly aside, one two three, by the time they track her down. They come in with a flurry of cool air that makes Betty shudder in her booth. Three sets of eyes, two light, one dark, go wide as they take in her disheveled state. They move as one toward her, but it’s too much.

            She shakes her head as rapidly as she can, turning her head away and throwing her hands up. There’s the sensation of lips on her neck, a tongue against hers, teeth against her shoulder-

            “Let me, let me,” she hears Veronica murmur quietly, and she hesitantly lowers her arms enough to see Jughead glance at Archie and then quietly order five cheeseburgers to keep Pop’s eyes away from Betty and Veronica.

            Veronica slides into the booth next to her, knocking her abandoned shoes to the ground without a care. Betty stares at them, trying her best to ignore the stinging of her blisters.

            “Betty, I’m so sorry. That was a lot. Maybe too much? I thought bringing you into the closet with us was the best option.”

            Betty shakes her head, finally meeting Veronica’s worried gaze. “It was.”

            “Then-“

            “I liked it, Veronica,” she breathes. The crescent scars on her palms throb in time to the bloody scabs forming on her toes. One more tear slides down her face, but. This will be the last one, she tells herself firmly.

            “Oh.”

            “I thought I wanted Archie, just Archie, he’s all I’ve wanted since kindergarten, but now, you, and then, Jesus Christ, Jughead, but I’m scared Veronica because I’ve never even been with a girl before, outlong- and then, with Polly missing and everything between her and Jason, I just don’t know how-“

            “I know, I know. It’s a lot. I wish we could have discussed it all, but it was…. Well.” Veronica offers her a tremulous smile and Betty sees that her hands are shaking. “Are you mad at me?”

            There’s so much vulnerability on Veronica’s face that for a moment Betty stops breathing. This, this is the difference between Veronica and Cheryl. Transfixed, Betty can only stare for a moment before shaking her head.

            Veronica grins. “Good. I won’t let them touch you, Betty, or come over here if it’s going to upset you.”

            “It won’t upset me. I’m okay now, I think.” She thinks of the moment when Archie asked her if she was okay, before everything began. Maybe his concern wasn't so misplaced after all. Still, she wants that heat back. She thinks maybe sitting here with them, she could find it again.

            Jughead’s arms are loaded up with cartons of French fries. Archie balances three milkshakes precariously, another vanilla, then chocolate, then strawberry. Betty blushes, prettily, and beckons both boys over. When they get there, she plops an extra cherry into each milkshake; one two three.

            “Betty, I’m sorry,” Archie tries.

            She shakes her head. “Don’t be. I’m sorry I ran. I was just overwhelmed.”

            “Are you okay? Cheryl can be pretty vicious,” Jughead’s dark eyes search hers. Heat rises to her cheeks.

            “Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay. I’m glad you came with Veronica and Archie, Juggie,” she whispers. Even with the other two sitting right there, it feels intimate and private somehow.

            Jughead blinks. “Well, yeah. I’m not one to leave a girl crying.”

            Carefully, Betty scoops one lone cherry out of the bottom of her milkshake glass. One two three four. She snaps it off the stem with her teeth, then smirks. “No, I’d say you’re not.”

            When Archie’s legs tangle everyone else’s together underneath the booth, Betty doesn’t say a word. But she doesn’t keep crying, either.

 

           

           

           

Chapter Text

            Shame coils thick and heavy in Archie’s stomach, so intense that for a moment he forgets that they’re all about to be murdered by their parents. The four had stayed out after the dance for hours, laughing in the booth at Pop’s. Curfew has long since passed. They’d piled into Jughead’s dad’s truck afterward, listening to his own slow, sleepy voice filter through the speakers and agreeing the music he’d made over the summer didn’t quite suck. He can barely stand to listen to himself. He’d kissed the new girl in town and his two best friends tonight. Has he betrayed Geraldine? He feels disgusting, as though any moment now Betty is going to stop stroking the veins in his forearm and instead shove him away.

            “I had a really great time tonight, Archie,” Veronica says quietly, smiling up at him as though he’s worthy of her time.

            “What am I, chopped liver?” Jughead asks with a smirk. His arm dangles across the back of the seat so his fingers can brush against Archie’s shoulder.

            “No. You’re the icing on top,” Veronica teases.

            Betty yawns, and shit, even her yawn is perfect. Archie’s been not-so-subtly staring out of his bedroom window at her for months, besotted with her golden hair and pale pink bralettes, not that he deliberately seeks those out. Her breath creates fog on the window, and suddenly Archie is in the backseat with Geraldine again in her Bug, steam rolling against the windshield from her body heat.

            He thinks he’s going to throw up.

            The vague buzzing of a cellphone vibrating breaks the mood. Betty frowns, staring at Kevin’s name popping up, clearly torn between answering the phone and shimmying out of the truck to try to sneak into her own house undetected. The porch light has already turned on; he just knows Alice Cooper is waiting to swoop out into the night, shrieking so loud Vegas will start barking next door.

            “What’s up, Kev?” Betty sighs, shooting the rest of them an apologetic smile.

            Archie can’t hear him on the other end of the line, but Kevin’s voice is high and panicked. Garbled words such as Blossom and shot and Betty it’s bad.

            Bile stings the back of Archie’s throat.

            Alice has swung the front door wide open, still dressed, and has started ranting in the middle of the sidewalk even though the truck doors are still closed. Betty pants out a harsh breath, then throws the door open to run straight into her bewildered mother’s arms.

            “Mom, oh my god, Kevin just called, he’s found Jason’s body Mom-“

            Alice changes gears so quickly Archie can’t keep up, but he probably couldn’t anyway because the cabin of the truck is suddenly lurching funnily.

            “Follow them,” he tells Jughead.  

            “Duh,” Jughead snorts. He turns the truck out behind the Cooper’s car, a sleepy Hal yawning so widely they can see it in the rearview mirror. Next to him, Veronica frowns and texts her mother something.

            Archie’s heart pounds in his chest. Kevin has found Jason Blossom’s body, and from the sounds of it, he’d been shot. All Archie can see is the gentle haze of that July 4th morning; he can feel the dew on the grass and his mind’s eye sees Geraldine opening the laces on her shirt over and over.

            And then the gunshot. The gunshot they never reported.

            At Sweetwater River, Archie stumbles out of the truck and straight into his dad’s arms; he must have seen the Coopers leave and followed them himself. Archie folds himself into Fred’s arms for just a moment before remembering that Veronica is trapped in the truck cabin behind him; he breaks away from Fred to reach for her waist, helping her slide down to her feet.

            Her fingers cling to his for a moment, dark eyes wide on the scene with the flashing lights and the coroner’s stretcher. Then she turns to find her own mother waiting close to the bank with open arms and a deep frown.

            As Jason’s body is pulled from the river, too pale against a shock of damp red hair like his own, Archie looks away only to meet Betty’s worried gaze. Her eyes are too blue, like the water, like Geraldine’s Bug, and he closes his own.

            It doesn’t help. He can still feel her lips against his, see her smile up at him nervously on the dance floor. But in his memory, her hair smells like his music teacher’s.


 

            Tension is building, building, snapping through every single one of his muscles. Sometimes, late at night, his body aches; he’d worked really hard with his father all summer, and honestly, football just doesn’t cut the calories like breaking concrete. It leaves him feeling too tense, all the time.

            Or, maybe, it’s just Geraldine.

            He’s on his way to her classroom, trying to avoid the strange stares of girls he doesn’t know (he’s still not used to being called hot of all things), and the questioning stares of his teammates. The principal had called over the intercom for anyone with any information to come forward; Jason Blossom’s death, to no one’s surprise, has been ruled a homicide.

            The gunshot rings over and over in his head. Somehow, it’s blended with the sound of the closet door in Cheryl Blossom’s house closing. It’s the same sound; the same feeling of kisses; the same clawing guilt eating him alive.

            He can’t look his father in the eye and he hates it.

            He’s halfway there when a hand grips his and pulls him into an unused classroom; he registers dust everywhere, a truly ancient computer, and a flash of blue before a door closes and there are lips on his. For one wild moment, he thinks Ms. Grundy has sought him out after all, but the moment he tastes her on his tongue, he knows.

            “Betty, mmph,” he manages. He doesn’t open his eyes.

            Betty giggles, a high sound that reminds him of her noises back in the closet and oh, shit, okay. He’s half-hard instantly. Great, just perfect-

            Her lips tease his slowly, sweetly, and then the kisses turn more intense when her tongue swipes across his bottom lip. He can’t help it, really; his hands trail over her back to her hips. He pulls her against him more harshly than he intended to, but she seems to like it by the way she moans quietly.

            He pulls back, panting, to find her still on her tip-toes, ponytail slightly askew.

            “Betty, what are you doing?”

            “Well, I didn’t see you all weekend after Jason was found. And you kept your curtains closed.”

            He stares at her without real comprehension, but then he thinks of all the times he’s glimpsed her in her room, her shy eyes never quite meeting his. Had she been wishing to see him, all this time? Had she been staring at him, too?

            He shakes his head, the thump of her heels hitting the ground again reminding him of his original purpose. “I’m sorry, Betty, but I can’t, okay?”

            He manages to turn and get a grip on the door handle before her hand catches his elbow. She’s strong. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is. “What? What do you mean, you can’t?”

            “I mean, I’m busy. And anyway, I’m all wrong for you, okay? You’re too- too-“

            “Too what?”

            “Too perfect, Betty. You deserve someone better than me,” and suddenly he’s back in a dark closet, Jughead’s intense stare on him, and he’s saying Jug, take Betty.

            “I hate that word,” she breathes. Her pink lips are still swollen from kissing him (he shouldn’t think about how much that turns him on, geez, he should not), but her eyes are quickly reddening with tears.

            He opens the door and slips back out into the crowded hallway without a word.

            Geraldine’s classroom is blissfully empty by the time he makes it there; she sits with a cello between her slim thighs, bow masterfully arcing over the strings. For a moment his breath is stolen; he thinks of the light darkening in her bedroom in late July, her fingers correcting his on top of his guitar, her soft ah-ah-ah Archie as she both rebuked his playing and stroked herself at the same time.

            His throat tightens so intensely he has to clear it. She looks up, large glasses slipping down her nose.

            “Ms. Grundy,” he says. It should feel strange, shouldn’t it? He’s been inside her. He should be able to say Geraldine. They’re alone. But he can’t, he can’t, she has authority here, and he’s technically about to ask her permission to tell information that may help a murder investigation. His stomach clenches, tight; only the smell of Betty’s name-brand perfume lingering on his collar keeps him from vomiting on the spot. Or fainting. Oh, shit, can’t think of Betty, either; would Ms. Grundy be angry?

            “Archie. Did you need something?” she asks. She places the cello aside carefully.

            “Jason, Ms. Grundy. He was murdered.”

            “A tragedy.” It sounds like anything but, coming from her.

            “We heard the gunshot, Geraldine,” he snaps, and damn, he’s really pushed it now. Her eyes narrow dangerously.

            “We have no idea what we heard, Archie!”

            “You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re not this person, Geraldine-“

            “It’s Ms. Grundy, Archie.”

            “It wasn’t when you were on your kn-“

            Suddenly she’s standing right in front of him, looking for all the world like she could slap him. So much so he actually flinches away. Her eyes don’t soften.

            “Listen to me. We can’t be certain it was a gun shot. It was the Fourth of July, for crying out loud! It could have been a bunch of drunk hillbillies with firecrackers that never slept the night before. It could have been a car backfiring on the main road. We don’t know. Do you really want to risk everything we had, everything we could still have, based on a maybe? Do you want us to go to jail, Archie, because that’s what will happen?!”

            Before he can answer, she’s shoved her face at his, tongue first. Their teeth clack together painfully, but. It’s been weeks since he tasted her. She’s so different from Betty, from Veronica, so much more forceful and…

            His brain shorts out when, with their bodies angled carefully away from the door, she slips her cool hand down the front of his jeans. He groans, half in pain, when she begins pumping him just a little too hard.

            “We’re not going to say a word, Archie. The cops are professionals. That’s very, very good for Jason’s case… and very, very bad for us.”

            Something about all of this rubs him the wrong way (ha, he thinks, overwrought, no kidding, and then immediately judges himself for the thought). Perhaps it’s the too-intense air conditioning making him shiver in a way he doesn’t like. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re in her music classroom, and he knows a bunch of thirteen-year-olds are about to play the flute in here. Or it could be that he knows, he knows, that not speaking up is wrong.

            As she smirks against his mouth, he figures it out.

            “You keep saying us,” he hisses, shoving her away. The button of his jeans pops off and rolls across the floor, the ping deafening. His skin, rubbed raw, stings under the denim. His eyes fill with tears. “But we wouldn’t go to jail, Geraldine. You would. And now you’re making me do something awful, so that you can be selfish.”

            He doesn’t give her a chance to reply before he’s zipping his pants back up, button be damned, and slamming back through the door into the mostly deserted hallway.

            He misses Jughead’s eyes on him entirely.


 

            His days get progressively worse. Ms. Grundy watches him in the halls like a hawk, sometimes literally stepping in front of him to redirect his steps when he strays too close to the front office. Veronica flounces around, flirting with his teammates, pretending nothing happened in the closet at Cheryl’s while sneaking glances at him out of the corner of her eye.

            Betty… Betty cries. Constantly. Avoids him. Avoids Veronica, even after the girl flies her in cupcakes from New York City. He misses their morning walks to school, her silly faces through her bedroom window as they study. Her curtains haven’t opened all week.

            Now Jughead is leaning against the vending machines in the student lounge, all dressed in black and sharp angles and Archie hears his head hit the coat rack with a thud over and over and over-

            Reggie just won’t give it up.

            “Obviously, if it was a student, it’s not going to be a jock,” Reggie smirks, and Archie wants badly to roll his eyes. A jock? Really? What is this, a bad 90’s teen movie?

            “What about you, Suicide Squad? Did you do it? I bet you did some nasty shit to the body, afterward, too,” Reggie jeers at Jughead. The other Bulldogs whoop and yell. Archie remembers the way Reggie had booed when the closet door opened, objectifying his girls.

            Rage and frustration begin low in Archie’s gut.

            “It’s called necrophilia, Reggie. Can you spell it?” Jughead asks.

            Jughead would know a word like ‘necrophilia’ right off the top of his head, the nerd.

            Archie tastes Jughead’s skin on his tongue in his memory. He jumps in front of Jughead as Reggie moves.

            “Leave him alone, Reggie.”

            “Oh, shit! Oh, this is too good. What, did you all do Jason in together? I bet it was some twisted, weird blood-brother, thing, right? Cause, I mean, no homo, Andrews-“

            That’s it.

            Archie steps forward and swings in one fluid motion, knocking Reggie to the ground. He hears Veronica’s gasp, and Betty’s shriek somewhere off to the side. He hadn’t even been aware they were in the room.

            Someone decks him right in the eye and Archie groans, pain exploding across his cheekbone.

            The shiner is worth it to see the stunned look on Jughead’s face before he’s dragged off to the principal’s office.

           


           

            Jughead is on Archie's front porch, beanie securely in place, not a scratch on him. Archie had only been suspended for the rest of the day; his wasn’t the only fight started in the wake of the news about Jason. Riverdale High is supposedly bringing in grief counselors to speak to everyone impacted. At least he won’t miss the football game tomorrow night, and the first Pep Rally of the season, even if it’s Cheryl that’s planning it.

            The last thing Archie feels, looking at Jughead illuminated in the porchlight, is grief.

            “Can we talk?” Jughead asks quietly. Archie stares at him a moment, his black hair blending into the night sky behind him. He remembers Betty pressed against his front, Jughead’s lips against his seeming to burn.

            “Yeah sure,” he answers gruffly, slumping down onto his front step. Jughead folds down next to him.

            “I need to tell you something,” Jughead murmurs, and Archie’s heartbeat begins galloping. Shit shit shit.

            “I’m sorry for kissing you,” he blurts. Jughead’s eyes widen. “I mean, I’m not sorry, actually, but I’m sorry if it made you uncomfortable, I just thought-“

            “Whoa, whoa!” Jughead holds up both hands, shakes his head. “Dude, chill. I just. I wanted to tell you I saw you. With Grundy. I know.

            Archie swallows hard. He looks away, across the yard at Betty’s house. The lights are on. He wonders if she’s had dinner yet. He wants to know what she’ll look like at the Pep Rally tomorrow. He wants to watch Veronica arrive to get ready with her. He wants a hole to open up in the ground and swallow him whole.

            “You don’t know. Jug… I’ve been with her for a while. All summer, basically. And. Um. We were at Sweetwater River together. On July 4th.

            He’s prepared for Jughead’s eyes to narrow, prepared for anger and yelling. Not this. Not stunned silence, and then Jughead’s tentative reply.

            “The road trip?”

            “Yeah. She asked me to cancel it. To stay. Said our summer together would be too short as it was. I’m sorry, Jug. I’m, um. I’m in over my head.”

            “So, you heard the gunshot? The one that killed Jason Blossom?”

            “Yeah. She won’t let me say anything. I don’t know what to do.”

            Jughead is quiet for a long time, so long that Archie, staring at the ground, wonders if maybe he just got up and left. The harsh porch light might as well be a spotlight in an interrogation room. Sweat is building along the ridges of his back.

            “Arch… what I saw… it didn’t look, well. Consensual. Entirely. I was really angry with you, for cancelling our road trip, but Jesus Christ I didn’t know you were being molested.

            Something deep inside of Archie recoils at the word, anger sizzling up his spine, but the skin on his dick gives a slow throb, still sensitive.

            The anger dies right where it started.

            He raises one desperate eyebrow at Jughead.

            “When you decide to tell Principal Weatherbee everything, we’ll be right here. Okay? But Archie, there’s a murderer on the loose. You know you need to tell Sheriff Keller everything. Soon.”

            Before Archie can say anything else, Jughead leans over and brushes his lips across Archie’s cheek. The spot damn near sizzles. Jughead gets up and walks calmly back down the sidewalk, only turning around once.

            “Oh, and Arch? Whatever you did to Betty, just apologize already. It’s depressing to see you both so miserable.”

            The door opens behind Archie, and Fred’s shadow falls across the lawn. “Oh, was that Jughead?”

            Archie resists the urge to slap his hand over the spot where Jughead kissed him, but barely.

            “Yeah. But he was just leaving.”


 

            The day seems to be going normally, for once, but that all comes crashing down in science class.

            Sheriff Keller and Principal Weatherbee arrive at the door, looming inside to take a look at everyone’s faces.

            “Cheryl Blossom?”

            Cheryl stands, hands outstretched. “Okay, fine. I admit it. You can handcuff me. I’m guilty.

            Archie’s hand slips on the scalpel he’s holding, ostensibly to be used to cut open a frog. A small bloom of blood wells on his thumb. He sucks it away absent-mindedly, mind buzzing.

            Guilty.

            When he realizes that Cheryl could actually be arrested, that they don’t believe her about the gunshot she heard on July 4th, something deep inside him unwinds. He can’t muster up the courage to tell what he knows for himself, but he can do it for Cheryl. She’s not guilty.

            When Cheryl disappears through the front doors of the school with her parents, he slips into the Principal’s office and sits. Sheriff Keller eyes him, but says nothing.

            “Principal Weatherbee, I was at Sweetwater River on July 4th.”

            “Really? What time?”

            “Six in the morning.”

            “Doing what?”

            Damn. What the hell is he supposed to say? Doing the music teacher?

            “Writing songs.”

            “I see. And were you alone?”

            Don’t lie don’t lie don’t lie. Betty sighing against his mouth in the closet. Veronica’s soft hands under his shirt. Jughead’s lips on his skin on the front porch, illuminated by the light. Geraldine’s hands too tight and harsh under his pants, uncaring.

            “No.”

            “Who was with you?”

            Archie takes a deep breath. Has every intention of answering, awkwardly, Vegas, my dog.

            It comes out as, “Ms. Geraldine Grundy.”

            And then nothing about the rest of the day is normal.

Chapter Text

            Veronica Lodge isn’t quite sure what she expected to happen when she moved to this drab little town, but this hot ass mess is… not it.

            She does not slump, but she does lean forward and place her elbows against the top of her vanity, waiting for her curling rod to heat up. Tonight is her first Pep Rally as a “River Vixen”, whatever the hell a Vixen is supposed to be – maybe a nicer word than bitch for a female bulldog? Who knows. It’s the least weird thing about this town.

            Her mother comes in to do her eye makeup for her; Hermione Lodge knows some serious tricks with a blending brush.

            “Did you not want to go over to Betty’s to get ready?” her mother asks carefully.

            “No,” Veronica says, resisting the urge to shake her head while her mother is holding the prickly mascara wand so close. “But I’m hoping to get milkshakes or something with her afterward.”

            “It might rain, mija,” Hermione warns.

            “Thank God for setting spray, then. Apparently the River Vixens cheer for the Bulldogs come rain or shine.”

            She’s startled to find that she’s really not wrong; even the bleachers are packed full of parents, friends, and teachers, ready to cheer on the rowdy football team. They zoom past her, and Veronica watches as Archie stops to stare at Betty in her cheerleading uniform.

            “Arch, your eye,” she faintly hears Betty say. Archie allows her to stroke his cheekbone for a moment before jerking away, clearly self-conscious.

            Veronica thinks of the rumors swirling around after the music teacher, Grundy, was taken out in handcuffs right behind Cheryl Blossom yesterday afternoon. Maybe Archie has multiple reasons for shying away from touch.

            The thought makes Veronica panic in a strange way; the closet, she thinks. Had Archie really been okay with all of that? He had seemed to enjoy it, but Jesus, Veronica would have given him all the space he could ever want if she’d known. Had Betty figured out what she couldn’t? Is that why Betty has pulled away all week?

            Before she can well and truly spiral, the game begins, and with it comes the half-time performance. She’s never been to a place where the Mayor themselves introduces the cheerleaders at a Pep Rally, but apparently this woman has a child with a man heavy into the music recording business, and Josie is a good enough singer to warrant a proper introduction.

            The moves go off without a hitch; Veronica whirls, twirls, and shakes her way through Josie’s song, never missing a beat. She feels at her best like this; all eyes on her, moving with purpose. Still, something feels off, more specific than it should. Out of the corners of her eyes, she searches and then she sees him. Jughead Jones is lurking just under the awning of the bleachers, and his eyes flicker constantly between her and Betty.

            Jughead, notorious loner, had come to a football game to watch her (and Betty, and Archie). She gives him an extra-wide grin on her next pass. A thrill shoots through her stomach and down to her toes when he blushes and ducks his head.

            Finally the music ends, and Veronica pauses, posing for the crowd while her chest heaves. The football team lines up quickly, then rushes through the giant paper banner the Pep Club had spent all week designing. Archie is one of the first through the banner, waving and grinning at the crowd. Veronica can’t help but glance over at Betty, her eyes glued to the boy, waving her pom-poms in his direction. Wistfulness surges through Veronica’s chest; they look very All-American together, don’t they?

            She sees another streak of red, speeding across the field toward the locker rooms. Cheryl. There’s a wild look in the other girl’s eyes, one Veronica has seen in the mirror many times herself; when she’d been groped at a club one too many times, when she’d found her boyfriend snorting coke in the school bathroom, when the Feds had raided her home and taken her things. Veronica shoves her own pom-poms at another Vixen and takes off after Cheryl, finding her hyperventilating on a bench in the locker room.

            “Cheryl,” Veronica says, heart lurching. The girl may be vicious, but Veronica has always known it’s a front.

            “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way,” Cheryl sobs. “I’m alone now, all alone.

            Veronica thinks of the way she’d crawled into her bed after watching Cheryl’s brother’s body be pulled from the river. She’d thrown her dress over the back of a chair and crawled into bed without pajamas, shivering underneath the blankets.

            “You’re not alone, Cheryl,” Veronica sighs. She folds Cheryl into her arms, rocking her back and forth on the uncomfortable old bench. “You’re not. You have the Vixens, and your, um, group…”

            “Then why aren’t they the ones that followed me in here?” Cheryl huffs.

            Veronica sees a flash of blonde coming around the corner, sees the wide-eyed look on Betty’s face. Veronica finishes shushing Cheryl, making sure the other girl is safe with Gatorade and a shower before leaving the locker rooms. Rain is falling in earnest now, soaking through their cheerleading uniforms in seconds. Betty shakes her heavy ponytail down from its holder and Veronica’s mouth goes dry.

            “Would you want to get a milkshake? At Pop’s Chock’litt Shop, maybe?”

            Betty laughs. “It’s okay to shorten it to just Pop’s. But, yes. I would like that.”

            One of her father’s (mother’s, now?) lackies drives them to Pop’s. They put the divider in the car into place and then change quickly out of their wet uniforms. Betty forgets to brace herself at one of the few stoplights in this part of town and tumbles to the floor. Veronica stares at her bare thighs for a moment before remembering that she’s supposed to laugh.

            Betty orders vanilla, Veronica orders chocolate, and thinks, well, not the first place I’d have picked to become a regular. Then she watches Betty smile shyly from across the booth and abruptly changes her mind.

            Their milkshakes are finished all too quickly, and Veronica fiddles with the strap of Betty’s bag rather than hand it to her. “Would you want to come over tonight? My mother keeps odd hours. We wouldn’t be bothered.”

            She realizes, too late, exactly how that sounds, flushes, almost begins stammering in a very un-Veronica Lodge way. But Betty bites her lip against a smile and quickly pulls out her phone to send her mother a text message.

            “Let’s do it.”

            Veronica’s heels clack against the stone floor of the Pembrooke. Betty’s soft white sneakers don’t make a sound. She leads her to the elevator, then through the sitting room and hallway to her room.

            “My mother gave me the Master suite, so I have my own bathroom. You can take a shower, if you want.”

            Betty grins, then flops down on Veronica’s California king sized bed. “This is incredible!”

            “Well, you spend half your life in a bed, you know. It should be a good one.” Veronica doesn’t flop, but she does slide backward until she’s lying on her side next to Betty. Her heartbeat quickens in her chest. The girl is so close Veronica can feel her body heat. She desperately wants to kiss her. The thought shocks her, and it takes her a moment to figure out why.

            Betty notices Veronica’s smile slip.

            “What’s up?”

            “Betty… I have a confession to make.”

            Instantly, Betty’s teeth are back on her lip. It does nothing to help Veronica focus.

            “You’ve been with Archie since the closet,” Betty guesses on a sigh.

            Veronica frowns. “Um, no.”

            “Then what?”

            “Well, it’s a two-part confession, see,” Veronica admits, shifting until she can free one of her hands. She reaches out and brushes Betty’s hair back behind her ear, just like the girl had done for her in the closet. Betty’s eyes follow Veronica’s fingers, suddenly heated.

            “The first part is that I really, really want to kiss you. I don’t want to make it weird, considering this is a sleepover, but. I really do want to,” Veronica sighs, elated beyond belief when Betty smirks, the wicked little thing, moving closer, but Veronica puts out a hand to halt her.

            “The second part is that, well, I’m a little confused. After the closet, I mean. I’ve never done this before.”

            “Been with multiple people? Yeah, I don’t think many our age have done that,” Betty snickers, and Veronica blinks. A damning hope rises in her chest, because she’d really been unable to imagine that any of these small-town teens would be thinking of the closet the way that she does, late at night. She wonders if any of them even know the word polyamory.

            “Um. No. I’ve never been with a girl before… without a guy watching. Before, in New York, I was only ever with a girl if a guy wanted me to be. And now, it’s. Well. I really, really like you, Betty Cooper. When I look at you, I feel like I’m looking at the train that’s going to take me to my future. Does that make sense? That made more sense in my head. The point is, I don’t want us to only have the closet. I don’t want us to only kiss when it turns Archie on; or Jughead, for that matter. Do you understand?”

            Betty’s breath is coming in short little gasps. Veronica is worried for a moment, but then Betty’s mouth is on hers and oh.

            “This isn’t for anyone but us,” Betty whispers against her lips. Veronica smiles, feeling Betty’s teeth against hers. There’s something darker underneath this cotton-candy girl, and Veronica wants to get to know every square inch of it. On the surface, in a cheerleading uniform, Betty looks All-American but there’s something deep inside of her that is decidedly American-Gothic.

            “You should leave your hair down more,” Veronica whispers back, then promptly threads her fingers through it to her scalp, tugging just a little. Betty groans, her hands slipping down Veronica’s sides and playing with the hem of her shorts.

            Betty rolls them until she is the one on top, which, okay, is not typically Veronica’s style, but she’s loving this. Betty is so light on top of her, but she surrounds her completely, her blonde hair cascading down until their faces are cocooned in it. Veronica traces her mouth with her tongue, then runs her hands up and down the backs of Betty’s thighs.

            “So… about that shower,” Betty murmurs.

            “Oh, hell yes,” Veronica nods.

            Betty rolls off the bed entirely, bouncing to her feet, then realizing Veronica should probably lead the way. Veronica takes her outstretched hand and guides her to the bathroom, ignoring Betty’s wide-eyed glances at the marble everything.

            Veronica turns on the shower, neglecting the fan in favor of some steam.

            She wishes she’d turned it on, though, when Betty pulls her pastel shirt over her head to reveal a black bra and then peels her pants off to reveal matching lace underwear. The girl is all pale skin and sharp hipbones, blue eyes that typically look sweet but now look as though they could cut diamond.

            Veronica falls to her knees, reaching for Betty and nuzzling into her stomach. Betty’s skin is so soft, Veronica thinks she might actually have died and been sent to paradise.

            Veronica licks a teasing trail around the hem of Betty’s underwear, pushing her thighs apart to tease her through the lace. Betty’s moan is high-pitched and wanton, but then she’s pushing at Veronica’s shoulders, and yeah, okay, Veronica can take a hint.

            “Sorry-“ she starts to say, but Betty shakes her head.

            “No, don’t be. It’s just. I want to see you too.”

            Betty quickly peels the rest of her clothing off, but Veronica barely has a moment to appreciate the extra skin before her own shirt is being pulled over her head, her shoes and bra thrown into a corner somewhere, bottoms and underwear quickly following. She stumbles behind Betty into the shower, eyes on her cute ass.

            She’s still wearing her pearls. She smirks when Betty turns and latches onto her neck, narrowly missing them. Rivulets of water run down between them.

            “I don’t think I’m ready for everything,” Betty whispers, sounding almost ashamed, and Veronica coos.

            “No, baby, it’s okay, we’ll go slow,” Veronica murmurs, cradling Betty’s head and bringing her mouth back to hers.

            Then their breasts are pressing together and oh, holy shit, Veronica thinks and Betty is moaning, “Ronnie,” something she’s never been called before but she likes it, she does.

            Still, there’s only so much they can do above the waist, and after exploring one another as thoroughly as they can, Veronica takes a large dollop of her favorite shampoo and massages it into Betty’s hair.

            The rest of the night consists of typical sleepover itinerary, including bad horror movies and popcorn and one terrifying incident of spilling bright pink nail polish all over the carpet. Of course, there are more heated kisses, with tongue, than Veronica remembers at any other sleepover, but that’s alright with her.

            Everything is wonderfully, blissfully perfect… until her phone pings. She’s been tagged in an Instagram post, and it’s the picture of the one date she went on between the closet and tonight, with Chuck Clayton.

            There’s something sticky and brown dripping down her face in an edited GIF.

            Veronica’s stomach drops.
            “Um. Betty? What the hell is this?”

            Betty’s blue eyes go round, then angry. “Ugh. God, Veronica, I’m so sorry. It’s just, well. You’ve been sticky mapled.


 

            “What the fuck did you do?!” Archie is screaming, and there’s the sound of a loud bang as locker doors slam.

            Veronica elbows her way through the crowd, Betty trailing dutifully behind her, the sweet thing. She ignores the wolf whistles and jeers, instead opting for staring at Archie, who has Chuck Clayton in a headlock.

            “It’s none of your business, Andrews.”

            “Like hell it isn’t. How long has this been going on, huh? Huh?” Archie slams his fists into Chuck’s ribs twice more, a notebook on the bench below falling to the floor.

            Veronica snatches it off the ground, eyebrows rising sky high as she scans the handwritten page. Seeing Betty’s sister’s name on the list, Veronica hands the notebook off to her.

            “We’ll be taking this straight to Principal Weatherbee,” Betty snarls, whirling around. “Anyone that had anything to do with this is going to pay.

            “Yeah, and you can count me off this team,” Archie fumes. He drops Chuck unceremoniously to the ground, and then proceeds to strip off his Riverdale Bulldog track pants. Veronica licks her lips, eyeing his strong thighs.

            Ugh, God, Betty in the shower and now this…

            “I’m not going to buddy up to guys that treat girls this way. What is wrong with you? This is sexual harassment and abuse,” Archie yells, tugging his jeans back on. “Come on Betty, Veronica, I’ll walk with you to the office.”

            Archie is full of force as he moves, eyes still furious, but his hands are surprisingly gentle when he takes Veronica by the waist and Betty by the hand and pulls them both out of the locker room.

            He’s silent as they march through the halls; suddenly, Betty is tugging at Veronica with her free hand behind his back, her eyes darting to his face. Tears are streaming down his cheeks. His face is a dangerous puce color from trying to hold it all in.

            “This way,” Veronica murmurs, pulling them all into the student lounge before they make it to the office. Jughead is already sitting there, alone in the darkest corner, plucking at the keyboard on his laptop. His dark eyebrows furrow at the sight of them.

            Archie collapses into a heap on one of the old couches. Veronica wrinkles her nose.

            “Archiekins, you may want to lift your handsome face from that cushion. No telling what’s happened on it.”

            Jughead rolls his eyes at her and slowly stands, approaching Archie as though he’s a wounded animal. Carefully, he lays a hand on top of Archie’s shoulder and squeezes hard.

            “Why is everyone so disgusting? Why do people hurt other people that way?” Archie sobs.

            Veronica’s breath catches, and next to her Betty claps a hand over her mouth, turning away.

            The trauma Grundy inflicted has reared its ugly head.

            “I’m going to call Fred,” Betty whispers, and Veronica nods, waving her away. Slowly, she slips onto the cushion and raises Archie’s head to rest on her lap.

            “Is this okay?” she asks quietly, because the last thing she wants right now is to overstimulate him. He nods, his tears staining through her black tights and wetting her skin.

            “It’s going to be alright, man,” Jughead murmurs, still standing. His eyes meet Veronica’s, and something profound seems to pass between them.

            Betty comes back inside within the next few minutes, her own face tear-streaked. “It’s okay, Archie. Your dad is coming. I told him the name of my doctor… I think you really need to talk to someone.”

            “No, no, no,” Archie wails. Veronica glances worriedly at the door that closed behind Betty, wishing it locked, wishing they were all back in that closet, pseudo-private and happy.

            “Yes,” Jughead says. “Yes, Arch. Just try it, okay? For us.”

            Archie is quiet, burrowing his face into Veronica’s skirt. It takes him several long minutes to collect himself, and then finally against her knees he nods.

            Jughead lets out a breath. Betty carefully reaches forward to stroke his red hair.

            Fred approaches with Principal Weatherbee and the guidance counselor not long after, his worn jean jacket only half on in his rush to reach his son. Archie launches up from Veronica’s lap in one fluid movement, reaching for Fred, and of course he catches him. Veronica has to look away; when was the last time she was so openly affectionate with her own parents?

            “Thank you for calling me, Betty. I’ve got him. Hear me Arch? I’ve got you,” Fred hums.

            “We’ll come by to check on him soon, Mr. Andrews,” Veronica promises. And there’s a deep flutter that starts low in her stomach when Jughead reaches forward and gives her own shoulder that same intense squeeze.


 

            You did me a kindness, now here’s one for you. This man is a Serpent; methinks a leader, even. What is Mommy Dearest doing down in the dredges? Cheryl’s text and the accompanying picture light up Veronica’s phone. It’s a hazy picture of her mother during the brief stint she’d been working at Pop’s, out by the dumpsters speaking to a man in a leather jacket. There’s a gang emblem sewn into the back.

            It hadn’t taken much digging to figure out what had happened; her mother had paid the man for something, something that correlates somehow to the Twilight Drive-In being shut down. It’s the sort of thing that she’s only ever seen in black and white movies, so of course Jughead is deeply emotionally attached to the place and devastated.

            Veronica had suggested one last movie as a farewell; Betty had recommended the movie itself. Jughead had taken his father’s truck again, claiming the man shouldn’t be driving it anyway, whatever that meant. Together, the three of them sit outside of Archie’s house, waiting for him to come downstairs.

            Betty is pressed against Veronica’s side, warm and cozy in her sweet little sweater set and the tightest, most tempting leggings Veronica has ever seen in her life. Betty’s fingers dip into the sides of Jughead’s jeans as he drives, teasing him, and Veronica pretends not to notice the adorable smirk lighting up his face.

            Archie comes down the stairs, a bounce in his step that hasn’t been there in weeks. He’d gone to a session of therapy a day for the first week, and is now down to two. Soon, he’ll go once a week, then once a month as his recovery process moves along. Veronica has never been to therapy herself, not even after her father got arrested, but if it truly provides the sort of clarity Archie seems to be gaining, she’s not past giving it a try.

            “Do you think he’s up for this?” Betty whispers.

            “Up for what? This is just an innocent little date to the Drive In,” Jughead shrugs.

            “Date?” Veronica whips her head around to stare at him, because okay, she would have worn the dramatic black cloak and her tallest boots to this “drive-in” if she had realized but it’s too late now. She’s stuck in mediocre jeans and cashmere.

            Archie climbs in next to her, distracting her. She turns to grin up at him as he puts his seatbelt on. His delicious shoulders are too tempting; she leans her head against one of them as they approach the theater, and he brushes his fingers through her hair.

            Jughead practically empties the concession stand all on his own, Betty happily swinging their hands between the two of them on the way there and back. Veronica busies herself with setting up their blankets and pillows, making sure Archie is comfortable and warm because seriously, who only wears a V-neck and converses to a nighttime outdoor event, in the fall?

            He smirks at her when he realizes that her tucking the blanket around his shoulders is really just an excuse to keep touching him.

            “You can touch me, you know. I’m not broken,” he says. His blue eyes shimmer in the dim light. The cacophony of noise around them fades in her head.

            “I know. I just don’t want to do anything too quickly. I want to make sure you want this. Me.”

            Archie snakes a hand through her hair, pulling her forward until she’s half-falling across the hard ridges of the truck bed and into his lap. His thighs are strong and warm underneath hers. She feels almost boneless as she sucks on his bottom lip and he groans.

            “Hey! Get a room! The movie hasn’t even started yet,” someone that sounds suspiciously like Cheryl Blossom yells from three vehicles behind them.

            Betty and Jughead are laughing at their expense when Veronica breaks away.

            “Yeah, yeah,” Archie rolls his eyes, but he’s grinning. “Better take a seat before Veronica and I really get carried away.”

            “You wouldn’t defile the truck that way,” Jughead snickers, but there’s heat in his eyes that Veronica remembers. She barely contains a whimper.

            She thinks, as the movie starts, that to anyone looking into the truck bed, they’d seem like four teenagers out on a wholesome double date. She sits against Archie’s chest, his fingers entwined with hers on top of the blankets, but underneath her other hand is on Betty’s thigh and she can feel Archie’s fingers sneaking up the back of Jughead’s shirt. Betty sits with her head against Jughead’s shoulders and her thigh shifting restlessly against his erection.

            When Veronica gets home, she’s overheated, lust-addled and unfocused.

            She can’t figure out why her heart is beating so quickly until it hits her, standing there in the shower and staring at the hair tie Betty took off her wrist and left there on the shelf.

            I could love them, Veronica thinks.

            In the morning, when Hermione asks, she realizes she doesn’t remember the movie at all.

Chapter Text

            Jughead starts a sentence, stops, starts it again.

            He had never intended to become part of the story.

            Already it’s evolved, changed into something he had never once envisioned. He’d had to rewrite the first three chapters from his own point of view, rather than some nameless, omniscient third person narrator. Originally, there had been three people in a booth, and the narrator, watching. Then it had been four people in a closet, and nothing has been the same since.

            Writing down the memories of the closet, purely in the name of professional integrity, of course, had been both daunting and titillating.

            Ugh. Not titillating. Surely there’s a better word, he thinks.

            Then his eyes flicker downwards to the small clock in the corner of his screen and he groans.

            The ride to Betty’s is uncomfortable at best. The suit is left over from eighth grade and honestly, it’s a miracle it still sort-of fits. It was originally for his first formal dance, celebrating the end of middle school, and his mother had insisted on purchasing him the suit from the second hand store and having a lady three trailers down do the tailoring in exchange for a carton of cigarettes. Turns out she’d also been getting high, and hadn’t remembered to take enough fabric off, so he had stood in the too-large suit in the corner all night, rolling his eyes while Archie whipped his tie in circles above his head in the middle of the dance floor. He’s thankful for that extra fabric now.

            Alice Cooper rolls her eyes but lets him in and up the stairs to her daughter’s bedroom. Betty stands out in stark contrast to the pink on her walls; her black dress is perfectly modest, but even if it weren’t it still would be her hair that makes his breath catch. For once it’s flowing in curls down her shoulder blades. It reminds him of the closet all over again, and he wants to turn away and maybe even run right back downstairs and out to the truck, but then Betty is turning around and smiling softly at him.

            “Ready to head to the belly of the beast?” he asks.

            “You look great,” she smiles, which isn’t an answer, exactly, so it takes him a moment to catch up to what she’s said.

            He would never be so cliché as to use the phrase butterflies in his stomach but what the hell else are they? Dolphins?

            Still, a half-smile flickers across his face before he can stop it, and he has to stare at the carpet rather than her pretty face. Slowly, she approaches him, her short heels making no noise against the carpet. She reaches out one finger and her door swings shut without clicking behind him.

            “Here’s hoping this fact-finding mission goes better than your last,” she murmurs, reaching out to straighten his perfectly straight tie. “Maybe we can find a better place to snoop for clues than the coat closet.”

            “Or, you know, not,” he manages. He’s too warm in the thrice-damned suit. She’s too stunning to be real.

            “Exactly,” Betty smiles. There’s something underneath her sweetness that’s almost sharp. “I want to be honest with you, Juggie. Okay?”

            “Of course,” he frowns, and tries to refocus. They’re about to go to the funeral of a classmate in order to go through his bedroom to find some sort of evidence about a) who murdered him and b) how it relates to Betty’s sister. Now is really not the time to be fantasizing about peeling this innocent black dress off her to find-

            “I’ve been kissing Veronica,” Betty murmurs against his ear, her chest barely touching his, and fuck, Jesus, fuck that is not what he was expecting.

            “Um.”

            “Also Archie,” she whispers against his other ear, and this time he registers her movements. She’s brushing her lips down each of his cheekbones to his jaw, leaving the skin tingling.

            “And while it’s very enjoyable to be with them both, I was hoping I could go back to kissing you, as well,” Betty finally, finally whispers against his lips. It’s not a kiss, but it could be.

            Jughead can’t think, he can’t breathe. He put on this suit to go to a funeral, and two years ago he’d been standing in a corner watching Archie dance, and now Betty is kissing everyone but him and coming home to fantasize about his mouth too, probably. He’s standing in a house on fucking Elm Street on the North Side with a gorgeous blonde cheerleader who wants to be with him, and his best friend, and her best friend.

            “You want me?” he manages. “You want all of us?”

            She nods, lips brushing up and down against his. He groans, the sound starting low in his stomach, and leans in to complete the kiss. Betty sucks in a breath, and then her arms are around his neck. She combs her fingers through his hair, under the back of his beanie.

            “Also,” he tries to say but her tongue slips between his lips and suddenly Betty Cooper is sucking on his tongue, all neat and sharp and with a rhythm that makes his dick throb in time. His chest heaves with the gasps he can’t make; his hands slide from her hips down her thighs to bunch up the fabric of her dress.

            The click of Alice Cooper’s heels forces them apart. Betty smiles beatifically at him, smoothing her skirt down. She pulls the door open wide again just as Alice rounds the corner, her arm folded into the crook of his elbow.

            “We’re ready!” she chirps, and all Jughead can do is follow.


 

            It becomes more apparent than ever after the funeral that they need to find Polly, so that’s what Jughead does. He kisses Betty quietly in the Blue and Gold office, and he accepts Alice Cooper’s criticisms over breakfast so that Betty has a chance to sneak and go through her mother’s important documentation.

            They find themselves standing in front of an archaic institution called the “Sisters of Quiet Mercy” not a day later. Veronica and Archie had put up quite the fight about coming along, but Jughead had thought that bringing along the entire group might be a little conspicuous.

            “Poor Polly,” Betty whispers. He watches as she reaches up to tighten her ponytail. He reaches out for her hand, glad when she squeezes his fingers in return. 

            A truly squalid-looking nurse leads them behind the building and to a garden area. Jughead hangs back, not wishing to intrude, but even he can read the surprise and tension in Betty’s shoulders as a very pregnant Polly Cooper turns to embrace her sister.

            Suddenly things start making more and more sense.

            He trails behind the two when they go back inside the building; it’s not until Alice shows up and starts to forcibly drag Betty away that he feels the need to intercede. The scene is truly horrific; Polly scratches and scrambles to attempt to get away from the nurses, Betty is screaming for her sister, and Alice Cooper stands there with a demented and authoritarian look that instantly makes every cell in his body revolt.

            “Let go of her,” he growls, stepping between Betty and Alice.

            Alice raises her eyebrows, but drops her daughter’s arm in surprise.

            “I hate you; how could you?!” Betty is still growling, her eyes darting around as though she’s the one that’s trapped.

            “Elizabeth, that’s quite enough-“

            “Enough?! Enough? You have no idea when enough is enough-“

            Jughead eyes the bulky male nurses with trepidation as they step closer to Betty. He realizes with sinking horror that with one word, Alice could trap Betty here as well.

            “She’s just upset. This is a lot to take in. Let me drive her home,” Jughead pleads quietly. There’s a strange look in Alice Cooper’s eyes that he doesn’t quite understand.

            “I am not going home! That place, these people, that is not my home!” Betty shrieks wildly. Her hands are clenched in fists at her side so tightly her knuckles have turned white.  

            “To Veronica’s, then. Just let her cool off,” Jughead begs.

            Alice glares at her daughter, but nods once at Jughead and stalks off down the hall, the heavy double doors banging shut behind her.

            Jughead takes Betty by the elbow, guiding her as gently as he can outside and to the parking spot where he left his father’s truck. Betty climbs inside mechanically, seeming to have gone from rage to shock.

            “It’s going to be okay, baby,” he murmurs, not really registering the word he’s saying. Her hands are still fists and it feels physically painful to watch her cry. “We’ll figure it out.”

            They’re halfway across town when it hits her.

            “Baby,” Betty repeats.

            “Yeah, Polly’s having Jason Blossom’s baby. It’s wild, isn’t it?”

            “What? I mean, yes. That’s crazy. But. You called me baby.

            Jughead plays what he said over again in his head, and oh, shit, she’s right. Of course she’s right. Somehow, Betty Cooper has charmed her way into his head and his heart and every single lust-stricken fantasy and now he’s utterly fucked.

            “Um,” he says intelligently.

            At the next stoplight, she scoots across the seats to press kisses against his cheek, his neck.

            “Don’t leave me,” she whispers.

            Jughead shakes his head, once. No, of course not. How could he?

            He finds a parking spot close to the entrance of the Pembrooke. He glares at the doorman, the one asking too many questions, as Betty clings to his side. She’s shivering even in her jacket. Jughead takes her cold fingers and presses them to his lips. Betty barely smiles back at him.

            Veronica swings the door open and blinks in surprise to find them standing there.

            “Betty! Jughead. Come in.”

            Hermione Lodge is no where to be found; Jughead finds himself wondering exactly how much time Veronica spends alone. She leads them to her large bedroom, and he can’t help but stare at the bed, remembering Betty’s words; she’s been kissing Veronica, too. In this bed?

            He suddenly feels much too flushed to keep his jacket on, but Betty is still shivering. She stands in the middle of Veronica’s room, the wild look flashing through her eyes again before all of a sudden, she snaps completely and sobs wrack her frame.

            “Oh, honey, oh no,” Veronica coos, folding Betty into her arms.

            “Vee, it’s so awful, I don’t know what to do,” Betty wails.

            Jughead mutters the entire lurid story to Veronica, reaching out to rub Betty’s back in opposite time to Veronica’s own hands. Her eyes stay on his the entire time; her dark hair falls over Betty’s shoulder to blend with her blonde. Without giving himself permission, he finds his fingers reaching out to stroke Veronica’s hair back.

            Betty pulls away from her, eyes flickering between Jughead and Veronica. The devastated tension in the air turns to something else, something equally desperate. But he can see how tired her eyes really are; is now really the time? And without Archie?

            “Come on,” Veronica whispers, even though there’s no one else around. She takes Betty’s hand, then his, and guides them both to the largest, fanciest bathroom he’s ever seen in real life. There’s a shower full of hair products that cost more than his entire wardrobe, and an obscenely large round tub made of solid marble in the corner.

            “Let us take care of you,” Veronica says, “and then we’ll come up with a plan to help Polly, alright?”

            Betty nods, still half numb. Jughead finishes his text message to Archie as quickly as he can, feeling as though nothing around him is real. He’s in Veronica Lodge’s bathroom, watching as she stops the drain and starts filling the tub, watching as two of the most gorgeous girls he’s ever seen start kissing.

            “Sometimes we do this without you. This isn’t for you, Jones,” Veronica says, but there’s a smirk on her face as Betty tongues the pulse point on her neck. He remembers that tongue and starts to ache.         

            “That’s alright. I don’t know if we’ll all fit in the tub, anyway,” he shrugs but he’s already moving to take off his shirt.

            “I want Juggie, too, Ronnie,” Betty mumbles. She sounds almost drunk, and for a second he hesitates, but then she turns to him and her eyes are clear. They settle on the bulge pressing through his boxers; there’s no time for him to be embarrassed about how old the fabric is.

            “Wanna know a secret, Betts?” Veronica asks, breaking away to expertly slide the zipper on the back of her dress down. The fabric pools at her feet, and Jughead’s vision nearly blurs.

            “Of course.”

            “I want Juggie, too.”

            Her words are as sultry as he’s ever heard, her tone the typical confidence, but he watches something like vulnerability pass across her face. Her dark eyes draw him in, so very different from Betty’s but just as dynamic. He wonders when he’s going to wake up from a dream this good, back in the closet at Riverdale High, alone and cold.

            “Betty, get in the tub,” Jughead directs without letting his eyes leave Veronica’s.

            Betty obliges, sliding out of the rest of her clothing and holy hell, he has to tear his eyes away to drink in all of her skin, naked in front of him for the first time. Her beautiful breasts and slim thighs disappear underneath the rising water in the tub.

            “She looks lonely,” Veronica pouts.

            “We’ll be right there. Come here,” he gestures, and Veronica bites her lip as she approaches him.

            He leans in and sucks the other side of her lip between his teeth, biting down gently and feeling her release her lip. She moans, a high sound almost like music, and he hears Betty’s happy sigh from the tub.

            Carefully, he peels Veronica’s underwear off, pressing kisses teasingly on her hips as he rises back up, and then manages against all odds to unhook her bra on the first try.

            “Your turn, Ronnie,” he smirks. She’s staring at him through her sheet of black hair, chest heaving. Unable to help himself, he bends over slightly to tug at one of her nipples and suck on the other a bit.

            “Go on,” he directs, pointing to where Betty is leaning against the side of the tub, watching them both with so much want written on her face he feels himself harden further.

            Veronica carefully climbs into the tub only to be tugged into a searing kiss by Betty. Jughead feels everything inside of him go quiet, watching them. Usually he’s subconsciously translating everything he sees into a novel scene, but right now it’s all he can do to sit in the upholstered chair in the corner and watch them.

            The water starts to slosh over the side of the tub, so Veronica turns and shuts the faucet off.

            “Jughead,” she calls, and Betty tilts her head, almost pouting at him.

            “You want me in there, too?”

            Veronica and Betty share a look, something strange and unreadable to him. Almost as one being, they stand, water dripping from their naked bodies onto the floor. Both of them hold their hands out to him.

            “Well, who am I to deny?” Jughead mumbles, dropping his boxers to the ground. He studiously looks at the wall as he climbs inside the tub, ignoring the way the girls’ eyes both drop to his erection.

            He settles down between the two of them, dutifully accepting the body wash Veronica hands to him and rubbing the sweet-smelling stuff into Betty’s wet shoulders. It’s how Archie finds them, minutes later, laughing as Veronica blows bubbles into Betty’s hair and Betty shrieks, attempting to splash her back but mostly hitting Jughead.

            “Holy fuck,” they hear Archie breathe. There’s a shit-eating grin spreading across the other boy’s face that does strange, strange things to Jughead’s nervous system.

            “I think with some maneuvering, there’s room for one more,” Veronica calls.

            Archie needs no further prompting, stripping his shirt over his head in practically the same movement he uses to kick off his jeans. Jughead’s eyes slide over his abs, his broad shoulders. There are urges in the back of his mind he’s never fully thought out before, and it makes his face feel hot to realize them in the face of his best friend’s nudity.

            Archie hesitates before climbing into the tub.

            “Wait. Jughead, you said Betty needed us. Betty? Are you okay?”

            Betty smiles up at Archie, all sugary sweet even though her eyes are still a blotchy red. “I’ll be much better when you get in.”

            Archie frowns, and Jughead feels the mood drop. Still, Archie carefully swings his other leg over, crouching to sit next to Jughead, and fuck, now it’s really crowded. Carefully, he gestures, and maneuvers them until he’s sitting on the opposite end of the tub from Archie, their legs crossing over one another under the water. Betty sits against Archie’s chest; Veronica slides easily onto Jughead’s lap, leaning forward until she can chase the water across his collar bone with her tongue.

            Distracted by the sensation, he barely catches the whispered exchange about Polly between Betty and Archie. They look as though they belong together, soulmates made of light on the opposite end of the tub. In the full-length mirror hanging across the bathroom, Jughead is startled to realize that he and Veronica actually look damn good together, all dark hair and sharp angles and luscious curves.

            “I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” Archie breathes against Betty’s soapy shoulder blade.

            “I’m okay. I’m okay. I have us.”

            Everything around them, quiet already, seems to go silent in the vacuum of what Betty just said. She realizes it a beat later than the rest, her red eyes growing ever wider.

            “I mean. Um.”

            “No, no-“

            “Of course you do,” Archie nods, as though that settles something that hasn’t even been spoken yet.

            “Can we stop this bullshit?” Veronica interjects.

            Jughead tries valiantly to hide his snicker against the side of her head, and fails. Under the water, she pinches his thigh. The movement causes her to shift on his lap, her hip brushing against his hard-on, and he squints his eyes shut at the feeling.

            “Seriously? I moved here, met Betty and Archie at Pop’s, couldn’t decide which one was cuter, found out Betty’s been madly in love with Archie her whole life, went to the dance with both of them, got stuck in a closet that was already occupied with the dude that was obviously meant to turn them into a throuple, have been trying desperately to forget because I didn’t think I could have any of this, had the most sexually frustrating time of my life at a drive-in of all places, and now we’re all naked in my bathtub and going to pretend like we aren’t all supposed to be together? Why can’t we just let ourselves have this?”

            Her tone is borderline furious, but Jughead feels the way the girl shakes in his lap, so he wraps his arms around her small frame, tugging her closer. It would appear that for all of Veronica Lodge’s gusto, she’s rather… sweet.

            “Jughead?” Archie’s voice is quieter than usual, more intense. His eyes are almost electric, the way they send shockwaves through Jughead’s system. “Is that what you want, too?”

            Jughead hears the unspoken question; do you want me, too?

            Slowly, feeling as though he’s floating somewhere ten feet above the tub, he nods.

            “Betty?” Archie checks.

            Betty has started crying again, slow, silent tears that streak down her face and splash into the tub water below.

            “I can have all of you? We get to have each other? No choosing? No getting angry when we’re with one another individually?” Betty checks.

            Archie meets both Jughead and Veronica’s eyes in turn, then nods, rubbing his hands up and down Betty’s arms. “Yeah, babe. If that’s what you want.”

            Betty nods, almost brokenly, her face crumpling with the overwhelming relief she must feel. Jughead senses something both well up and split open inside of himself all at once; how much stress has the poor girl been under, between her parents and Polly, and the back and forth, unspoken tension between the four of them?

            Veronica reaches out for her, brushing her tears away, but she’s grinning.

            “First a closet, then a truck bed, and now a bath tub? Will we ever make it to a bed?”

            When they finally emerge from the tub, one core unit at last, tired and desperately trying to distract Betty, Jughead feels that old simmering rage rise to the surface as whatever is on Betty’s phone sends her spiraling again.

            The text message is from her mother… and Polly has apparently gone missing.

            


 

            After a night full of worry, finding Jason’s escape car full of evidence burnt to the ground, and a grueling search through the surrounding woods for Polly, Betty apparently finds the girl herself.

            Jughead wishes he could be happier about it. He truly does.

            It’s just very difficult to focus on his girlfriend’s knocked up sister when he’s sitting across from Sheriff Keller, about to be blamed for burning the car full of evidence and probably the entire murder, too.

            Maybe they’ll let him keep writing his novel by hand in prison.

            “You have a long and hard history, Mr. Jones. Removed from your father’s care once at three. Arrested in elementary school for bringing matches along in your backpack and threatening to burn the place down. Serious history with being bullied, I’m guessing?”

            Jughead narrows his eyes at the man. “Uh, yeah. My name is Jughead.

            “Listen, son, you and your little girlfriend finding that car burning was suspicious in the first place. So unless you can provide a solid alibi, I’m afraid I’m going to have to book you.”

            Deep inside his chest, Jughead feels panic spread from his heart, to his lungs, to the tips of his fingers, but he keeps his face stony.
            Betty is allowed in, and out in the hallway he can see Veronica and Archie both lighting into Sheriff Keller on his behalf. In the background, Fred Andrews strides through the front door of the police station, looking furious. For a moment hope blooms in Jughead’s chest, but he tries to squash it back down. Guys like him don’t get the happy endings.

            “Betty, I need you to believe me,” he says instead, reaching across the cold steel table for her hands. She takes his without hesitation, and even here, under the harsh fluorescent lights, he feels warmer for it. “I didn’t have anything to do with this. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t.”

            “I know. I know, Juggie,” Betty whispers. He wants to tell her that whispering won’t help. He knows they’re being recorded anyway.

            They sit like that, holding hands and communicating with their eyes what they can’t say out loud, until Sheriff Keller opens the door again. His eyes are hard, still suspicious, but his shoulders are more relaxed than before.

            “Fred told me you were working with him and Archie, busting concrete all summer.”

            “Uh. Sure.”

            “And that you were working late with him when the car burnt on the old drive-in lot.”

            “Yeah, well, I’m still bitter about it closing, but I need the money. So.”

            “You’re free to go, son. For now. Watch yourself.”

            Archie claps him on the shoulder on the way out. Both of their girls latch onto his arms, ignoring the strange looks Fred gives them both. For just a moment, he allows himself to feel some sort of relief, and then he realizes that his very late, very drunk father is standing in the parking lot.

            “Jughead! Jughead. I came as soon as I heard. You shouldn’t be treated this way. My boy has rights! My boy is good! You wouldn’t do this. This whole town is ass-backwards. I’m gonna sue the whole damn city!” FP swings a bottle as he talks, staggering toward them all unevenly. Jughead can’t help it; his eyes well up with tears.

            “Go home, Dad. You’re drunk. At a police station.

            FP lurches toward him, grabbing him by the collar. Jughead shrugs off Betty and Veronica, stepping in front of them. He’ll be damned if his father gets near them in this state.

            “Boy, I’m here to help.”

            “You’re not helping. Go home! Don’t make this worse. Please. You’re making it so much worse.”

            “I don’t even know where you’re staying, and now you’re mad at me for coming to get you out of jail?” FP shoves him, but Archie is there behind him to reach out and steady his arms. Fred steps around both of them, chest to chest with FP.

            “Jughead is staying with me and Archie, FP, as of right now. He’s right. You shouldn’t be here like this. You need to go home.”

            “I never asked you-“

            “You don’t have to ask me. I couldn’t save you, but I might be able to save your son. Now go.”

            The feel of Archie’s strong fingers is the only thing Jughead can even register. His head is spinning; he truly believes he might just whirl and vomit into a bush or something. He feels more naked than he did in the tub with all of them. Now they know. They know he’s homeless, that his dad is a drunk, that he’s not truly a North Sider, that people look at him and think him capable of murder, that he’s not like them-

            “We’re here,” Archie whispers, lower than anyone else can hear. “We’re right here.”

            “Don’t leave me.” The words are out before he can stop them. He wonders if Betty felt this much self-hatred when she said them.

            Together, the three of them shake their heads.

            Later, much later, when the spinning stops and his stomach has settled with the weight of Fred’s burger run to Pop’s, and there’s a blown-up mattress on the floor of Archie’s room, it hits him that he can look into Betty’s window now, too.

            He finds not only her eyes, but also Veronica’s staring back at him. Together, they blow both him and Archie kisses before turning out the light.

            It’s three in the morning and he’s trying to piece sentences together that adequately describe the sterility of the police station before it hits him.

            He’s pretty sure he loves them.

Chapter Text

            For a moment, Betty closes her eyes and she’s back in the coat closet.

            The same song beats a bass too loud outside of Archie’s bedroom door, the haunting sort of melody making her forget where she’s at. Archie’s hands are on her hips, Jughead and Veronica are already in his bed on the floor, and she can’t focus, it’s too much, the room is spinning-

            “You okay, Betts?” Jughead murmurs around Veronica’s nipple, and a flooding warmth brings her back to center. Even across the room, her partners are in tune with her. She doesn’t have to worry.

            “I’m good, so good,” Betty moans as Archie pushes her back against his bedroom door. It’s Jughead’s birthday, but Betty feels like it’s hers when he strips off her crown-printed sweater and pushes her bra straps down her shoulders to tongue at her cleavage.

            Veronica is snickering quietly across the room, her and Jughead’s murmurs too low for her to hear distinctly. Betty’s eyes glaze over when over Archie’s shoulder, she watches Veronica push Jughead back by his shoulders in order to straddle him. She’s so mesmerized by the sight of them together that she yelps with surprise when Archie’s fingers graze against her center. He’s more gentle than she ever thought he’d be.

            “Good?” Archie asks, one red eyebrow raising.

            Betty answers by moaning into his mouth, tongue swiping desperately at his lower lip. “Perfect.”

            Archie grins against her mouth, their teeth meeting, and Jesus, okay, that does something deep inside of her that it really shouldn’t. Suddenly she’s craving nails against her spine and his teeth embedded in her thigh, and-

            “Get over here, now,” Veronica calls, her voice breaking on a moan as she grinds herself slowly back and forth over the bulge in Jughead’s jeans.

            Archie doesn’t hesitate, just takes both of Betty’s hands in his and lowers her down on the narrow mattress next to Jughead. There’s so little room that her entire side is pressed against his; she turns her head to kiss him, and through the dim light cast through the slats in the blinds, watches him blink dazedly at her. He reaches for her, cradling her head and meeting her tongue with his before their lips join.

            Veronica whines and undoes her own bra, tossing it somewhere behind her in an effort to tug at her own breasts. Archie scoots until half his body is hanging off the mattress to peel Betty’s tight jeans off; Veronica takes one of her knees, the heat of her fingers on her skin making Betty cry out, and tugs as Archie pushes, until her thighs are wide apart.

            Jughead’s mouth catches most of her cries, which is good, because there’s no way she can stay quiet when Archie leans forward to press sucking kisses into her thighs. Veronica bends over to tug at Jughead’s jeans, and then she’s only in her tight black skirt and Jughead’s fingers are sliding expertly underneath. Betty watches Veronica’s breath catch as he finds what he’s searching for; then their moans blend together.

            Betty threads her fingers through Archie’s hair, tugging him where she wants him most, and he chuckles against her before finally, finally swiping her clit with his tongue. Betty gasps, over-sensitive, into Jughead’s shoulder and his arm jerks, doing something to Veronica that has her swearing. Archie circles her clit with his tongue slowly, so slowly she could scream, and then drags downward to fuck into her entrance, steady and hard. His mouth mirrors what his hips would do if he were inside her, she just knows it. Before long, the heat between her legs is too intense. Veronica’s little circles on the back of her knee as she holds her leg open somehow match Archie’s movements perfectly and it’s too much, so much-

            Betty comes apart with a scream that she muffles into the back of Jughead’s beanie; Veronica’s hand has snaked around his, still inside of her, through the zipper of his pants. His whole body seems to strain with the effort of keeping still in order to keep her on top of him. Archie moans into Betty’s core as he laps up her wetness; his bright eyes are open and flicker between her face and their partners.

            Late at night, when she’s home in her too-pink bed and she makes herself cum, it makes her sleepy. It’s better than her mother’s bottle of prescription-strength melatonin. Here, panting in the dark next to Jughead and with Archie’s strong shoulders still between her thighs and Veronica’s moans sexier than any faded backbeat could ever be, all she feels is fire, licking its way up her spine until she can’t stand it anymore. She has to move.

            “Arch,” Betty starts but he’s already shifting.

            “Switch,” he says, practically reading her mind, and she nods.

            She scoots up as he slides forward, taking her place next to Jughead. There’s no thought process anymore, only a deep want and an image burned into the back of her brain that she’s never really allowed to surface as conscious thought. The booze still swirling in her system makes her brave; she throws her legs across Jughead’s face, straddling his nose. Veronica’s eyes go wide and she whimpers as his hands go still.

            “I’ll take care of Ronnie,” Betty whispers, stroking what she can see of his chin. He swallows. “You just start licking.”

            Then she knocks his hands away from the girl. Veronica cries out, brow furrowing, but Betty leans forward and swallows the sound in a kiss. Veronica smirks against her lips; underneath her thighs, Archie’s hand replaces hers on Jughead’s erection, pumping him more firmly than Veronica had been. His other matches pace on himself; Betty feels herself climbing toward a second climax at the thought that Archie is touching Jughead the way he likes to be touched. It’s an odd sensation.

            That, and being tongue-fucked from underneath, Jughead’s hands coming up under Betty’s ass to steady her. Betty leans forward, changing the angle slightly, and nearly blacks out at the feeling. Instead, she fights against the sensation long enough to stroke her hands down Veronica’s chest, scratch her nails against her curvy stomach, and then slip beneath the black fabric of her underwear.

            She’s already soaking wet from Jughead’s efforts earlier; it doesn’t take long for Betty to start mimicking what she typically does to herself and for Veronica’s knees to start shaking underneath her. Archie, it seems, has the right idea.

            Veronica cums next, her moan caught by Betty’s lips. Betty strokes her down gently, thinking of Pop’s milkshakes and secret kisses in chauffeured cars, and Veronica crying out her name just like this at sleepovers. Archie follows, too overcome by the sight of them all. He stops stroking himself but never once breaks tempo for Jughead; Betty blinks in shock and cries out so loudly she half-glances at the door in terror as a second orgasm overtakes her at the sight of Jughead’s white cum streaking out of his thick head and onto the black satin of Veronica’s underwear above.

            There’s stunned silence for a moment, and then both girls collapse to the side, crawling up and onto Archie’s bed. Betty peels Veronica’s panties off her carefully, laying them gently on Archie’s nightstand. Naked, they lie down together, back to front, giggling and satisfied as the boys kiss on the mostly deflated air mattress below them.

            “And you didn’t want a party, Juggie,” Betty laughs.

            “Nothing is ever, ever going to beat this one,” Jughead sighs happily, curling onto Archie’s broad chest. Archie bends his arm at the elbow to comb his fingers through Jughead’s thick black hair, knocking the beanie to the floor.

            “Happy birthday, lover,” Veronica purrs. Jughead rolls his eyes.

            “Happy birthday to you,” Archie sings quietly.

            Below them, the party rages on into the wee hours of the morning. Betty should be tired; after the awkward tension of Polly’s baby shower at the Pembrooke this week, and introducing Jughead as her boyfriend while Veronica and Archie stood across the room, and the brief time left over to investigate Jason’s murder, she should be utterly exhausted. On some level, she is. She just can’t sleep when they’re all there, with her, all night long.

            Her eyes flicker over them until the sun rises; Veronica’s inky hair spilling across Archie’s flannel sheets, her beautiful brown skin such a contrast against Betty’s in the dim light; Jughead curled up under the covers and looking so much younger and happier than he usually does. Archie, one arm stretched above his head and all of his abs deliciously on display, murmuring in his sleep words that Betty will pretend she hasn’t heard in the morning, but grin about privately for a week.

            One two three, she counts before she finally drifts to sleep.

            She wakes to a persistent buzzing sound; persistent, yes, but muffled, as though swaddled in thick fabric. Betty groans, the dim sound already ringing through her head. She hadn’t drank enough to be out of control of her actions, but she’d drank enough to have a pounding headache, that’s for sure.

            The reality of the last several days comes flooding back in. The party for Jughead’s birthday had honestly been an accident. All week, she’d been looking forward to celebrating with him and Veronica and Archie. He’d requested time with just the three of them, but of course Cheryl Blossom had overheard them at lunch and pounded on Fred Andrews’ door that evening, Vixens and Bulldogs in tow. They’d stayed and had a few drinks, just long enough to be polite and then escaped upstairs to, well… Betty’s cheeks heat up as she remembers.

            But before the party, the week had been hell. Polly had left with the Blossoms after the baby shower, not with the Coopers. Her mother had been devastated, kicking her father out of the house, arguing with him over access to the Register. She, Veronica, Archie, and Jughead have been running themselves into the ground with their own murder board at the Blue and Gold office; they’re still unsure if Veronica’s parents are somehow connected to the Blossoms, if the Blossoms are connected to the Serpents, how Jughead’s dad plays a part in all of this, who murdered the boy at all.

            They’ve exhausted all resources. There’s only one way to understand what truly happened, and that’s to infiltrate the Serpents somehow; Jughead said that his father spends a lot of time at a place on the Southside called the White Wyrm, and so Betty knows that during the Homecoming dance, she and Jughead will go retrieve the security footage while Veronica and Archie distract her mother with tales of Veronica’s mobster father to throw her off the scent.

            Really, it makes organizing the dance seem almost trivial.

            The buzzing keeps going, and finally Betty reaches over and plucks a book off Archie’s nightstand, hurls it at his chest. It lands with a thump and he sits upright, blinking groggily in the light.

            “Phone, I think,” Betty says, quietly enough that Veronica barely stirs next to her.

            Archie frowns, his nose wrinkling in the cutest way, but he leans over and accepts the call.

            “Hello? Oh, hi, Mom. Um. Yeah. No, I’m excited to see you too! Yeah, I have my tux. Okay. Okay. Sounds good.”

            Betty’s eyes have slipped back shut; she’s still drifting in a foggy sea of headaches and phantom tongues when Archie leaps off the deflated air mattress so quickly that it doesn’t have time to resettle properly and Jughead hits the ground with a harsh thud.

            “Shit, fuck, get up, guys, my mom is coming!”

            “What the hell,” Jughead moans, reaching for his beanie and pulling it down over his eyes to block out the light.

            “I second that,” Veronica huffs, lying perfectly still.

            “I’m so serious, she’s going to be here soon, we’ve got to clean up!”

            Rolling her eyes behind her eyelids, Betty sighs. She won’t be catching up on her beauty sleep any time soon.


 

            After a truly awkward and tension-filled dinner in which Betty is primarily focused on a) not murdering Alice and b) not spilling anything on her silver dress, she and Jughead escape to the warmth of FP’s truck. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon the perspective, he’s in it this time and has agreed to drive them, so she and Jughead will be meeting their partners at the dance itself. She’s pleased that his father is making more of an effort after the embarrassing situation outside of the police station; however, it’s rather unfortunate that it comes at a time when she’s fairly certain he’s becoming a prime murder suspect. 

            Hopefully, she can fix that.

            “Be a gentleman, Jughead,” FP calls as they exit the truck, and something deep inside Betty’s chest clenches.

            “He always is, Mr. Jones,” she smiles. She reaches for his arm, and that same feeling washes over her; that they’re ancient, that they’re right, that in other lifetimes she’s done this a million times before.

            They manage to drink three glasses of punch between them and dance to two songs before Betty kicks off her heels and pulls out a folded pair of sole-less flats instead, running out the back to the car Veronica had ordered to wait for them. She had watched as, after swaying to a slow tune with Archie, Veronica had carefully approached Alice and pulled her aside to the Blue and Gold office, to “confide” in her about her father’s dirty dealings even from inside prison walls.

            The tension inside the car is nearly unbearable; she watches as Jughead’s jaw clenches as he receives the text that his father has been arrested for murder, only hours after dropping them at the door for a dance.

            “It’s okay. We can still do this,” Betty whispers, reaching across the seat to twist her fingers through his. For the first time, he doesn’t squeeze her hand.

            They’re out and back to the vehicle in less than ten minutes; ultimately, finding the video hadn’t been difficult. The thumb drive shakes in her hand as she hands it off to Jughead; he stares down at it as she texts Kevin, because he’s the sheriff’s son, and Cheryl, because after everything, she deserves to see it too.

            Who murders a boy, and forgets to erase the footage? Betty thinks with an eyeroll, and abruptly misses the time when she was primarily concerned with who to kiss next.

            Alice has long since vacated the Blue and Gold, hurrying home to write up the false details Veronica had given her under the condition of anonymity, but she and Archie still sit there quietly on the old sofa.

            Kevin and Cheryl come in moments after Betty and Jughead arrive; it feels strange, to allow two others to sit between the four of them. For so long, putting together the jumbled pieces of their parents’ dealings and their families’ secrets has been just for them. What was once intimate is now being blown wide open.

            “Are you okay?” Betty asks Cheryl. “You don’t have to watch.”

            “Yes. I do.”

            Betty takes a deep breath and presses play.

            It doesn’t take long. The digitized shot rings out, louder than the faint hum of the air conditioning, louder than the blaring music of Josie and the Pussycats in the gymnasium, louder than the blood rushing through Betty’s veins.

            She stares at the black screen long after the footage has stopped rolling, feeling as though ice has frozen over the vessels in her lungs.

            Clifford Blossom murdered his son.

            And FP Jones hid the body.


 

            Of course, Clifford doesn’t exactly stick around long enough to face the consequences.

            Later, after Archie pulls Cheryl from the icy depths of Sweetwater River, she’ll describe in lurid detail, though completely monotone, how her father’s head had tilted to the side in a quite ugly fashion as his neck hung suspended from rope above barrels and barrels of maple syrup.

            Betty sits captivated in the firelight, staring at it reflected in Cheryl’s blank eyes, but she notices Jughead typing rapid notes into his phone to transfer to his laptop later and rolls her eyes.

            Fred Andrews, Dad-extraordinaire, picks them all up from Sheriff Keller’s office. Veronica’s mother is busy with a last-minute meeting with Hiram’s attorney, likely to plan contingencies for all their dirty dealings with the Blossoms over the years. The Coopers are busy coaxing Polly home and writing up articles in between. FP still sits in a jail cell, innocent of murder, and yet not innocent at all. Mary Andrews, seemingly entirely unaware of the tension in the town with pep, had left first thing after Homecoming. Fred, it seems, is the only one left and Betty is glad for it as they all slide into one of the larger booths at Pop’s.

            “Think you could whip up the kids some breakfast, Pop? They’ve had a rough night.”

            “Not breakfast. Pancakes won’t cut it for me, Pop. Make it a triple burger,” Jughead calls, and Pop is still laughing when the man comes in.

            He’s dressed in dark colors; later, Betty won’t remember exactly what he was wearing besides the black hood over his face. She’ll be furious at herself.

            But in the moment, all she hears is Veronica gasp next to her. Betty’s hand flies to her thigh under the booth, grips hard. Jughead is still smiling, sardonically, tiredly, until he catches the horrified look on Archie’s face.

            Fred leaps up, standing between the booth they all sit frozen inside of and the man in the black hood holding the gun.

            “You can have anything you want. Please. Take the whole cash register,” Pop is rambling, the sizzle of the bacon behind him surreal.

            Betty sees what’s going to happen before it does, but she can’t brace herself. The man’s finger moves toward the trigger; with a sound that reverberates all the way through her chest, the gun goes off and a bullet flies. Someone screams. It might be her. Archie leaps out of the booth toward his father, shoving Fred toward the ground, but it’s too late. She knows it's too late.

            For one blissful moment, all she sees is Archie’s red, red hair. For one tranquil moment, she’s staring down at herself sitting in a regular old booth at Pop’s with her friends, her friends that she loves, her lovers, not her friends, and she’s fresh from a dance again and shaking and thinking of a closet.

            And then, a pool of blood flows out from Fred Andrews’ chest.

           

           

Chapter Text

            “Keep his legs elevated-“

            “Betty put pressure-“

            “Oh my god, Archie, be careful-“

            Archie doesn’t listen to Veronica’s warning; the truck tires spin too harshly against the road beneath them. Veronica’s hand is on his leg, her neck craning to attempt to help him drive. It occurs to him that technically, he doesn’t have his license yet, and the thought sends chills up and down his spine.

            His father could die before he ever gets to drive. Before he graduates and goes to college. Before he gets married. Will he ever get married?

            “Hang on, Dad, please,” Archie cries.

            “Just focus on the road, man, we’ve got him-“ Jughead calls.

            “He’s losing too much blood,” Betty murmurs, Fred’s head in her lap. Her light blue jeans are stained completely red.

            “Come on, come on, come on,” Veronica whispers, her soft voice matching the quick pace of Archie’s breaths.

            He barely remembers to throw the vehicle into park once he finally skids into the hospital’s ER entrance; the wheels sit almost entirely on the sidewalk. Veronica dashes in ahead, yelling for doctors and nurses while Archie swings the back door open so hard it beats against his back. He takes his father’s legs, Jughead takes his bleeding sternum, and Betty supports his head as they drag him from the vehicle. Fred’s face is ashen, his eyes rolled back into his skull. Archie wants to turn and vomit, but there’s no time.

            “You need to get him on a stretcher yesterday. Vamanos!” Veronica claps, a horde of doctors and nurses swarming out around her. Her voice is so authoritative even Archie can barely hear the shake underneath.

            He follows his father through the halls as long as he can, watching as nurses shove needles under his skin as they walk, barely able to keep up with the cacophony of the doctor’s shouts. He’s shut out of the OR; for a moment he considers beating on the doors, but he doesn’t want to take an ounce of attention away from his father.

            He whirls back around, meeting the wide and worried eyes of his partners, but all he can see are the green eyes behind the black hood. He blinks, and he’s back on the floor of Pop’s, blood pooling under his palms.

            “Arch…” Betty whispers, dashing forward to press against him. Veronica ducks under his free arm, and he presses both of his girls close to his chest. They smell like flowers and blood. He’s definitely, definitely going to throw up.

            Jughead throws his arms around all of them, and over Betty’s head Archie leans forward to burrow his face in Jughead’s neck. He isn’t sure how long they stand like that, but it’s long enough for the Coopers to show up in order to begin writing an article in the waiting room.

            Doctors reappear to tell him that his father is lucky to still be alive, and that he’s not quite out of the woods yet, but that it will be several hours before they know anything more. He realizes that he and the others have smeared blood across an entire wall’s worth of chairs in the waiting room. Veronica’s pearls are flecked with red; Betty’s lap is all sticky, and Jughead’s hands and arms are streaked with it.

            “Come on, baby,” Veronica breathes against his shoulder. “You need to change.”

            “No,” Archie shakes his head. “Hell no. I’m not leaving.”

            “You need to put on something more comfortable so you can be here when he wakes up,” Betty coaxes. God damn it. She always knows just how to get him.

            “I can stay,” Jughead offers. He’s shaking where he stands, but his dark eyes are as steady as ever.

            “I need you,” Archie says before he can stop himself.

            Jughead quietly takes the keys out of Archie’s pocket. He has no memory of putting them there.

            The ride back to his house is silent. Archie leaps out of the truck and blows by all of them as quickly as possible. His body feels as though it’s been lit on fire from within, and his eyes seem to react to smoke he can’t see by welling up and blurring his vision over and over without respite. He can’t sit still. He can’t think. He can only do; all he wants is to be back in the hospital.

            All he wants is to murder the man that did this.

            The rage fills him up, nearly frightening him with its intensity. He’s never felt this way before, as though the emotion is trying to escape out of his skin, too large to be contained by his body.

            He steps into the shower before the water is even warm, desperate to get his father’s blood off of him so he can get moving again. He scrubs too hard; scratches appear, a sickly pink underneath the red that swirls down the drain beneath his feet.

            There is no feeling of cold air behind him, only strong hands sliding over his shoulders.

            “Hey. The hospital just called. He’s stable. You can take your time.” Jughead’s voice is soft behind him, so soft it almost makes him angry, but then he thinks of that night on the porch and how steady the boy was then.

            He wants to tell Jughead to fuck off, or to come closer, or to fuck him so that he can forget for just a moment, but all that he manages is, “I keep seeing it. Over and over. If I’d been just a little faster, the bullet would have missed.”

            “Or he’d have shot both of you while you were on the floor. And the bullets wouldn’t have missed at all.”

            He feels the impact of the truth instantly, and immediately his brain rejects it. It’s his fault. All his fault.

            As though he can read his mind, Jughead whispers, “It’s not your fault,” and then his entire naked body is pressed up against Archie’s. Jughead had gotten taller over the last couple of summers, tall enough to rest his chin on Archie’s turned shoulder, but not quite tall enough to match him.

            “I’m going to take care of you. Okay? You’re rubbing yourself raw,” Jughead murmurs. His hands slide down over Archie’s arms, smoothing over the pink scratches, to his chest, to his hipbones.

            Unbidden, Archie groans.

            “That feel good, Arch?” Jughead mutters, already mouthing at his earlobe.

            Images flicker through Archie’s brain; Jughead sleeping on the air mattress on the floor, his father laughing while he made them both pancakes at three in the morning when Jughead got scared at their first sleepover ten years ago, his sly smirk across the booth at Pop’s. Deep appreciation wells up inside of him, and in a flash, it turns to grief.

            “I don’t want to lose my dad. I’ve been so lucky. He’s so good to me, and to you, and I can’t-“

            “I know. I know.” Jughead doesn’t try to tell him that everything is okay or that it will work out, and somehow, the fact that he doesn’t makes Archie feel better. That, and the way his clever fingers slide down to roll against his sac.

            Archie grabs his wrist and redirects Jughead’s attention to his dick. The throbbing inside of it matches the throbbing of the deep anxiety in his chest. The sound of the gunshot at Pop’s mingles with the slick sound of skin on skin, and in less than a moment, he’s hearing the gunshot at Sweetwater River on July 4th and Geraldine is wearing a black hood under her heart-shaped sunglasses, and her hand looks like Jughead’s wrapped around him-

            “Stop, stop, stop-“ Archie chokes, jerking harshly away to stumble through the shower curtain and hit his knees on the hard linoleum.

            “Whoa, whoa, hey! Hey, Archie. It’s okay. I’m sorry. That was too much, right? Okay. I’m sorry, man. I thought you might need the distraction. It’s okay. I’m here. I’m Jughead, I’m your best friend, I’m right here,” Jughead rambles. Taking just a second to turn the water off, he sits down next to Archie, not even bothering with a towel.

            “Betty and Veronica are right outside.”

            “No!” Archie gasps, trying to push the words out through the hyperventilation. “They can’t see-“

            “Why?” Jughead rolls his eyes. “Too macho?”

            “Fuck you, Jones.”

            “Later, maybe, when you’re feeling better.”

            Archie’s barked laugh sounds half-mad.

            “It’s okay. We’re here for you.”

            Whatever else Jughead had been about to say is silenced as the door swings slowly open. Betty peers down at them, eyes blown wide and then going narrow, taking in the situation. She’s still covered in blood. Archie thinks she looks like something out of a horror movie, meant to enchant and repel all at once.

            “Veronica made some food. Breakfast omelets. We all need to eat something,” she says quietly.

            Archie stares at her for a moment, his beautiful girl next door. Then he takes a deep breath and stands, taking strength in the fact that her eyes stay on his rather than dipping down to take him in. Jughead’s strong hand on his lower back steadies him.

            “Thank you, baby,” Archie whispers, wrapping a towel around his waist and then folding her into his arms. She squeezes him so tightly his ribs ache. “You get cleaned up, too, okay?”

            Betty blinks down at herself. “Oh, shit. Yeah, okay. Sorry Arch.”

            “It’s okay. You were amazing, helping my Dad like that. I’ll save you an omelet.”

            The door swings shut behind her. In the kitchen, Veronica whirls around, still dressed to impress with pearls around her neck. Archie finds himself counting them, trying to get the disturbing images out of his head. He’s distracted by her wide smile.

            “Here you go, Archiekins. I must say, what a treat! Both my boys wrapped in towels, soaking wet…”

            Archie manages a small smile for her. With one hand, she moves the skillet from the stovetop to the sink. Her other grasps her phone, and he can make out the multiple phone calls to and from the hospital.

            Something inside his chest clenches, then eases. She’s checking in on his dad. He won’t miss anything.

            Both she and Jughead are kind enough to pretend not to notice when his omelet becomes flavored with tears. When Betty comes back, hair dripping and smelling of his shampoo, she stares for a moment before primly wiping his cheeks for him and handing him the hot sauce.


 

            Fred stays in the hospital for over a week, and every night, Archie folds himself into the uncomfortable chair at his bedside despite his father’s protests.

            He doesn’t say it, but what use would going home be? The assailant probably knows where they live by now. Like Archie really wants to stay home alone, leaving his father unprotected. Well, okay, not entirely unprotected. Sherriff Keller had made sure to have a deputy standing by the door for the first few days.

            He tries to hide the newspaper when Geraldine’s indictment makes the front page, courtesy of Alice Cooper. Betty had texted to warn him. Still, his father sees.

            “It’s going to be okay, son. I wish you’d go ahead and schedule another therapy appointment. A lot has happened.”

            “I’m okay, Dad.”

            “You are not. If you don’t call, I’ll call myself, from the hospital phone.”

            Archie nods, shutting off the bedside lamp and plunging them both into darkness.

            It’s impossible to hide anything at all when he turns on the hospital’s television in the morning, to the news channel his father has always watched to prepare for his days. Geraldine’s mugshot is posted across the screen, and he begins to wince until he notices the word in bold print across the bottom; MURDERED.

            “The security footage shows a man in a black hood breaking into the prison late last night, wielding, ironically, a cello bow-“

            Archie whirls and vomits into the trash can at his father’s bedside. Instantly, a passing nurse is in the room, attempting to take his temperature, handing him mints.

            “Get off, get off me,” Archie gasps.

            “It’s alright, it’s not a virus! It’s shock,” Fred calls, nodding at the television screen.

            “Oh, you poor dear! Yes, it’s very troubling, isn’t it? And to think, it may be the same man that shot you, Fred! Surely Sherriff Keller will catch up with him soon.”

            Archie stares at the television, feeling that same old rage bubbling again even as his phone lights up with about a dozen messages from his partners. “Yeah. Surely.”


 

            His partners meet him in the auditorium before school, behind the thick red curtain, using the Pussycats’ early morning rehearsal as cover for their whispers.

            “We’re going to get to the bottom of this, Archie,” Jughead promises.

            “Yeah, we’ve already reached out to a deputy my mom knows. He’ll let us into the jail. We’ll take photos, see what we can dig up,” Betty nods.

            From the other side of the curtain, one of the girls hits a wrong note and Josie begins yelling. Archie closes his eyes, focusing on the irritation in her strong voice. Something mundane; normal. When was the last time he sat down with his guitar? Two weeks ago? Three?

            “I’m okay,” he says, on auto-pilot. Then, more genuinely, “I have a therapy appointment after school today.”

            “If you need to ditch, to give yourself some recovery time between school and therapy, you can sign out with me. I’m meeting my Mom at lunch. She and I… we have to talk. Apparently, Daddy is getting released early. He’ll be home tomorrow.”

            The three of them stare at Veronica in shocked silence.

            “What?”

            “Vee, that’s great-“

            “I’ll come with you,” Archie nods, reaching out for her. Veronica tucks herself against his chest and suddenly he breathes a little easier.

            “I know we’re  all here to comfort Archiekins, but I’m so nervous,” Veronica whispers. Betty and Jughead step forward at once, and Jughead crushes Betty against Archie’s other side as he somehow wraps his long arms around them all.

            “Life sucks, and then you die,” Jughead nods. “My dad is making a plea deal, I think. I have to go over to the trailer tonight and salvage what I can before it gets repossessed.”

            “We’ll help you,” Veronica says immediately. Betty nods, her forehead bumping repeatedly against Archie’s chin. On impulse, he bends to kiss it and she smiles at him, all softness and light.

            “No matter what, we stick together. We’ll get through this,” Betty says with determination. He wishes, desperately, to have even half of her grit.

            And then the bell rings, signaling fifteen minutes until their first class, and he takes a deep breath in an effort to turn his mind away from Geraldine and black hoods and gunshot wounds and prisons and to English Literature instead.


 

            They all turn up to Jughead’s father’s old trailer looking, as Archie’s mother would say, rather worse for wear.

            His own hands still shake after his intense session with his therapist. Unraveling the PTSD-related images in his mind hadn’t been easy. He feels worn out, strung out, sliced open. His father is set to be released from the hospital in three days, and all he can do is think about the Black Hood and murder.

            Veronica shows up wrapped in a long sweater, black leggings underneath and boots without a heel. Her normally impeccable makeup is nowhere to be seen; her bare eyes are rimmed red.

            “Leave me,” she snaps at the driver of the long black car. “I don’t want to see your face again tonight. Jughead will take me home.”

            “Ronnie,” Archie begins to reach for her, but then the door of the trailer swings open. Betty stands, hair back in a braid rather than a ponytail, worrying her lower lip. Jughead shifts his weight uneasily, glancing around the trailer park as though someone is going to jump out from behind a bush.

            “Come on in, guys. I’ve rounded up what I could.”

            Inside, the trailer seems so much smaller than it used to. Archie has only been here a handful of times; Fred hadn’t exactly trusted his lifelong friend with the care of his only son. Jughead has removed everything from the kitchen cabinets, set out in boxes labeled donate. The heavier furniture, he’s just left. There are some other things labeled to store?, like an old television and DVD player.

            Archie notices too late that Jughead is sniffling.

            “I stopped by the jail,” he explains. He takes his beanie off his head, runs fingers through his thick unruly hair, puts it back into place. Avoids their eyes. “Dad is taking ten years, nonviolent time. He’ll go before the parole board in two. Cheryl wrote a letter supporting his future parole, to put in his file. That might help.”

            The bottom seems to drop out of Archie’s stomach; he reaches for Jughead’s shoulder and draws him in close. God. Two years, at minimum, maybe a full ten without a dad? Two weeks ago, he wouldn’t have been able to imagine, but after facing a potential lifetime without his own, he feels the sucker punch as though it’s happened to him.

            “I’m so sorry, Jug,” he whispers.

            Veronica’s eyes fill with tears. Hastily, she grabs at a box labeled winter clothing and begins refolding it.

            They make three trips out to Jughead’s truck; FP had bought it in a set with two motorcycles decades ago with cash. They’re the only things completely paid for, and the only things Jughead can keep. Archie’s father had offered to store the boxes in a unit on his construction lot; Archie himself had moved his musical materials out of the garage to make room for the bikes.

            Betty, of course, hears it first.

            “Jughead? Is it supposed to storm?” Her blue eyes crinkle around a frown. She steps across a box labeled JB’s old baby shit to peer out the window.

            It really does sound as though thunder is booming down from the sky; a long, low rumble shakes the fragile fixtures in the boxes on the floor. Light sweeps through the darkened windows.

            Frowning, Jughead pulls a pocketknife Archie has never seen before from his back pocket, and motions for the girls to step back. Archie tries to step in front of them, but Veronica rolls her eyes and takes Betty’s hand, leaning around either side of Jughead to try to see through the window.

            A loud knock reverberates through the trailer. Frowning, and shrugging at Archie, Jughead puts the knife away and throws the door open to find the entire Southside Serpents gang outside his house, motorcycles and leather and all.

            “Um. Hi,” he says to the intimidating man on his porch.

            “Jughead Jones. We have something that belongs to you,” the man’s deep voice rumbles. Into Jughead’s arms is thrust a thick black leather jacket. The green of the snake twining across the back seems to burn into Archie’s retinas.

            “I don’t understand,” Jughead says, but the flint in his tone says otherwise. He just doesn’t like it.

            “Your father lead the Serpents with pride for more than twenty years. He’s not the first to fall to The Man, and he won’t be the last. We already have Serpents on the inside of every local prison; they’ll find him, look out for him. But now the Serpents need a new leader. Your old man took them over at about your age. No reason you can’t do the same.”

            Jughead glares, opening his mouth to no doubt piss off the very large man with some very scary tattoos, but he just holds up one large, meaty hand. “Think it over. Initiation’s in two weeks.”

            The door closes. The thunder-like sound rolls away, back into the distance.

            Jug stares at each of them in turn, eyes wide and sort of terrified.

            Then he stares down at the jacket in his hands, too new to be scuffed with gang activity yet. The embroidered serpent seems almost to wink.

            And Archie feels his mouth go dry as, slowly, he shrugs the jacket on.