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Table for Three

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Archie can hear the music from La Bonne Nuit float up from the basement, but he can't bring himself to go down there. Not when he knows that Veronica and Reggie are there, making cow-eyes at each other from across the bar.

He's resigned himself to a lonely night in his booth at Pop's, but then the bell over the door jingles, and Betty and Jughead enters the diner.

They're not dressed for a night at Veronica's speak-easy, and Jughead's brought his laptop bag, so he can only imagine they're here to discuss whatever deep dark secret of Riverdale's they're currently investigating.

Archie hunches down in his seat, not wanting to see the pity on their faces when they notice him moping all alone in his booth, but Jughead's watchful eyes seem to find him anyway.

There's a smile on his face when he notices Archie, and he nudges Betty, making her take notice of Archie too.

Archie raises a hand in a sheepish greeting, and Betty and Jughead make their way over to him.

“Okay if we join you?” Jughead asks.

He doesn't wait for a reply, just slides into the seat opposite of Archie, resting his bag against the wall.

Betty sits down next to him.

“It's good to see you, man,” Jughead says, a little awkwardly.

Everyone knows about his and Veronica's latest break-up, it seems.

“How are you holding up?” Betty asks him, her large eyes shining with concern.

Archie shrugs.

“Could be better,” he says. He picks up a cold fry from his plate and traces pattern in his ketchup with it. He doesn't feel like eating right now.

“Hey,” Jughead says, startling him a little, “you'll get through this.”

Jughead looks earnestly at him, his wide mouth down-turned and serious. He surprises Archie by reaching for his hand and squeezing it, offering the kind of physical comfort Archie didn't even know he needed right now.

“You're the strongest guy I know, Archie. This won't break you.” His words are softly spoken, but determined, and Archie stares at him, feeling a little overwhelmed at the support he sees there.

Betty's eyes dart between the two of them.

“Jughead's right,” she says, putting her own hand on top of her boyfriend's.

It makes Archie smile, a little crookedly perhaps, but genuine. He's lucky to have two such good friends.

“Thanks, guys,” he says, a little bashful.

They end up having a pretty nice night together, just the three of them.

Jughead orders in some more food, and even manages to persuade Archie to eat some of it, and when small groups of revelers are starting to exit La Bonne Nuit for a late night injection of junk food, the three of them manage to draw some attention with their laughter.

It's pretty amazing what good friends can do for your mood, Archie reflects.

A couple of hours ago, he just wanted to hide from the world, but now he, Jughead and Betty are joking around over their fries and milkshakes and it doesn't feel like the world is ending any more.

A corny old love song is playing on the jukebox, and, laughing and bright, Betty drags Jughead with her to dance to it. He's shaking his head, trying to hide his smile, but soon they're swaying to the music, Betty's arms slung over his shoulders, Jughead's arms tight around her waist.

They are so beautiful, and Archie watches them with something like envy, something like regret.

Sometimes he thinks about the way he turned Betty down, and he wonders what if, but then he thinks about the way Jughead and Betty look at each other, the natural fit of Betty cuddled up under Jughead's arm, the way they can somehow communicate with each other without saying a single word, and he knows he could never get between them.

Someone changes the record to a classic Chuck Berry song, and Jughead laughs and tries to pull away from Betty.

“C'mon, Arch,” he shouts, “you gotta save me!”

It makes Archie laugh, rolling his eyes good-naturedly as he gets out of his seat.

Betty holds out her hand to him, and he takes it.

Jughead is trying to get free from Betty's hold, and Betty gives Archie a conspiratory wink that has him reaching out for Jughead's other hand without really thinking about it.

“We look like idiots,” Jughead grumbles to the two of them. “You're both aware of that, right?”

“The three biggest idiots in Riverdale,” Betty agrees, giving Jughead a sunny smile.

They don't dance for long, in deference to Jughead's obvious discomfort. Instead they return to their booth and finish their milkshakes in comfortable silence.

It's either very late or very early, depending on how you look at it, and when Betty hints that she and Jughead have an early morning tomorrow, Archie puts on his jacket and follows them home.

He's about to say good night to them when he suddenly remembers that he just got that new part he ordered for his jalopy, and before he knows it he's invited Betty over to this garage to inspect it. Jughead tags along, contentedly watching them from a lawn chair as they fiddle with the motor.

Archie's gotten better at that kind of stuff, but Betty is a pro. It feels safe having her with him.

He doesn't know what it is about the process of working on his car, but it always puts him at ease. Enough so that he brings up the tragedy that is his love-life again.

“I mean,” he says, talking more to the motor than to either one of his friends, “I understand why Ronnie chose Reggie over me. I'm a mess.”

He looks up, and sees that Jughead's frowning at him.

“Let's face it; I'm unlovable.”

“You're not unlovable,” Betty says, putting her arms around him in a tight hug that Archie gratefully accepts.

“Betty loves you,” Jughead says, something unreadable flickering over his expression, “and I do too.”

It makes Archie sigh a little regretfully.

“Don't think I don't appreciate your friendship, but I was thinking more about romantic love.”

He gently disentangles Betty's arms from around him and puts some space between the two of them.

“My love life is a disaster,” he says, lifting his hands in a 'what can you do' gesture, “and I'm beginning to think that I'm the problem.”

While he's talking, Betty and Jughead appear to have an entire private conversation with just their eyebrows, but Archie plows on.

“Maybe I'm just not meant for that kind of love. “

He gives them a wan smile.

“I'll just watch the two of you get married and be the cool uncle to your kids. I'm okay with that.”

“Well, we're not!,” Betty exclaims, crossing her arms over her chest. She's giving him a cold stare that could rival Alice Cooper's.

“None of the girls you've been with deserves you,” she says.

She gives Jughead a look, and then she stomps over to Archie and grabs him by the face, and he has no idea what's going on until he feels Betty's lips on his own, and then he thinks, shit, and panics, pushing her away and staring in horror at Jughead.

Jughead, who's lazily pushing himself up to his feet, holding his hand out in supplication.

“It's okay, Arch,” he says, but it's not okay. How can anything be okay when he's just ruined another relationship?

“I'm so sorry, Jug,” he says, and Jughead scowls, making Archie think that he's gonna get punched.

He'd deserve it too.

Jughead's not a great fighter, but he's taken to wearing several rings on his fingers lately, and Archie figures he might actually do some damage with them.

Jug walks over to him, and Archie gives him a curt nod, trying to show that he accepts whatever Jughead will do to him.

He expects to get punched, or maybe shoved, but what he doesn't expect is for Jughead to grab him by the lapels of his jacket and press a very determined kiss to his mouth.

Archie just has time to think that Jughead's lips are really soft, before he pulls away with a wet 'smack.'

Archie stares at him, feeling a little like he just got run over by a bus.

Betty has grabbed onto Jughead's arm, and together they're putting up a unified front. They both look a little scared, but also determined.

“We love you, you idiot,” Jughead says. He sounds a little breathless, thin chest heaving with emotion.

Betty nods.

“Maybe this isn't the best way to tell you, but we wanted you to know.”

“How long?” Archie asks.

This is completely outside the bounds of expected behaviour from the two of them, and he doesn't know how to react. It feels like his entire world-view was upended with those two brief kisses.

Jughead smiles a little sadly.

“Pretty much forever,” he says, voice cracking a little.

Betty cuddles closer to him, snaking her arm around his waist.

“It's okay if you don't feel the same,” she says, voice shaking a little, “but you are not unlovable, Archie Andrews. We're proof of that.”

Archie stares at them, these two beautiful people; his friends, his friends that love each other and are apparently in love with him too.

“I-” he says.

Jughead and Betty watches him, both of them a little wary.

“I need to think,” he finally says, making the two of them nod in unison, Betty's ponytail bobbing with the movement.

“Take all the time you need,” Betty says.

They both press a brief kiss to his cheek, and then they walk away, holding hands the way they always do, the perfect image of sweet adolescent love.

The leave the garage door open when they leave, and Archie smiles a little, the symbolism not lost on him.