Jughead Jones had never really been scared of the rain. As a boy, he had embraced the wet days. His sister Jellybean would stare mournfully from the window, but he would have on his yellow rubber boots and rain slicker and out out he'd go; splashing, jumping, drinking the drops in his open mouth. He wouldn't stop until he was covered in dirt, until his rubber boots were filled with filthy rain water, and every step was a wet sounding squelch. Jughead still remembered a time when he'd rushed in from the rain with Archie and Betty. They had been eight years old, and just finished running around Archie's garden like maniacs, giggling and screaming as rain cascaded down.
They twirled, danced, fell over and jumped back up, even more hyperactive than before. Betty and Archie had embraced his love of the rain, and joined in his games, and for that he was thankful. The three of them had sneaked in from a storm, him leading, holding hands with Archie, while Betty brought up the rear. Their goal was to reach his bedroom and peel off their soaking wet coats and boots, and get as dry as possible in the twenty minutes it would take for Archie's dad and Betty's mom to come and pick them up. Jughead had already known he was in trouble. Archie had promised his father that he'd stay inside and play video games, and it had taken Betty nearly five minutes of pleading to let her her mother allow her to play at Jughead's. The two of them looked like drowned rats. Archie's red hair had been soaking, his fringe hanging in wide brown eyes, while Betty's golden curls stuck to her pink cheeks. Though neither of them were wetter than Jughead, who was dripping. His black hair was a sopping mess of soaking curls in his face.
They had only made it halfway through the kitchen, trying to suppress their giggles, before a loud cough. The three of them had spun around, to find their parents standing there looking horrified; Fred Andrews and Alice Cooper looked like they were about to faint. His mother had stood with them, her lips curled into an amused smirk.
"Jughead," she folded her arms. "What did I say about the rain?"
He'd been speechless. His genius plan to help Betty and Archie get dry had been foiled, and Betty's mom looked like she was about to cry. "I'm sorry mommy," Jughead managed to get out. It was all he could say. Archie's father had sighed, before chuckling, and Archie, pressed to Jughead's side, their hands entangled, had perked up, his expression brightening. "Kids, right?" the man laughed, nudging Betty's mother who was paralysed. Jughead had been sure the woman hated him. She reminded him of a villain in his comic books; icy blue eyes and a hard expression, her arms folded. Though he was pretty sure Alice Cooper was a million times worse than any scary monsters Spiderman had faced. After snapping out of it, Alice had rushed forwards and grabbed her daughter.
"Elizabeth!" the woman cooed. "How on earth did you get so wet?" Gladys had thrown her a towel, and she'd wrapped it around the shivering blonde. "Gladys, I don't want Elizabeth playing with Jughead anymore," she'd hissed out, attempting to dry Betty's curls.
Betty hadn't said anything. Neither had Archie. Jughead had kept his mouth shut too, because all it took was a sly look exchanged between the three of them, quickly becoming wide grins when their parents weren't looking, which sealed the deal. There was no way that was happening. Alice Cooper would never stop them from seeing each other, because Archie and Jughead were best friends, and the tiny blonde was Archie's neighbour. That night, Alice had dragged Betty away, and it felt like a goodbye. But despite her mother's efforts, he saw her the following weekend, then at school. The three of them grew up together, and Jughead's love of the rain never stopped or faltered.
When Jughead was fourteen, he'd snuck a bottle of his father's whisky and he and Archie had finished it off in the redhead's garden. They'd sprawled on already damp grass and stared at the stars, giggling drunkenly, talking about everything from middle school, to the new girl Veronica Lodge, who had pricked Archie's interest. When Betty had spotted them, she'd joined them. And to the three's shock, the heavens had poured down on them, and bore them no mercy. A lot of things happened that night. Archie had revealed his plan to get Veronica Lodge's attention, while Betty had blurted that she wanted to kiss him. Jughead had nearly fell back. he had spent most of his childhood convinced Betty was in love with Archie. But the girl wanted to kiss him. Him.
It was supposed to be a moment brought on purely by their foggy minds, influenced by far too much alcohol consumption. But one kiss in the rain had turned into a date at Pops, stealing kisses in their favorite booth while Archie threw fries at them, and before he knew it, he was tangled in her bed sheets. Betty Cooper was the best thing that had ever happened to him. And he thanked the rain for that. Even if it was crazy to believe in fate, believe that Betty had only confessed her feelings because the skies had opened.
Fast forward two years, the three of them were going into their junior year, and were closer than ever. Jughead was still happy with Betty, and Archie had begun dating Veronica Lodge. The Three Musketeers had become four, and Jughead had found himself with a stable group of close friends. Veronica Lodge wasn't the girl he thought she'd be. Sure, she was a rich girl, majorly spoiled. But she had a liking for some of his favorite films and books. The two of them could talk about his favorite actor River Phoenix for hours, while Archie and Betty let their competitiveness get the better of them on Mario Kart. It was comfortable. The four of them clicked as both a friend group, as well as two separated relationships. Jughead and Betty + Archie and Veronica.
So Jughead was happy. His life was as good as it could get.
When the wind picked up one night on his way back from school, Jughead felt a familiar pang of childish excitement, quickly overshadowed by annoyance. Now? When he was miles away from home? He bit back a groan. A storm was brewing, and it had been all day. The air had felt thick, stormy clouds hovering menacingly, but never unleashing hell.
Glancing up at the blackened cloud that dominated the sky above, he frowned. There hadn't been a storm in a while. It was the beginning of Fall, so rain was expected. He was on his way back from a Blue and Gold meeting, kicking his way through autumn leaves strewn across the walk. Unfortunately for him, his father's iPod - a treasure he preferred to use to listen to music, instead of his battered 5S- had died halfway through fifth period so the only soundtrack he had was the light rustle of dead leaves at his feet.
Jughead shivered a little when a few experimental drops of rain scathed his neck, sending shivers rattling down his spine. Shit. Maybe wearing a t-shirt wasn't a good idea. He pulled out his jacket from his pack and threw it on, his fingers working quickly to fasten the buttons. Jughead quickened his pace. Sure, he loved rain. But getting soaked wasn't at the top of his priorities right now. Getting home and working on his article for the Blue and Gold was and skyping with Archie until midnight was.
Unlike his younger self, he preferred to watch a storm through his bedroom window. His lazy walk became a jog when the sky, now fully black, unleashed a torrent of water, driven by a gust of wind that toyed with his hair and blew his jacket open. The wind started to howl, as if crying, warning him. The first crack of lightning rent the air and within seconds the rolling boom of the thunder reverberated overhead. Soon the rain fell, slow to start, splattering the sidewalks haphazardly.
Above him, straying leaves that had managed to cling onto partially skeletal branches were stripped away, another gust nearly blowing him off his feet. When the sky flashed, Jughead's chest clenched. Okay, this was the kind of storm he couldn't dance in, like when he was eight. He pulled his hood up, catapulting into a run. The world seemed to blur by in a whirlwind of battering wind and rain lashing his cheeks. When he reached a bus shelter, he hurriedly yanked his phone out of his pocket, blinking rain from his lashes. His notifications were lit up with missed calls from Archie.
"Shit, shit, shit," he hissed, nearly jumping out his skin when the sky rumbled. Lifting the phone to his ear, he glimpsed a flash of light across the horizon. Jughead watched it, mesmerized by a second blinding strike across the sky; fork lightning getting progressively closer. He'd never seen it so close. Another powerful gust of wind knocked into him, but it was teasing him, never truly knocking him from his feet.
With trembling hands, he called Archie, his fingers sliding on the screen. Another crash of thunder, followed by electric blue light illuminating his face sent his heart careening. Thankfully, the boy picked up on the first ring.
"Jug?" Archie's voice was a piercing static screech in his ear. The boy, as usual, sounded worried. "Dude, where are you? Have you seen the storm?"
"Yeah," he managed to get out, surprising himself with a loud laugh. It quickly died out when a tree ahead of him exploded, lightning bouncing off it. "I'm out in it, Arch."
"What? Are you insane?" Jughead rolled his eyes at the boy's theatrics. "Chill out I'm fine-" the words choked in the back of his throat when the storm seemed to finally close in on him, lightning zig-zagging right above him. Jughead staggered away from the bus shelter. He wasn't exactly a meteorologist, but he did have lingering knowledge from facts he'd picked up when he was a kid. According to a documentary Betty had been fascinated with when they were kids, lightning never struck in the same place twice.
"Where are you?" Archie sounded out of breath. Jughead could almost imagine the boy pulling on his coat and shoes, stumbling around, searching for his dad's car keys.
He swallowed, skidding to a stop. The rain came down hard, slamming into him, while icy wind lashed his cheeks. "Uhhh-" Jughead rubbed his eyes, letting out a shaky breath. Through fraying lashes he spotted Riverdale's Elementary school on the other side of the road. The bright yellow fencing was unmistakable. He and Archie used to sit on it and pretend to fall off, scaring the life out of the poor teachers. "I'm right next to the elementary school," he gasped out. "Remember in second grade when we played that game?"
"Which game?" another hiss of static sounded out. Jughead could vaguely hear another voice, a low murmur. Fred Andrews. "Yeah, I'll be careful dad," the boy was talking to his father. "Jug, stay where you are, okay? I'm getting in dad's car now-" the boy drew in a breath, which crackled in Jughead's ear. "Jesus fuck, it looks apocalyptic."
"Maybe the world is finally ending?" he chuckled. Archie groaned.
"Don't say that-" the rest of the redhead's words were whipped away by the wind. Archie's voice picked up after a moment. He sounded like he'd ran a marathon. "I think it's a tornado, Jug. Like I said, stay there alright? Try and find shelter. Ronnie's just texted me. She's with Betty. Once I pick you up, we're going to Ronnie's."
"The Pembrooke?" Jughead swallowed a groan. "Dude, her dad hates you."
"Thanks, asshole," Archie laughed. "He doesn't hate me. I'm warming to him. Hiram's not exactly sunshine and rainbows about you either. Anyway, don't move. I'm on my way."
"Aye aye, captain," Jughead tried to joke. Archie was freaking out as usual, and it was only a storm. But it felt like the lightning was circling him. On Archie's end there was the sound of a car door slamming, and the familiar burst of an engine rumbling to life. "Hey Arch?" his gaze strayed on the sky, waiting for another earth shattering crash. He couldn't stand still, pacing the pavement, stealing glances at the thunderous storm cloud hovering above. "Call me crazy, but I think the lightning is out to get me."
"Hold on, say that again. I'm trying to get the radio working." the blast of static from Archie's father's ancient stereo made him wince. When a station eventually came through, Archie cranked up the volume. It was a pop song he vaguely remembered from a few years ago. Archie hummed along to the tune. "Alright, I'm listening."
"I said, I think the lightning is out to get me," he repeated. There hadn't been a flash in a while, which could only be bad. Jughead held his breath, narrowing his eyes at the sky. "It feels like it's preying on me, dude. Like it's a living thing waiting to strike."
Archie chuckled. "You watch too many movies, man. The lightning isn't out to get you, Jug. You're paranoid." the second Archie said that, the tree that which had previously been hit, was struck again. Jughead stumbled backwards, nearly dropping his phone. But the storm had no mercy. The tree exploded once more, splitting apart and crashing onto the road. Jughead felt himself freeze in place. Another crack of thunder sent his heart into his throat. "Archie, listen to me," he managed to hiss out. "Lightning never strikes in the same place twice," gasping, he stumbled over his words. This was the first time in his life he was truly terrified. "I just watched it hit a tree three goddamn times!"
For a moment, he thought the boy had put the phone down on him, or worse; the phone lines had been obliterated, but after a few painstaking seconds, Archie's voice came through in a rush of garbled static. "Sorry, I lost you for a sec, what did you say?"
No longer patient, Jughead let out a hiss of frustration. "Archie, the lightning is trying to fucking kill me!"
"Wait, it's lightning again?" Archie's words sent his stomach galloping. "Jug, I get what you mean about the tornado, but I haven't seen any more lightning. There was a flash before I left the house, but that's it. Are you sure someone's not setting fireworks off?" his friend's words didn't make any sense. Riverdale was a small town, and Archie was, what? a five minute drive away. It was almost impossible for Archie to not witness the lightning storm raining from the sky, as if he'd personally attacked Zeus.
Even cowering from seemingly sentient lightning, Jughead rolled his eyes. Archie was his best friend, and always would be. But damn, the boy said some stupid shit. Who in their right mind would be setting off fireworks in the middle of a storm?
"What? Archie, I know the difference between lightning and some idiot setting off fireworks!" another strike hit the sidewalk a few feet away, and Jughead turned to run. Definitely not a god damn firework. He was quickly blocked by a second hiss of electric blue light slamming into the walk and could only stare, baffled, as writhing blue light forked across the sky, hitting every single tree ahead, as if teasing him. Unbelievably, the lightning was playing with him, waiting for the perfect time to hit.
This wasn't happening. staggering back, he blinked rapidly, waiting for the ground to disappear from underneath his feet. But it was real. He was wide awake, and this was really happening; tendrils of seething light following his every move.
"Archie!" Jughead managed to cry out. "Y- you need to get here now, this is...this is s- something else," he took slow steps in the opposite direction, backtracking. But the lightning seemed to stalk him, strike after strike, sizzling in the air. When there was no reply, Jughead slid his phone back into his pocket, managing two staggered steps forward. He waited for the flash, but for a relieving moment, there was nothing. Feeling more confident, he took another step. Then another. I'm going to die. He thought, slightly hysterically. Oh god, I'm going to die at sixteen years old.
How will people remember him? "Oh yeah, Jughead Jones? He was struck by lightning."
The urge to spin around and make a run for it was overwhelming, but the lightning was dormant. Testing his steps. Watching every move he made, as Jughead managed a clumsy run, forcing his aching legs to go faster. Though something made him stop, staggering to a halt, nearly falling on his face. He was soaking, his knitted beanie limp over his curls. At first Jughead thought he was hallucinating. But after blinking, peeling strands of his hair hanging over his eyes, he saw her. Across the road, there was a girl standing on the very edge, staring at him, hiding behind a whirlwind of silver hair. Conscious of the lightning storm, Jughead waved his arms wildly to get the girl's attention.
"Hey!" he yelled. But the girl didn't move. She looked like an apparition, a phantom, bleeding from the storm; she wore a red sweater and jeans, her expression still masked by her hair. He tried again, louder this time; "Hey! What are you doing?"
Jughead was halfway across the road before he could hesitate. He was stumbling, reaching out to the stranger. But she stayed frozen, a ghost teetering on the fringe of the road.
Another flash drew a cry from his lips, followed by a turbulent gust of wind knocking into him, sending Jughead to his knees. In front of him, the girl's face was suddenly illuminated in harsh purple light. She looked around his age, maybe younger; chalky pale cheeks, wide green eyes and lips curled into a mute scream. She was looking right at him.
The girl's scream carried on the wind, but it was too late for him to run. Too late for her to try and save him. She stood, petrified into place. Jughead could sense the lightning behind him, striking the walk, closer and closer. He managed to get up, force his limbs into submission. But he was too slow, dragging himself down the sidewalk while the lightning laughed at him. He pulled his phone out, and with numb fingers, dialled his dad's number. Which was ridiculous. His father would never believe that he was being chased by lightning. But he had to try. With shaky breaths, Jughead pressed the phone to his ear, praying his dad was home, praying he'd pick up the damn phone.
"The number you've called is not available right now, please leave a message after the-"
Jughead felt his phone slip from his fingers, just as something hit him; starting off as a tiny prick, like a needle. But it grew greater, blossoming into a searing agony flooding his body, volts shocking his heart. But he couldn't scream. His lips felt out of reach, and there was only white hot pain igniting him from the inside. Colors flashed in front of his vision, bright zig-zags and pulsing prisms glowing brighter and brighter.
He was half aware of his own body slumping forwards, still clinging onto consciousness. He could smell the stink of his own flesh sizzling in the air. His thoughts spiralled drunkenly. Lightning. Was the only coherent thing he could think of, because there was so much pain, rattling his body. It was the kind of pain he'd have nightmares about, the kind where death seemed better. Less sufferable.
Suddenly his father felt a whole world away. Archie and Betty, even Veronica, were out of reach and he was being dragged into the darkness whether he liked it or not, while his body got closer and closer to the walk, before landing with a meaty smack.
And then, there was just darkness.
The first thing that crossed Jughead's mind when he woke up, was that he was no longer outside, staring up at a tumultuous sky. It took him a moment to come to, wincing at a dull throbbing in the back of his head. That was to be expected. He'd been hit by damn lightning. Confusion fogged his mind when he managed to open his eyes, finding himself blinking at an unfamiliar ceiling. He sat up quickly, drinking in his surroundings.
He was in a small, bright room. There was what looked like a dressing table covered in bags of hair product and makeup, various colourful wigs decorating a shelf and a clothes rack packed with hundreds of outfits. Jughead swore he glimpsed his own black and red pattered jacket, and his S shirt. After a moment of staring around the room, baffled at what he was seeing. It looked like someone's dressing room. There was a coffee cup, phone and jacket slung on the table, white headphone wires dangling off the edge. Jughead stood up, swaying slightly. Looking down at himself, he was no longer soaking wet. The clothes that had previously been glued to his skin, were bone dry. When he gingerly ran his fingers through his hair, his beanie was still nestled over his curls. Swallowing hard, Jughead started towards the door. but tripped over something. When he looked down to see what it was, his stomach flew into his throat. There was somebody laying curled up at his feet.
It was a guy. Peering closer, Jughead noticed the boy had the same ratty dark curls as him. He wore a white dress shirt and skinny black jeans. Jughead knelt next to the boy, gently pushing him to the side. But the second he touched the boy's icy cold skin, the world seemed to concave. His head spun, chest aching. When the boy lifelessly rolled onto his side, Jughead had to cover his mouth to suppress the cry choked at the back of his throat. He was staring at- himself. It was like looking in a mirror. The nameless boy's eyes were closed. He had the same long narrow nose that Jughead despised. It took a few seconds for him to realise the boy was dead. When Jughead tried to find a pulse or a heartbeat, there was nothing. An out of body experience. He thought, automatically. He was staring down at himself. But where was he? What the hell was he wearing?
Jughead jumped at the sound of footsteps, stumbling away from the body of- himself. But he caught a glimpse of something laying next to the body. Before he could stop himself, he was hurrying forwards on his hands and knees. It was a needle. When he picked it up, it was still full of clear white liquid splashing against plastic.
"I heard screaming!" a sudden voice rang out. It sounded like Betty. Jughead dropped the needle, scurrying to pick it back up, but before he could, it disappeared out of existence. He grabbed for it, but pawed thin air. When his gaze went to the body, it too had gone. Like it had never been there. Jughead rubbed his eyes, holding his breath. Okay, so he was losing it. He started towards the door once again, eager to get out, but it flew open before he could, sending him stumbling back into the dressing table.
"There you are," Betty was standing in the doorway. But there was something different about her. Instead of her ponytail, her blonde hair fell in blonde waves, tickling her shoulders. She was wearing a fluffy white robe. The girl's blue eyes were bright, her smile settling the knot in his stomach. "Oh, did you already get changed?" her expression darkened slightly. "Are you okay?" she murmured. "You look really pale."
Jughead swallowed, nodding. But his brain felt like it was on fire. He most definitely wasn't okay. His head was still throbbing, the body on the floor- his double, still made no sense, and he had no idea where he was. "Betty, what's going on?" he managed to get out. His voice was a soft whimper. The girl cocked her head. "Betty?" her lips curved into a smile, and his chest tightened. "What, are we going by our characters names now?"
Jughead stared back at the blonde, waiting for the girl to start laughing, revealing this all to be some kind of prank. But the longer Betty frowned at him, Jughead started to realise this wasn't a joke. "Characters?" he repeated, swallowing. "What are you talking about?"
The girl sighed. "Look, I'm tired, okay? It's not even seven O'clock in the morning, and I'm running on barely any coffee," she raised her eyebrows at him. "If you're playing some kind of prank with the others, I really can't be bothered this morning."
"It's daylight?" he managed to splutter. It was 6PM the last time he'd checked. Betty's eyes narrowed. "Cole, are you okay?" she laughed nervously. "Dude, you're scaring me."
Cole? The name wasn't familiar. He started to question who that was, but the door opened again, a stranger sticking their face through; a man in his early twenties with a backwards baseball cap and a mess of blonde hair. "You guys need to be on set in five," he said quickly, before hurrying away. Betty nodded with tired smile.
"Gotcha. Thanks Dean." she held the door open with one hand. "You coming, or are you going to mope in your trailer all day?"
"My trailer?" Jughead parroted. That was all he was able to do, repeat everything the girl was saying, in a disbelieving tone, his eyes wide and confused.
Betty's smile disappeared. "Have you been knocked on the head?" she held out her hand for him to take. "Look, maybe a bit of fresh air might do you good. What was all that yelling earlier? Did someone come into your trailer?
Jughead didn't reply. But he did take her hand, squeezing it for dear life. "I think I'm going crazy, Betty," he said softly. "There's something wrong. You might think I've lost it, but there was- there was another me, and this needle, and now I don't know where I am-"
Betty laughed, rolling her eyes. "Okay, save the acting for the scene, dude." she was dragging him out of the trailer before he could reply. Jughead found himself walking onto what felt like a film set. There were white trailers parked everywhere, camera equipment being carried around by strangers on a gravel pathway. The sky was blue, a cool breeze lightly playing with his hair. Betty didn't let go of his hand, and he stared around in awe. This was definitely some kind of prank. Surely. His birthday was soon, so maybe Betty had somehow managed to get him on the set of his favorite film?
The girl swung their arms playfully as they walked. They were heading towards a crowd of people hanging around a table full of food and drink. Jughead could see every type of muffin, toast, fruit- plastic cups of coffee. The aroma drifted in the air, and his stomach rumbled. Betty saw his face and laughed. "I knew craft services would cheer you up. So I've been reading through our schedule. We've got a shoot from 7 till 12, and then lunch. So I was hoping we could go get a coffee? We can go to that cafe downtown. They're still doing pumpkin spiced late’s, even when it's way past October-" Jughead tuned out a little, drinking in the set. It was beautiful. As if Betty had seriously got him onto a professional film set! The body double must have been some kind of crazy mind trick.
When she turned to him with a playful smile, he managed a nod.
"Sure." he said, playing along. he couldn't help let out an incredulous laugh. "I don't know how you managed it Betty, this is insane."
"Managed what?" Betty turned to him with confused eyes, an amused smile on her lips. "Can we stop with the character names? It's a getting a little old." she nudged him playfully, and Jughead felt his gut twist. But he didn't have time to question her. The girl was pulling him towards the table, grabbing a plate, handing him one. Jughead wasn't sure what to do. He'd never seen this amount of food in his whole life. Betty started to pile hers with muffins and cookies, so he copied. The girl giggled. "Don't you usually get salad?" when he turned around, she was smirking at his plate piled high with treats.
"Salad? Betty, you know I don't eat salad," he took a bite of a muffin to prove himself, reveling in the chocolate filling that melted in his mouth.
The girl just frowned at him. "Cole, seriously, are you okay?" she murmured, pulling him gently away from the table. "You're acting really weird."
Jughead blinked at her. "Who's Cole?" he finally said, eyeing her. "Why do you keep calling me that?"
Betty's eyes grew wide. "Because that's your name," she said softly. "Cole, do you want me to take you to the medical tent? You like you're going to throw up."
She was right. He felt like he was going to gag. "Betty, if this is a prank, or a surprise, please tell me," he hissed desperately. "because I think I'm going mad."
The blonde's eyes grew turbulent. "Cole, my name is Lili. Not Betty," she said, her tone hardening. "Betty Cooper is my character. She took his hands and squeezed them tightly. “You need to tell me if you've hit your head, because it could be serious."
Jughead could only splutter. "What?" he pulled away from her. "I haven't hit my head, I was struck by lightning, and-"
"What's going on?" a familiar voice rang out, and Jughead found himself looking at Veronica. Though the girl wasn't in her usual black dress and tights. Even her pearls were missing. Instead, she wore a denim jacket and jeans. Her dark hair was pulled into a loose ponytail. She was nibbling on a muffin. "You guys look pretty freaked out," she commented, through a mouthful of food. Jughead stared at the girl. Veronica never spoke with her mouth open, especially when she was eating. She eyed Jughead with a confused smile, popping the last few morsels of cake into her mouth. "Is he okay?"
If Betty was worried about him, she didn't show it in front of Veronica. She shrugged with a smile. "I think he's just tired," she said. But the girl was staring at the ground. Veronica nodded. "Alrighty, well I'm gonna go to makeup. I'll see you guys later?"
The girl was running off, eagerly greeting a group of people carrying a long white table. Betty's fake smile disappeared, and she turned back to Jughead, her eyebrows creasing together with worry. "Are you well enough to film?"
Film what? Jughead opened his mouth to question her, yet again, when the same guy from earlier- Dean. "Lili, Cole, we need you on set right now."
Nausea curled in Jughead's gut, an acute slash of pain rocking his skull. It was clear now that Betty wasn't joking around. Her name was Lili, and he was apparently "Cole".
Was it possible that he'd been hit by lightning and transported to an alternate world? Betty, or he guessed "Lili" smiled at Dean, before taking his hand once again. "It's just a rehearsal. They want to go through the script before we go to hair and makeup. Listen, if you start to feel ill, just talk to Andy, okay?" the girl spoke quickly as Lili hurried through a maze of trailers, before pulling Jughead through an empty parking lot.
Jughead skidded to a stop, bile burning at the back of his throat. He was staring at Pops. But it was if Pops- was part of a movie, or a television show. There were cameras set up everywhere, cranes and filling lights hovering over the diner. "What is it, what's wrong?" Lili asked, her voice shaking. "Cole, are you okay?" the girl's voice sounded like an echo in his ears. Jughead blinked, then he blinked again. But this was as real as the freak lightning storm. Before he could help himself, he was stumbling towards the diner, the girl taking off after him. "Cole, hey, what are you doing?"
Stepping inside felt all wrong. Pops looked like a skeleton. There were people dotted around, crowding behind cameras, setting up neon lights that shined into the windows, projecting purple and red. It was light that had always felt natural to him. There were kids sitting in fours with bits of paper in front of them. Even the food looked fake. Jughead spied his usual table, a rush of relief flooding his veins when he caught a familiar mop of red hair, streaks of blue and gold that could only be the bulldog Letterman jacket. Jughead shook his head. He'd never been so happy to see the damn thing.
"Archie!" his head continued to pound, bile searing his throat as he headed towards the redhead, legs shaking. He slumped down in front of the boy, who didn't look up. The boy's head was buried in his arms.
In front of him were two white plastic cups, still filled to the brim with coffee. It looked like Archie was sleeping. There was what looked like a script, crumpled on the table, covered in coffee stains. Jughead peered at it, squinting. RIVERDALE. The word was printed at the top of the page, followed by:
Jughead was staring hard at the "character list" who happened to be most of his friends and family. He saw his own name, followed by whatever the hell Betty had called him. His gaze lingered on the cast list, before trailing over the bolded dialogue. Though he only glimpsed the first line, before a groan startled him. Archie sat up with bleary eyes, strands of his red hair sticking up everywhere. The boy regarded him with a confused frown for a moment, before his brown eyes widened. "Cole?" his best friend peered at him with a smile. But it felt like he was looking at a completely different person. Instead of Archie's usual worried tone, eyes crinkled around the edges, the boy looked playful. There was something wrong with his voice. Replacing his usual all American drawl, there was an Aussie, or even Kiwi twang.
"What are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be filming a scene, like right now?"
Archie's voice was too much. Jughead felt his cheeks redden, his throat closed up and tears welled in his eyes. "Archie," managing to spit the boy's name out, even when he already knew this boy wasn't his best friend, Jughead swallowed hard. "Please tell me this is a joke." Archie raised his eyebrows and laughed. "Alright, one; It's KJ," he chuckled. "And two, fill me in. What happened while I was napping?”
Jughead held his breath. "Look, you need to listen to me, alright?"
The boy nodded, still looking confused. "I'll try. What's the problem?" Archie frowned at him. "You look kinda sick, bro."
Jughead managed a laugh. "Trust me, it's worse than that," he stabbed the call sheet with his index finger. "What's this?"
"You mean the call sheet?" Archie cleared his throat. He held it up, waving it a little. "Uh, Cole, if this is some kind of weird quiz, I had barely any sleep last night and I've got to memorize a whole bunch of crazy nonsense-"
"No, I mean, what is this?" Jughead pointed at the lines of dialogue, then the name of his town printed at the top. His heart was in his throat.
The redhead squinted. "You mean Riverdale?" The boy's accent was hurting his head. A woman with greying hair turned up, placing a tray of milkshakes on the table. Jughead let out a breath. Finally, something remotely normal. He grabbed the chocolate one and took a sip. But the usual fruity cream he was used to tasted like sour yoghurt. He spat it back out, pulling a face.
"Dude, are you feeling okay?" Archie was grinning at him, talking with that ridiculous accent, while the woman let out a heavy sigh.
"How many times do I have to say it? It's clotted cream and day old yogurt, boys. You don't drink them."
Jughead felt dizzy. "I knew that," he said weakly, swiping his lips and swallowing hard. The "milkshake" had only made him feel sicker. When the woman wandered off, Archie smiled apologetically at her, before turning to him, leaning on his fist with a quizzical smile.
"Alright, what's going on?"
Jughead opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out.
The boy chuckled. "You come in here looking like you've just been given a week to live, call me Archie, start drinking the prop drinks, and, jesus, you look out of it," before he could pull away, the redhead was feeling his forehead. "Huh. You're not warm. Are you alright?"
"KJ, we're starting in a few," a man who was setting up a camera nearby yelled over, and Archie straightened up, cursing under his breath. The door opened, and in walked Veronica, finally looking like Veronica Lodge. She'd changed into a white blouse, pencil skirt and high heels. The string of pearls were back. She strode over, holding her own copy of what Jughead guessed was the script. "Cole, aren't you meant to on stage C?" she frowned at him, cocking her head. "Then again, maybe you should go to the medical tent, you look really ill." he must have looked disgusted, because the girl shrugged, smiling reassuringly. "It's probably just a bug. Mads had stomach flu last week."
Archie nodded. "She's right, dude. You should go and get checked over."
"I'm fine," Jughead managed to get out, when he wasn't fine. He felt like he was going to faint. Everything since he'd woken up had made no sense. His name, the names of his friends, who were now weird alternate versions. What about the body of the boy with his face? At the thought, his stomach revolted. When he jumped up, the world seemed to spin around jarringly, as if he was riding a carousel. "I just need to get some air."
"We'll come with you," Archie got up, grabbing his arm. The strangers with Veronica and Archie's faces led him out of Pops. He felt momentary relief when they stepped into the cool air. Instantly, he recognised the familiar blonde ponytail pacing the sidewalk. Betty, or the girl playing his girlfriend, had changed into a pastel blue sweater and jeans. Her blue eyes were wide with worry. She hurried over. "The crew are postponing the shoot for an hour," she said quickly. "Cole, what happened? You can tell us."
He pulled a face. "Trust me, you wouldn't believe me," he gasped out. "I need to get one thing straight," Jughead frowned at the faces crowded around him, swimming around his vision. The pain in his head was getting worse. "You guys aren't Betty, Archie and Veronica."
They stared at him as if he'd just grown a second head. "No..." Veronica laughed, but he could tell the girl was trying to mask her confusion.
"That's what he was saying earlier," Betty murmured. "He kept calling me Betty."
"And back on set, he called me Archie." the redheaded boy ran a hand through his curls, pulling a face. "So, what, he's so sick he thinks we're our characters?"
"I'll handle this," Veronica said. She grabbed his shoulders gently. "Cole, you need to listen to me, okay? We're not Betty, Veronica and Archie," she pointed to herself. "I'm Camila. I play Veronica, and they are KJ and Lili. They PLAY Archie and Betty."
That was all he needed. The nail in the coffin. The final blow. Even when the truth had been written in front of him on the call sheet. Jughead pulled away from KJ and Camila. "You're all crazy," he whispered. But he was in denial. How could they be the crazy ones? How could any of this be possible? His life...Jughead stared around him, drinking in everything he thought he knew. The diner he'd come to every day since he was a kid, the friends he'd made, even his girlfriend- was fake. His life was a television show.
The three of them shared a look. "Should I call an ambulance?" KJ pulled out his phone, but Lili shook her head. Her cheeks were pale. "No, not yet. We'll take him to medical." the girl's words set something off in his chest. His heart pounded,
"Get away from me," Jughead managed to choke out. Lili looked taken aback. The girl looked like she might break into tears herself, but she shook her head. "No, Cole, sweetie, we're trying to help."
Jughead stumbled away from them, tears threatening to slide down his cheeks. His thoughts were an array, a tornado; Jughead Jones was a character. A piece of fiction. Someone had created him. He fell into a run, the world swaying with every step. A cacophony of shouts from the strangers playing his friends scathed his ears, but he didn't turn around.
He didn't look up as he ran, staggering over rough gravel. Though there was nowhere else to go. His home was fake. Probably not even a real trailer. Where the hell was he? How could he get back home? His thoughts trailed off when he bumped into something.
Or someone. Looking up, Jughead found himself staring up at the same girl from the lightning storm. The pain in his head dulled, and the world seemed to finally stop spinning. This time the girl's silver hair was held back by a black headband. She wore an identical red sweater and jeans. Instead of staring mutely at him like last time, she offered him a small smile.
He scowled back. "What did you do to me?" he demanded, half sobbing. "You were there when it was lightning. What the hell did you do?"
The girl didn't seem fazed by his tone of voice. "Jughead Jones," she said. He relaxed when she used his real name. "Look, I know you're scared, but I can help you. My name is Sabrina Spellman, and I'll try and explain everything."
The girl pulled out a crumpled twenty dollar note. "Do you want to get a coffee?"