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the state of my heart

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i.

He gets to bring it up when he’s sitting in the Blue & Gold one lunchtime, when Jug is recounting his case to him and swearing about the unhelpfulness of all his suspects.

“All of them,” he rants, while Archie is trying very hard not to let on that he’s endeared by seeing Jug with his hat all askew, “They’ve either got, got motive, or they’ve got alibis, or they’re each other’s alibis, and it’s — it’s fucking — ridiculous, and Sheriff Keller is useless —“

Archie takes a bite of his sandwich. He’s perched on the desk, legs propped up and trainers resting on the seat of the chair. “Maybe it’s an Orient Express thing”, he says, and Jug snaps his jaw shut with an audible click, stopping mid monologue to stare at him.

“You know,” says Archie, “Like, they all did it.”

Jug’s face does that thing it does when he can’t work out whether to smile or frown, a sort of incredulous look working it’s way into his eyebrows. Archie grins around another mouthful of sandwich.

“You’re an enigma,” says Jughead fondly, shaking his head. “Yeah, maybe they are all in on it.”

ii.

Archie doesn’t necessarily do it to impress Jughead, but he does think about how cool the scar will look on his way to hospital, cloth pressed hard to his temple, and how tough it’ll make him seem when they go back to school.

He’s twelve and it’s the summer and he’s just crashed his bike in the street outside Jug’s house. He’d gone smack bang into a telegraph pole because he wasn’t looking where he was going, too focused on trying to make the jump off the makeshift ramp he and Jug had made out of a brick and a plank of wood. He made the jump, which was cool, but the blinding, searing pain in his head was less so.

“How you feelin’, Archie-boy?” asks Jug’s dad from the front seat of the car, tilting the phone away from his ear. Archie thinks he’s probably not supposed to be on it while driving, but what’s he gonna do?

Archie gives him the thumbs up. In the seat across from him, Jughead chews on his bottom lip.

“Your dad’s gonna meet us there,” continues FP, “alright?”

Archie nods, let’s Jug tilt his jaw up with one of his hands, even though he’s pretty sure that’s for nosebleeds, not head wounds.

By the time they get to the hospital the cut on his head has stopped gushing so much, but he still needs stitches, apparently. Archie leaves Jughead in the waiting room, following his own Dad down the halls of the hospital to get his head sorted out.

When he comes back it’s with a grin, and Dad says to FP: “He’s fine, don’t worry about it. Kid think’s he’s indestructible.”

He ruffles Archie’s hair proudly and Archie grins up at him, then sits down next to Jughead.

“Check it,” he says, and Jughead leans a little closer. Archie knows what the cut looks like — all sort of red and angry and being held together by three stitches — but Jughead seems fascinated, now that Archie’s out of immediate danger.

Cool,” says Jughead, and Archie grins.

iii.

Archie’s just not a wordy person, okay? He thinks academics are stupid and that they ought to stop using thesauruses to write otherwise simple explanations. And since he’s not a wordy person, it’d be great if they could get through this homework without getting sidetracked by one of Veronica and Jughead’s arguments.

“The American education system,” starts Jughead furiously, pointing a fry threateningly at Veronica, “Is a three tiered system that encourages social stratification —“

Veronica plucks the fry from his hand and pops it in her mouth. Archie sinks lower into the booth. “Jughead,” she drawls, “We live in a meritocracy, darling, not Russia —“

Jughead splutters. Archie has literally no idea what any of the words mean. Betty snickers behind her milkshake.

“It’s the enforcement of prejudice,” says Jughead waspishly, and launches on another rant. Archie zones out, gazing at his textbook. A couple of words grab his attention.

“It’s like Southside High,” he says suddenly, and all three of his friends shut up to look at him. “Like, uh. You know, we make them out to be drug dealers and stuff so they don’t do well, but they only... become drug dealers because... we make it so they don’t... do well.”

Jughead bangs his fist on the table, then slumps back against the seat like he’s won, even though Archie’s not entirely sure what his own point even was. “Exactly! See, Archie gets it.”

Veronica sighs and throws her hands up. “Whatever,” she says, “We’ll agree to disagree.”

Jughead rolls his eyes something fierce, but he nudges Archie’s foot under the table and gives him a little smirk before they dive back into the textbooks, so at least Archie did something right.

iv.

“Shit,” says Archie, under his breath. He pokes at the charred pizza, cursing himself for getting distracted and losing track of time. Jughead’ll be here any second, there’s no way he can redeem this.

He sets the tray down on the kitchen island, and settles for staring morosely at it, as if maybe through sheer will power it’ll stop being a blackened, coal-tasting mess and turn into something edible. He hears the front door open, the distinct sounds of Jughead toeing off his boots and greeting Vegas, and feels his spirits sink further.

“Aw, honey,” drawls Jughead as he enters the kitchen, coming to stand beside Archie, surveying his cooking disaster in its full glory. He sets a DVD down on the counter. “You baked.”

It sounds vaguely familiar, like it’s a line Jughead’s quoting, but Archie still feels his ears turn red at the nickname.

“I tried,” he says, and Jughead’s lips turn upwards.

“Well,” he says, and cracks his knuckles, “I’m always up for new experiences.”

And then — and then he just — picks up a slice. And takes a bite. Chews it. Archie can’t believe he exists.

Jughead swallows, nodding to himself as if contemplating the pizza’s merits. Like a judge on a cooking show. “I tell you what, Archie,” he deadpans, “It’s not very good.”

Archie shoves him, but he’s laughing. “Shut up, jerk,” he says.

Jughead hesitates, like there’s something he almost says, right on the tip of his tongue. But then he jostles Archie’s shoulder and the moment’s gone, the pizza destined for the trash and a take-out menu being plucked from the fridge.

v.

He knows Jug likes the song, because they’re friends on Spotify and so he sees the week where it’s all Jughead listens to. It’s part of a longer stretch of time where whenever Archie logs on, nine out of ten times Jughead’s been playing the playlist entitled “A”. He names all his playlists after the alphabet; as of right now he’s up to Q. When Archie asked him why he didn’t just use numbers, Jughead had said:

“Because, Archie. The written word is my language, and the written word is fundamentally those 26 letters.”

Because that was just the way Jughead talked sometimes. He’d also said he liked the mystery of the thing, that nobody knew what a playlist was about except him.

(Archie has, as a matter of fact, noticed that his own name begins with A, and that all the songs on the playlist make him feel a weird, achy yearning right under his sternum. He tells himself it’s coincidence. But he still picks the song.)

It’s not for an assembly or anything, because Archie’d probably spontaneously combust if he had to sing this in front of a hall of people. He learns the chords and it’s pretty simple, and he makes sure to practice it when Jughead’s around, waiting for him to crack and ask about it, because Archie definitely can’t manage it.

Eventually Jughead caves, one of the days where he’s just hanging at the Andrews’ after school, earphones in and working on his novel while Archie strums his guitar in the living room. He comes down from Archie’s room for a snack, hesitates in the corner of Archie’s eye, and then comes and sits next to him on the couch.

“Whatcha working on, pal?” asks Jughead, and Archie’s throat his dry.

“Oh, it’s, uh.” He tries to play it cool, and fails. “I thought I’d try learning a couple of songs, you know. This is, uh, Sufjan Stevens?”

He looks down at the guitar. Steels himself. “I could play what I’ve got, if you want?”

Archie’s actually got the whole song nailed down, but he’s not sure he’ll be able to make it past the first four verses, not with Jughead  looking at him.

“Sure,” says Jughead, quiet, so Archie starts playing. As he predicted, he falters not even half of the way in, stumbling over the chords and stopping so abruptly that the world sounds silent in comparison. He pushes himself to huff out a laugh.

“Work in progress,” he says, chancing a look at Jughead, who isn’t looking at him.

“Yeah,” Jughead says, and clears his throat. He smiles. “It sounds good, pal.”

+ one.

Once Veronica points it out, he guesses maybe it is kind of obvious.

He’s enamoured with you, Jughead,” she says, setting aside her nail file. She reaches across the table and puts her hand on his, evidently putting aside their rivalry for something deemed more important. “He’s always trying to impress you.”

Well, Jughead doesn’t know about that. But Veronica does get him to start paying more attention to Archie, to start actually thinking about his behaviour rather than just writing it off as regular, just guys-being-dudes, stuff, and once he does... well, it’s something.

He’s on the phone with Archie at 4am, don’t ask him why, and Archie says:

“You should be sleeping, Juggie.”

“You’re one to talk,” replies Jughead, lying on his bed in the dark, having finally closed his laptop on his book’s latest chapter. “You’re awake, too.”

Archie laughs, hushed. “Yeah, but I wasn’t ten minutes ago.”

“Oh,” says Jughead. He’d just sort of assumed Archie had been pulling an all-nighter, or on a Netflix-binge. “Why’d you answer, then?”

Archie pauses. It’s quiet enough out that he can hear the breaths down the phone, and it makes his own hair stand on edge, like he’s waiting for something.

“Because it’s you,” says Archie finally, simply, and Jughead thinks: Oh.

Of course, then he has to go back to school. And sit next to Archie at lunch, partner up with him for science, walk with him to Pop’s and do everything else they usually do but with the undercurrent that this — this isn’t as one-sided as he thought it was. And it’s weird.

But Archie’s pretty intelligent, if not in the way schools prefer. Jughead’s pretty sure that if he stops hiding it (and he was doing a pretty shoddy job before, actually), that Archie’ll work it out and do the brave thing.

Archie doesn’t notice.

Like, at all.

Which is annoying.

Archie is the one, thinks Jughead as they walk back to the Andrews’ in silence, that squared up to Moose in second grade. Archie is the one who didn’t cry when he crashed his bike when they were twelve. Archie is the one, Jughead thinks, who first said: This is my best friend. Archie is the brave one. Maybe it’s Jughead’s turn.

They’re walking back from school when this epiphany hits Jughead, and he pulls to a sudden stop like the grounds anchored him there. His mouth’s dry, and he wishes Betty were here so he could borrow her chapstick. He clears his throat.

“Hey, Arch?” he says, and Archie turns round inquisitively, stopping a couple of feet ahead. The sun is dying in the background ‘cause they were late setting off home, and now it’s lying low over the suburban horizon, coating Riverdale in red and pink and gold. It’s actually a bit romantic, now Jughead thinks about it. He might have made a mistake, here.

“I’m gonna kiss you,” Jughead says. Archie gapes at him. Jughead swallows. “So, uh, fair warning if you want to tell me to back off.”

Archie makes a strangled noise. Jughead takes the three steps towards him and plants his hands on his shoulders, nodding to himself to keep it together. “Arch?”

When Archie finally manages an expression other than gobsmacked (which is either flattering or insulting depending on how Jughead looks at it), his voice is hoarse.

“You could at least buy me dinner first,” he says.

“Dude.” Jughead tilts his head to the side. “I’m making the first move. Dinner’s on you.”

Archie huffs. He lifts his hand and fiddles with Jughead’s collar. “Anything to get free food, huh?”

“That’s just a bonus.”

Archie gives him a teasing grin. “Alright," he says, bright as anything. "Get on with it, then.”

So Jughead does.