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Splintered Glass

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Author’s note: I can’t believe I am doing this again but here we go.

The first thing she remembered when she woke up in the hospital was the feeling of the dirt and soil caked into her nails from her time in the man-made hole. TBK had dug many holes and she found herself victim to one of them as well. The only difference with her and the other females was that she lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately. She had to have reconstructive surgery on her arm and the nurse, Barb, pumped her full of morphine to keep the pain at a minimum. She was dehydrated and lacked nourishments due to her two weeks in hell. TBK hadn’t given her any food during that time.

Her mind, against her will, flickered to some of the more delirious hallucinations she had had while being under the drugs’ influence. TBK, whoever he was, had kept her drugged for the hell of it. Had kept playing cat and mouse games with her. She had gone into his lair to bring Theresa home and had ended up getting abducted herself – the worst part was that Theresa was dead by the time of Betty’s arrival to his lair. She still remembers the flashlights as her FBI team found her two weeks later – how Glenn was the first face she saw and she wished it was someone else’s.

But, no. She couldn’t go there. She refused to go there. After all, when Barb had asked if there was anyone she’d like to call – she said no. There was no one. And she meant it. Her time in the hospital was filled with feeding tubes and physical therapy for her arm. She had her work cut out for her but the doctors told her if she kept fighting, she’d make it past this. She hoped that was true. Hope was a strange thing for her – coming and going in waves. One minute it was there, the next it was disappearing in a cloud of smoke, leaving her to fend for herself.

No matter. She knew how to do that exponentially well.

She sighed as she laid back more comfortably in her pillow, wondering when she’d be able to get out of the hospital. It didn’t seem like anytime soon. The doctors were still wanting to put some weight back on her. She didn’t mind that she was skin and bones now, though. It showed what she endured – what she went through.

XXX

Two weeks later and she was checked out of the hospital. She knew she needed to get back to work but Glenn and the special agent therapist hadn’t cleared her to work yet. So she sat at home when she wasn’t in the office and when she was in the office, she sat down behind a desk to do the most minimal things she could think of. Glenn didn’t want her out in the field yet – said her mental health wasn’t good. She didn’t bother arguing with her boss. But she did stop letting him come over. The sex wasn’t worth it.

Not worth it in the slightest.

She kept herself preoccupied by studying case files and had a murder board pinned up in her apartment, trying to pinpoint where TBK could be and who his next victim would be. She wasn’t sure but she knew she wasn’t supposed to have survived and she did. She could very well be taken again. It’s why she kept her doors locked at all times and kept her gun on her more often than not. Even when she went into grocery stores.

It was a mess.

XXX

One day, about three weeks after her return, she got a call she wasn’t expecting in the slightest. Archie Andrews, childhood friend turned guy she cheated on her boyfriend with. She kept those memories tucked away securely, not one for wanting to pull them out and revisit them. She answered the call. “Archie?”

Listening to what her friend had to say, she realized she was being invited back to Riverdale – she didn’t want to go and was about to tell him as such but then he mentioned everyone else would be there and she knew what he wasn’t saying – Jughead was going to be there. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to go or if she really wanted to go now. She nodded her head once, said she’d be there, and then got off the phone. Turning in her vacation time to Glenn, she packed her bags, slowly because her arm still hurt, and left behind one of the most traumatic places for herself, only to be entering one even more traumatic than the one she was leaving behind.

Once in Riverdale, Betty stopped by her childhood home, staring up at the house. She hadn’t bothered to tell her mom about her abduction, having worked hard to keep it under wraps, and she wasn’t sure what version of Alice Cooper would greet her on the other side of the door. Just then, a voice called out.

“Won’t attack you,” Betty turned to spot Jughead Jones staring at her and inhaled sharply. She still heard his drunk tone reverberating through her phone speaker as she listened to the worst message he could have possibly left her. She didn’t even know if he was too drunk to remember it. She nodded her head, turning back to look up at the house. “You don’t believe in phones anymore?”

“Would you have answered, Jughead?” Betty snapped, irritation lacing through her tone because that’s what she did when she couldn’t bear to make amends, not yet – she got defensive. If he was taken aback by her tone and words, he didn’t show it. Just turned to face the house too.

“There was some radio silence there, Betty,” he said quietly and she nodded once.

“Seven years, but who’s counting?” Betty replied, tone still sharp. She shook her head to clear it of the thoughts and then looked up at her house. “I’m going to get in there, see my mom. I guess I’ll see you at whatever it is Archie wants to talk to us about. Bye, Jughead.”

With that, she walked up the steps to her childhood home, leaving behind the man who once held her heart.

Author’s note: Glenn is not going to be TBK in this. Would love thoughts! Xx

Chapter Text

Betty sat in the booth next to Jughead, across from Archie, Veronica, and Toni, the third glaring at Jughead and she understood why. He had painted the Serpents in a negative light – making them out to be people they were not. She couldn’t begin to fathom why he turned on his friends that way. The voicemail he left her, sure, she understood. But to turn on his friends? That was uncalled for. She sighed softly as she half-listened to Archie’s plan to take back their town. She couldn’t care either way but she did need a job right now so why not teach a bunch of misfits?

Sounded extremely appealing.

She snorted, ignoring Jughead when he looked at her curiously as Archie wrapped up speaking. Glancing out the window at Pop’s, Betty realized the sun had set and she swallowed nervously. She hated going out in the dark since being abducted. Hated the fact that TBK put the fear of the dark in her in the first place. It reminded her of being held captive in that hole – no sunlight or any form of light to see out of. Her mind took her back down the path of her time in abduction; how she had rubbed her wrists raw, trying to break free of the rope he tied her up with. She hadn’t been able to and then when he shoved her down in the hole…she could still hear the snapping of bones; still felt the fire-like pain coursing through her, leaving her to cry out in slurred agony.

Oh yeah, he had her drugged at that point too.

She blinked when she felt movement in the booth and looked up in time to spot everyone getting up. She was quick to join them, wanting to be back home as quickly as possible because she walked here – she had left her car at home. Sliding into her jacket, she hurried out of the diner, footsteps quickening before a call of, “Betty!” stopped her in her tracks and she glanced over her shoulder at Jughead, seeing him watching her carefully. “Can I walk home with you?”

He didn’t say ‘can I walk you home’ which was perhaps the reason she said yes in the first place. He wasn’t acting like they were together – they weren’t. He had made sure of that. She nodded her head, jamming her hands into her pockets and staring in front of her as she waited for him to catch up and then they made their way along the quiet streets of the town.

Jughead spoke up eventually. “I’m surprised I didn’t see you at my book signing.”

She raised her eyebrows at him in surprise, before smiling gently as she realized he didn’t remember the message at all. “Thought you didn’t want me there.” This was accompanied by a shrug and he stopped walking, causing her to as well, as his brow furrowed.

“I’m sorry if I – I don’t know – gave you that impression,” he said, tone regretful.

There was so much the both of them needed to fix and she was too stubborn to be the first one to try and make amends. TBK had really done her dirty and she had been terrified of letting people back in. “It’s good to see you Jughead, good night.” She replied in lieu of answering his statement that was seeking an answer and she turned on her heel and walked up the few steps to her childhood home, heading inside of it for another round of nightmares.

XXX

She awoke the next morning with a pounding headache as she dragged herself out of bed. It was the weekend before she had to start teaching and she was regretting telling Archie she’d help him. They didn’t owe each other anything, either. Just because they kissed – they didn’t even fuck – did not mean she needed to help him with fixing the town and whatever else he aimed to achieve. Sighing softly, she stepped into her shower and began getting ready for the day.

XXX

Making her way downstairs and into her kitchen where Polly and her mom both sat, Betty poured herself a cup of coffee and bypassed the fruit and toast Alice Cooper left out altogether. Her mother’s hawk-like eyes didn’t miss a bit. “Not hungry, Elizabeth?”

Betty shook her head, ignoring the curious lilt to her mother’s tone as she sat down at the table. She knew she had lost weight; knew her bones were a bit more prominent than they had ever been. The problem was, she couldn’t bring herself to give a damn about that. Not when her mind was already twisted up in knots. “No.” It was said simply but with enough infliction behind it that her mother conceded the point and dropped the topic altogether. Thank God. “I’m about to head out after this cup of coffee. I’m going to go on a run and then I’ll be back to shower once more and then going to help Archie with something.”

“How’s Jughead?” Polly asked and she resisted the temptation to roll her eyes. She didn’t know. Her and Jughead hadn’t talked in seven years.

“Perhaps you should ask him, he’s living next-door,” she replied coolly, draining the last of her coffee before sliding into her running shoes and leaving the house completely. The crisp, cool morning air hit her face, caressing her cheeks tenderly as she started to run, making it around to her favorite places in her town before hitting the high school. She found Archie and Jughead already there.

“Morning, Betty,” Archie greeted her, Jughead nodding at her as she came to a standstill next to them.

“Morning,” she replied back quietly, staring up at the high school. Had It always been that small? She wasn’t sure. Couldn’t pull forth her years in high school despite how hard- shit! Who’s that man in the woods? She ignored Archie and Jugheads’ protests as she ran off from them, heading to the edge of the forest. She knew better than to go in there by herself but she did a quick sweep of the parameter, looking to see if she could see anyone there.

A hand came down on her shoulder and she screamed.

“Jesus, Betty! It’s just me!” Jughead said and once those words would have been the beacon of hope she needed. Now – she wasn’t sure what they were. “Are you all right?”

Betty swallowed thickly, nodding her head as her eyes did one last sweep of the outskirts of the forest. “Yeah – sorry Jug. Just thought I saw – never mind.”

With that and a few words about how she’d see them first thing Monday morning, she turned and ran back the way she came, ignoring their looks of confusion long after she left them.

Author’s note: Thoughts lovely per usual! Xx

Chapter Text

Betty stood in her shower, shaking, and she sighed as the hot water went down her back. She had thought she had seen TBK on the outskirts of the town but she had been wrong. She knew she’d be experiencing hallucinations – nothing new with that given her nightmares – but she hadn’t thought she’d experience them here, in Riverdale. Shutting off the shower, she wrapped a towel around her and sighed as she stepped out, the cool bathroom air hitting her and she shivered. Getting dressed was a chore as her body clocked the multiple scars from TBK. He had really damaged her body.

A soft sigh fell from her lips once she was dressed in her outfit for the day. As she got ready to head out of her childhood room, there was a knock on the door and she paused, wondering who it was. Going to open her door, she was surprised to find Jughead on the other side. She pulled her cuffs of her sweater over her fists to hide her palms. “Jughead?”

“We need to talk,” he said, voice quiet and firm and she folded her arms across her chest, leveling him with a look.

“So talk,” she said flatly and it was his turn to narrow his eyes at her.

“You really want to do this in your home, in front of your mother?” Jughead asked, and Betty felt trepidation creep in along her veins. What did he want to talk about? Knowing there was no way out of this, she sighed, shaking her head.

“Let’s go to Pop’s,” she said finally, after mulling over her options. She slipped her shoes on and headed out of her room, Jughead following suit as the two made their way down the stairs and out of her house, ignoring both Polly and Alice’s looks of confusion.

XXX

Sitting down in the vinyl booth, Betty ordered a black coffee but shook her head when asked what she wanted to eat. She didn’t. Jughead stared at her curiously before ordering his own coffee and breakfast. When Tabitha Tate walked away, Jughead spoke. “On a diet?”

Betty flinched at his accusatory tone, as if he knew that she didn’t eat well but what the fuck did he know. She shrugged a shoulder. “Something like that.” She said dismissively, closing the topic. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with his judgment. She didn’t judge him for being an alcoholic. Tabitha brought their coffee just then and she smiled politely at her, thanking the other woman before she took a sip of the hot beverage, letting it warm her from head to toe.

“Did something happen to you?” Jughead asked quietly, and Betty felt her heart clench. She shook her head.

“No, why do you ask?” Betty replied, questioning him as much as she dared to see if she could figure out what it was that he wanted. He seemed to know exactly what she was doing and his eyes narrowed.

“Well, you went radio-silent for two weeks, none of us knew where you were,” he began. Had he tried to call her? That didn’t make sense as they hadn’t talked in seven years. She shrugged a shoulder.

“I went on vacation,” she said. The worst type there was.

“Vacation?” Jughead parroted dubiously and Betty hummed.

“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” Betty asked.

“It’s what you said,” Jughead agreed with an incline of his head. “I just don’t believe it.”

Her heart stuttered in her throat and her palms started sweating. “That’s not my problem.”

“I can’t help you if you don’t let me,” he said quietly, eyes boring into hers’. She searched his face, staring at him intently before replying.

“Wasn’t under the impression you wanted anything to do with me,” she said casually.

Jughead frowned. “That’s the second time you’ve made a comment like that since last night. Did-did something happen? Did I do or…say something?”

Betty took some pity on him and stopped talking about it. “Nothing happened. I just meant from high school.” It was easier to play the villain than see him floundering in his concern about what he may have said.

His eyes clouded. “Long time ago.”

“Seven years,” she said.

“But who’s counting, right?” Jughead asked.

“Who’s counting,” she whispered, taking a sip of her coffee to give her something to do.

“Come on, Betts -,” he began and she inhaled sharply.

“Don’t call me that, please,” she asked, voice trembling as she begged. It was too painful to hear.

He frowned but nodded, nonetheless. “Sorry, Betty. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what happened.”

“Jughead,” she breathed out tiredly, suddenly feeling the weight of the world catching up to her. “Nothing happened. I just had a lot going on at work.”

“I thought it was a vacation you took?” Jughead asked, quirking an eyebrow as he caught her in a lie.

Shit.

She had said that.

Licking her lips, she sighed, shoulders hunching inwards. “What do you want from me?”

“The truth.”

Betty exhaled sharply through her teeth, rolling her bottom lip underneath them as she held it hostage. Much apropos to who she used to be. “I don’t know if I can give you that.”

“You’re going to try, Betty, because I can’t stand to see you like this,” Jughead said in a softer tone. “You’re hurting – that much is clear. What happened to cause that hurt remains to be unseen. Please tell me.”

Sucking in a wavering breath, the truth came tumbling out of Betty’s lips like word vomit. She shared, in quiet tones, her time in captivity and the resulting hospitalization. How she couldn’t sleep without nightmares infiltrating her dreams and how she didn’t have an appetite since TBK took her. How she had been drugged and had to have reconstructive surgery on her arm. Jughead paled at different points in her story, especially at the parts where she had been drugged and when she was through, it was a heavy silence that permeated the air for several long moments, causing her to play with the salt and pepper shakers. Finally, he spoke up.

God, Betty, I’m so sorry that happened to you,” he whispered, voice nothing more than painted in pain. “Why didn’t you call anyone?” She could hear the unspoken, ‘me’ in that sentence and sighed.

“I was handling it on my own,” she murmured, taking a sip of her coffee.

“Like fuck you were,” he said flatly. “You’re not eating, you have bags underneath your eyes indicating a huge loss of sleep, and you’re guzzling that coffee like it’s water. You’re telling me you were malnourished but you’re not doing anything to help yourself. Are you talking about this with someone? A therapist or something?”

Betty laughed bitterly. “My therapist at the FBI is an idiot. Wants me to make sense of what happened and the truth of the matter is - .”

“You can’t?” Jughead offered and she nodded once, sharp, and short.

“I can’t,” she whispered. “I can’t make sense of why I just didn’t wait for backup.”

“You feel like it was penance you were searching for?” Jughead asked softly and she looked at him sharply, laughing tiredly the next moment.

“Always did know how to read me better than anyone else, Jughead,” she sighed. “And yeah, I do. I feel like I got what I deserved.”

She heard the way he inhaled sharply; hesitantly looked up to meet his black as night eyes. “Don’t ever say that shit again, Betty, you understand me?”

She searched his face, wondering what she was looking for. Forgiveness for herself? For him? Perhaps both, she thought. She didn’t know one hundred percent but she was looking for something. She gave her head a shake to clear it of her thoughts, hands coming to cup her neck as she stared down at the table before looking at him slowly once more. “Now what?’

“Now, we get you well again.”

 

Author’s note: You guys! The feedback has been lovely! Please, please continue to read! I do want to say I’m going into the office for the next two weeks so my writing will be in the evenings. Enjoy and thoughts lovely per usual!! Xxx

Chapter Text

After telling Jughead everything, Betty had to admit she felt better. She wasn’t as weighed down with the secrets she was keeping. Taking a sip of her second cup of coffee – or was it third – Betty looked at her ex, wondering if he had anything to say to her. She didn’t have to wonder for long.

“How are your dreams, Betty?” Jughead asked quietly, frowning as he phrased the question. Betty sighed, fiddling with her cup of coffee before answering.

“They’re not good, Jug,” she murmured, breath hitching in her throat at the thought of her last one the night before. “I dream about TBK with his chainsaw every night, chasing after me.”

“Chainsaw?” Jughead asked flatly.

Betty sighed, not seeing anyway around answering this question. “Uh, when I was his captive, he would stand at the opening of the hole I was in, starting and stopping a chainsaw for the hell of it.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jughead sighed, shaking his head angrily. “Why didn’t you tell anyone, Betty?”

She hunched her shoulders inwards. “I didn’t know how to. I’m sorry.”

And she was sorry. It was a complicated, messy situation she found herself in and she didn’t know how to explain it to people. She didn’t know which way was up and which way was down in her proverbial rabbit hole of madness she had fallen down into.

“Did he ever get anywhere close to cutting you?” Jughead asked, eyes raking over her form as if expecting to see a still-healing gash somewhere. She shook her head.

“No,” she said quietly, hands still cradling her coffee mug. “He didn’t. He just started and stopped the chainsaw a lot.”

Jughead nodded once, eyes clouded over in hatred for who Betty knew to be TBK and not her. She knew that in this instance, Jughead was mad at the man who held her hostage. She couldn’t say she blamed him and she couldn’t say she wasn’t feeling the same way. She hated that serial killer with all of her might – hated that he got his jollies going by picking off women one-by-one. It was a never-ending nightmare she was stuck in. “I just wish you had told someone – me – and I wish you didn’t have to go through your recovery alone.”

“Jughead, what would you have done?” Betty asked quietly. “We weren’t even in each other’s lives.”

“Is that why you didn’t tell me?” Jughead aske, tilting his head at her and Betty knew she had to be careful with the way she answered.

“I didn’t tell anyone,” she replied. “I didn’t tell you or mom or anyone.”

“And do you have friends in the bureau you talked to about this?” Jughead demanded, tone low.

Betty sighed. “No. Not really. I’m friends with one person and he’s our tech analyst. And friends is putting it strongly. We occasionally bring one another coffee and he tells me about his husband.”

Jughead nodded, seemingly understanding that she wasn’t great friends with Drew, the tech analyst, and there was no one else she was close to at her job. “Are you going to tell our friends?”

Betty licked her lips, suddenly nervous at the prospect of telling their friends. “I mean, would they even care?”

“What the fuck type of question is that, Betty?” Jughead demanded lowly. “Of course they would care. We may have all gone on to do our own things after high school but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t care about what happened to you. Is that why you didn’t call any of us? Because you thought we wouldn’t care?” Her silence said it all and it was Jughead’s turn to sigh. “Fuck. This is all such a mess.”

Betty laughed humorlessly. “Welcome to the shitshow that is my life.”

Jughead winced. “I’m sorry that this has happened to you, truly. I hate that I had to hear that this did happen to you.”

Betty shrugged a weary shoulder. “It’s done now. It happened. There’s no undoing it.”

Jughead licked his lips, looking at her through narrowed eyes. “So that’s it? You’re just going to throw the towel in and admit defeat? That doesn’t sound like the Betty Cooper I know.”

“The Betty Cooper you know is back in high school,” she laughed tiredly. “Haven’t having gone through half the shit that I’ve gone through at this point.”

Jughead looked at her sharply. “So you are just going to give up then?”

“Jughead, what do you want from me?” Betty asked on a sigh, shoulders once more hunching inwards as she stared down into her coffee mug.

“Can you look at me?” Jughead asked and, after taking in a fortifying breath, she did, and he continued. “I want you to fight. I want you to say there’s not one goddamn thing that is capable of knocking you down and keeping you down. I want you to say this is just a bump in the road, not the road ending for you.”

Betty studied him carefully, green irises searching oceanic orbs as she considered what he had said. “And if I do? If I fight back and rise up from the ashes victorious, then what?”

“Then, we keep fighting,” Jughead replied simply and she cocked her head to the side curiously.

“We?” Betty parroted and it was Jughead’s turn to sigh.

“Look, I know that something must have happened to make you not show up to my book launch. And I know I was drunk more nights than I can care to remember, so if I had to put two and two together, something was said while I was under the influence. Something mean.” She didn’t contradict him and he nodded. “I thought so, Betty. God, I’m sorry for whatever shit I said to you while intoxicated. You have to know; I didn’t mean it.”

“We always say what we’re really thinking when we’re drunk, Juggie,” she sighed sadly.

“First time you’ve called me Juggie since being back. It’s nice to hear, I have to admit,” he chuckled, lips quirked up in happiness before he grew somber once more. “God, Betty, I’ll do whatever it takes to earn your trust back.”

“Shouldn’t I be the one saying that?” Betty asked, lilt in her voice as she posed the question. “After all, I cheated on you with your best friend.”

“We were fucking kids running away from our trauma and I didn’t stop to think about that, Betts,” he said softly and this time, she didn’t bother to correct him with the nickname. “I held it against you, for seven long years, and that caused you to not reach out to me when you needed someone the most. For that, I can’t begin to apologize enough to you.”

Betty smiled sadly. “You weren’t the only one who messed up, Juggie. I had hurt you too. I’m not surprised you said what you said to me.”

“So, I did say something?” Jughead double-checked and Betty nodded. “God, I’m sorry I was an asshole. I can’t begin to imagine what I said but I know whatever it was, it wasn’t good.”

“Old wounds,” Betty replied.

“Are you going to tell the others?” Jughead asked after a momentary pause.

“Like Veronica and the rest of them, including the Serpents?” Betty asked.

“Yeah,” Jughead said, staring at her intensely and she took a sip of coffee to give herself something to do.

“I don’t know, Jug,” she whispered, voice catching in her throat as she swallowed down the lump that had lodged itself inside of there. “I don’t know if they can handle it.”

“Try them, I’m sure they’ll surprise you,” Jughead replied back kindly. “After all, I handled it pretty well didn’t I?”

“You did,” Betty conceded, thinking over her options briefly for a moment. “All right, I’ll tell them.”

Author’s note: Up next, we tell the gang and then the stalking starts. Hope you come back for more! Xxx

Chapter Text

Betty and Jughead were gathered around Alice Cooper’s fireplace, all their friends sat in front of them as Alice and Polly were both out of the house themselves. Betty was happy about that because she didn’t want to tell her mom or sister her tale of terror in the first place, something Jughead adamantly protested but ultimately did not win. It was bad enough she was forced to tell Veronica and Archie; forced to tell the Serpents alike. She sucked in a wavering breath, eyes contacting each of them briefly for a moment before flickering to the flames licking the crate.

“I’m sure you’re all wondering why I called you here,” Betty good, voice trembling slightly. Sweet Pea cottoned onto that fact.

“Take your time with it, hon,” Sweet Pea said kindly, eyes never leaving her face and she knew that the taller was still her friend; knew she had lucked out in that department. She took in one more fortifying breath before starting to tell her story.

“I was kidnapped, about a month ago now. I had gone in on a fieldwork assignment by myself, trying to catch a serial killer and save a victim all at once. The victim, her name was Theresa, was already dead by the time I got there and the killer, he goes by the moniker TBK, kidnapped me. I was his hostage for two weeks,” Betty said, pausing as she surveyed the room. Sweet Pea was staring at her with a serious expression, as were Cheryl and Toni. Betty knew Cheryl would be upset that she was just now hearing about this; the two girls close as cousins. She was closer to Cheryl than she was with her own sister.

She continued onward. “I was held in his lair for two weeks, with no food, or water, and a concussion and broken arm. They had to do reconstructive surgery on my arm and after I was rescued, I was in the hospital for two weeks.”

“And, you didn’t think to call anyone, blondie,” Sweet Pea asked, voice hard, and Betty knew he was upset with her. She shrugged a shoulder helplessly.

“Sweet Pea, I’m sorry, but what was I supposed to say? Hey, guys, I haven’t talked to in seven years, come visit me in the hospital while I recover from a kidnapping?” Betty asked helplessly and Sweet Pea snorted.

“That would have sufficed, yeah,” he replied, tone hard. Betty sighed softly.

“Look, I already apologized to Jughead for not calling him and I’m apologizing to all of you, don’t make me apologize more than once,” she begged.

“Did they catch the killer, Betty?” Archie asked, eyes never straying from her face, and she shifted some hair in front of her to act like a shield. Her arm was hurting – it was raining, and the doctors said the weather would most likely affect her pain levels. She sighed.

“No, they didn’t,” she said quietly.

“So, the man who kidnapped you is still out there and you’re the first person to live to tell the tale?” Veronica whispered, voice sounding mortified, and Betty nodded slowly.

“It’s not ideal,” Betty began but Toni cut her off.

“’Not ideal’? Betty, this is one of the worst things that can happen to someone. You were kidnapped for fuck’s sake,” Toni groaned, eyeing the petite blonde woman with something akin to sharp pity in her eyes. “Did – did he do anything besides physical violence?”

Betty’s breath caught in her throat, and she was quick to shake her head. She could feel Jughead’s eyes burning holes into her and understood that he’d be angry if she hadn’t told him about that. “No, Toni. He didn’t sexually assault me. That’s not his M.O. He never even did that to any of his previous victims, I’m just the first one to have survived.”

Jughead breathed a sigh of relief and Betty knew she had calmed his nerves about the situation to an extent.

“Well thank God for that, Betty, but it still doesn’t forgive what you went through, honey. Are you talking to someone about it?” Fangs asked, holding his fiancé’s hand. Betty sighed as she shook her head.

“No, Fangs, I’m not talking to anyone about it. They have a therapist at the bureau that they want me to open up to but I just…,” she trailed off and Sweet Pea finished her thought for her.

“Can’t, darling?” Sweet Pea asked and at her nod, he continued. “That makes sense. I wouldn’t be able to open up to someone who is essentially a stranger if I went through that type of trauma too. That’s why you have us, though. You better get it through that little blonde head of yours’ that we aren’t going anywhere so don’t you fucking dare try to push anyone away, least of all me or I’m going to be mad as fuck at you, you hear me?”

Betty chuckled for the first time since starting the conversation. She knew just how true the taller was being in his threat – he’d definitely be mad as fuck at her if she pushed him away. They had become friends after she did the Serpent’s dance, and he gained a level of respect for her that was mutual with Betty for him. She knew he didn’t want to see her hurt; but sometimes that sort of thing couldn’t be helped, especially if she didn’t help herself in the first place. “I hear you, Pea.”

Sweet Pea nodded once and dropped the subject. It was Jughead who spoke up next. “It’s okay that you cannot talk to the therapist at your work but, like Sweet Pea said, you have to keep talking to us.” His eyes fell to her palms – the only one out of her group of friends that knew about her penchant for self-harm, and she swiftly tucked them into her ribcage, cutting off his line of sight. She didn’t want him to know that she wasn’t doing well in that arena. Jughead sighed softly, almost knowing what she was hiding from him, and he nodded sadly, as if to tell her that was okay too.

She smiled sadly at him in return, knowing that her harming herself wasn’t going to get her very far but it was the least detrimental thing she could do, and she’d take it over hurting herself or, more importantly, others badly. She knew that her PTSD would cause future episodes with her – she just didn’t know to what extent.

“So, what do we do now?” Cheryl asked and Betty looked at all of her friends carefully before replying.

“Now, we catch this sonofabitch.”’

Author’s note: Thoughts lovely per usual! Xxx

Chapter Text

After everyone had gone home for the evening, Jughead asked if he could stay the night. Betty stared at him for a long moment, unsure of if that’s what she wanted before eventually conceding to his wishes. “Sure, Jug.” It was said simply, no more than a whisper of a sentence and he offered a smile to her. Alice and Polly were staying in the next town over, having been rained in, and she wouldn’t mind the company. She just feared her nightmares would get the best of her and she’d have to explain why she had them every night. Point made? She didn’t open up in the therapy Glenn had her sit in one-on-one.

Point made.

Jughead softly looked at her and pointed to his bag. “I was kind’ve hoping you’d say yes so I packed clothes just in case. I can – uh, I can take the couch if you’re most comfortable with that?”

Betty thought it over. It’d be weird to have him in her bed seven years later and they’re not even dating. They’re not even in the realm of couples. She wasn’t even sure if they were friends. But she thought they could be – if they could get out of their mindsets. She smiled hesitantly. “The couch isn’t super comfortable but it’s better than my floor so if you’re good with the couch, I’m happy to go get you blankets.” For a moment, it looked like something akin to disappointment flashed across his face but she was sure she imagined it the next moment when she saw him smiling.

“Thanks, Betty,” he said. Betty. Not Betts. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She smiled at him in return and nodded her head, heading to the linen closet to retrieve the aforementioned blankets she had offered and handed them off to him, grabbing a pillow the next. It was already pretty late – the group having stayed for a dinner that she cooked but didn’t eat. She had felt everyone’s eyes on her but had opted to ignore it in favor of just doing what she normally did at dinner and that was read. She knew that Jughead had most likely intervened before Sweet Pea could say something to her and she was grateful for that. There was only so much chivalry she could take before it got redundant.

She bid Jughead a goodnight and made her way upstairs, feeling his eyes trailing after her every move before she shut her bedroom door with a click. She was in her room and she was safe. She was in her room and she was safe. She was in her room and she was safe. Why didn’t it feel that way then? It felt like eyes were watching her from the shadows; the predator stalking the prey and all too soon she felt like she was suffocating in that black hole again in the earth. No hope of climbing out; TBK staring at her menacingly and laughing manically. Of course, she never actually heard him laugh but she assumed he was laughing behind his mask. Seemed like something the sick fuck would do.

She got ready for bed and laid down, finally letting the fear she had felt creeping in all evening settle around her like a familiar friend. She had been used to being afraid of the dark since coming out of her hell on earth. Her abductor had put that fear in her and she didn’t know when she was going to lose it. She stared at up at her childhood bedroom ceiling, noticing the cut-and-glow stars that were stuck to it. The light provided a modicum of safety but it wasn’t enough to make her feel completely comfortable. Nothing would ever make her feel completely comfortable. She didn’t even know if she knew how to anymore.

Just another thing he took away from her.

Sighing softly, she rolled onto her side, hands pressed underneath her left cheek and she stared out around her bedroom, wondering when she would feel like she was home again. She wasn’t sure if she ever would. Nothing grounded her anymore. Nothing was a safe space. She knew who her safe person used to be but Jughead hadn’t been that person for her in a long time. For crying out loud, she hadn’t even called him after her abduction. She was too chicken shit to want to try and make amends with him. It made her too nervous to try and right her wrongs.

He had said he understood that she was running from her trauma back in high school but was it too little too late for that? She wasn’t one hundred percent certain. She just knew something had to give. She still couldn’t remember when she fell asleep.

XXX

What was she doing back in TBK’s lair? She wasn’t supposed to be here. She had defeated him. She had escaped from him and she had won. Why was she here? She hadn’t a clue; didn’t know how to begin looking for one either. She swallowed nervously, eyes peeled for any sign of the sadistic killer and where he may be – waiting for him to jump out of the shadows at her. She was scared, this much she knew to be true. Beads of sweat gathered at the nape of her neck and trickled downward; her breath came in wispy puffs of tightened air and she knew she was close to having a panic attack.

How could anyone expect otherwise from her?

It was hell on her earth and she was smack dab in the middle of it.

Just then a chainsaw roared to life and she screamed, oh, how she screamed.

“Wake up, honey. You’re not there, you’re here, in your bedroom, safe and sound. He can’t hurt you anymore. I won’t let him,” a soft, soothing voice washed over her, as calm as a gentle rainstorm but it still startled her awake enough that Betty went flying into an upright position in her bed, pawing at her chest to try and remove the feeling of suffocation.

“One, two, three. One, two three. Hold,” she murmured, practicing a breathing technique she had looked up online for nights specifically like this one. She had them often. “One, two, three. One, two, three. Hold.”

Jughead, whom she finally recognized as the person sitting next to her, caught up her hand and held it to his chest, counting down with her while her breathing returned to a semblance of normalcy. “One, two, three. One, two, three. Hold. Yeah, just like that. Again.” He counted her off again and she focused on the steady rise and fall of his chest as her own returned to normal. She finally caught her breath and flopped back down on the bed, very fish-out-of-water scenario but she didn’t let go of his hand. He didn’t let go of hers’ either and she tried not to dwell on what that meant too much lest she get her hopes up.

“Sorry, Jug,” she murmured, knowing she had been screaming not only in her dream but in real life, too. He stared at her for a long moment before hesitantly brushing her hair back, placing a brutally gentle kiss to her forehead and she felt the last of the tension ease away.

“Let’s get tea,” he said, helping her up and out of bed.

They had a long talk ahead of them.

Author’s note: Up next these nuggets talk. Thoughts lovely per usual and enjoy! Xxx

Chapter Text

Jughead and Betty made their way down Alice’s stairs and into her kitchen, Jughead turning on the tea kettle. It was one of Betty’s favorite pastimes with him and she cocked her head to the side curiously. Jughead chuckled lightly. “I, uh, remember how you like your tea. I used to make it sometimes after I drank too much and it was the only thing that could calm me down.” Betty opted to just smile at him, looking at him with something akin to wonder. She didn’t understand how he could still want to do things that reminded himself of her but she didn’t question it either. She should have known better than for him to not be able to read her facial expressions though. “Get out of your head, Betty.”

It was said kindly but with a weariness behind it like he understood exactly what she was thinking. This time her smile felt more natural. “Sorry, Jug, old habits die hard.” He gifted her a kind smile in return that she wasn’t sure what she had done to deserve – especially after waking him up in the middle of the night – but she accepted it all the same. She knew she had to if she didn’t want to create a mess with him right then. They were doing so well – nothing at all like the broken couple they were in high school.

“It’s okay,” he replied, bringing the tea kettle to a boil. The way he moved in Alice Cooper’s house was as if he never left. He remembered where she kept the tea bags; remembered where the sugar was and raided the refrigerator for milk as if it was his own refrigerator. Betty pushed aside the warm feeling that encompassed her for the first time since her kidnapping, feeling almost safe standing in her mother’s kitchen with the boy she never fell out of love with in the first place. Of course, she didn’t say anything about that to him – not wanting to freak him out.

“Still like your tea the same way you used to?” Came Jughead’s voice and Betty nodded. She watched as he added two teaspoons of sugar and a splash of milk, before adding a dollop of honey to it and stirring it altogether. He handed it to her when he was through.

“Thanks, Jughead,” she smiled at him gratefully and took a sip of th warm beverage, letting it warm her from head-to-toe. She could see her hands shaking, something Jughead saw too, and she gripped the mug tighter. He sighed softly.

“Think we need to have that talk now; don’t you agree?” Jughead asked. His voice was kind, which was perhaps what gave Betty the strength to nod her head and agree with him. She knew it was a conversation long overdue and they needed to have it.

“Yeah, Juggie,” she whispered, not caring that she was using his nickname. “That sounds good.”

“Come on, Betts,” he replied softly, and she noted the use of her own nickname once more. “Let’s take a seat and talk. You’re safe with me, hon, I promise.”

She knew this much to be true. She didn’t doubt that in the slightest and she knew he was right. She nodded her head and went and sat down at the kitchen table, releasing a shuddering sigh when she realized she had no clue how to start the conversation. Feeling his eye on her, boring into her with kindness, she took a sip of her tea to give her trembling hands something to do and spoke up a moment later. “I don’t even know where to begin with the nightmare I had.”

“It was TBK?” Jughead checked and she knew he didn’t want to assume. She laughed bitterly.

“He’s all I dream about these days,” she murmured. “Just someone I can’t put a face to but someone I dream about, nonetheless. It’s challenging to want to sleep each night. I was back in his lair.”

“You were his hostage again?” Jughead asked, making sure he was following and Betty appreciated the fact that he was working to understand her fears and not just assume that he knew them.

“Yeah,” she replied weakly, tone quiet. “He had me in that hole again, starting and stopping the chainsaw and I just screamed loudly in my dream – enough to scream in my actual sleep and wake you up.”

“Betty,” Jughead said, frowning softly at her. “You don’t think I’m mad that you woke me up, do you?”

Betty sighed. “It’s important that people get sleep.”

“it is important and you’re one of those people it’s important for too. I’d rater be up with you, talking about your fears than hearing how you suffered in silence the morning after. You know that right?” Jughead asked, frown still in place and Betty searched his face for any hints of lying but when she found none to be there, she nodded her head, resigned to the fact that he did want to help her.

“I know, Jug,” she murmured, taking another sip of her tea. “It’s just hard to actually accept help when I’ve been dealing with it on my own for so long.”

He nodded. “I get that, honey. I do. But you’re not on your own. Not anymore. And we’re all here for you, willing to help you however you need so you can truly begin to heal from this horrible, atrocious act that was implemented against you.”

She smiled. “Thanks, Jughead. I always did marvel at how good you were with words.”

“I learned from the best,” he bestowed a grin to her, and she felt flushed with pride. She hadn’t taught him how to write but her editing must have been considered when she would spend afternoons editing his work for the Blue and Gold. She knew they had made a good team at one point and said as such. He smiled at her, looking at her hopefully. “We can still be a team, you know. I know it’s been seven years but not a day goes by that I don’t miss you and our friendship.”

She nodded in return, “I know what you mean. I miss our friendship too. I think we can walk it all back if we’re careful.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” he replied, and she felt a bit of the tension seep away from her shoulders that had been there since first telling him about her kidnapping. “We’ll walk it all back, yeah?”

“Yeah,” she agreed, knowing this was as good as it was going to get right now. They had both said and done things that hurt one another. But she wasn’t the same girl she was in high school and he wasn’t the same guy. They sure as shit weren’t. “I’d really appreciate it if we walked it all back. I know I messed up in high school and for that I can never be sorry enough.”

“Like I said, we were both running from our traumas. Archie shouldn’t have cornered you like that. I know it takes two people to kiss but if I remember correctly, I also kissed Veronica in front of you. I wasn’t thinking about how that would effect you either at the time. And at that point in time, you had only kissed Archie cause you both thought you were going to die. I kissed Veronica to be an asshole and I never apologized for that. So I think we both can just let go of the shit we did to one another and start over,” he offered up.

She placed her hand on his. “I’d really like that, Juggie.”

He offered a smile, squeezing her hand gently in return. “Me too, Betts. Like I said, we’ll walk it all back.”

Author’s note: Don’t at me for bringing up the Veronica and Jughead kissed. Roberto never addressed that and he thought it’d be funny to do it in front of both of their partners and it wasn’t. So, I addressed it cause it’s always bothered me. Anyways, I’m hungover as fuck so enjoy this dumpster fire and I’m going to go drown myself in coffee and a shower. Also, this is no edited. Sorry about it. Xxx

Chapter Text

Betty ended up falling back asleep around three AM and she slept til about seven, nightmares held at bay for the time being. She knew that she needed to talk to someone about what she went through; she just didn’t know who. The therapist at the bureau wasn’t anything good and she didn’t feel comfortable talking to her. Her boss, Glenn, didn’t have her doing anything besides deskwork and it wasn’t like she could talk to him. He had been nothing but a thorn in her side since finding her in that hellhole. He had been at the hospital each time she woke up and she dosed herself with more morphine just to get away from him. Just then, there was a knock on her door and she got out of bed as she heard Jughead go to answer it, getting dressed in clothes for the day since she took a shower the night before.

Sweet Pea and Cheryl’s voices floated up the stairs and to her room and she heard them talking to Jughead about her. She paused her ministrations and listened to them – listened to what they had to say. She heard Cheryl ask if she could come talk to her and knew her cousin would want to check on how she was doing. She decided to go ahead and head downstairs. Making her way down the stairs, she paused just shy at the bottom step and waved to her friend and family alike. Sweet Pea smiled back at her. “Good to see you awake and moving around, Coop.” He had always been a good ally for her and she genuinely felt bad that she hadn’t thought to call him. She didn’t know why she didn’t do that.

“Morning guys,” she murmured, stepping off the bottom stair and reaching the landing of the first floor. “Coffee?”

All three of them nodded and Betty went to go brew a pot, knowing that they’d need it if they were going to be having a conversation she still wasn’t a hundred percent certain she was ready to have. She knew she needed to be talking to them, however. Knew that keeping everything bottled up harmed her more than it helped her. She had already told Archie she wouldn’t be at the first day of school, ready to teach auto-shop to the students there. She just couldn’t bring herself to face any of them – not when her own years at the high school were haunted with horrific memories. Prom night crept unbiddenly into her mind and she paused momentarily, remembering the way her dad had chased her down the hallways, scaring her senseless. She shook herself free of the memories, shying away from thinking about anything more painful than she had to.

“You okay?” Cheryl’s soft voice punctured her thoughts and she looked up in time to spot the three of them looking at her with gentle expressions of concern. She caught Jughead’s eyes and nodded, assuring him the most out of the three of them that she was fine.

“I’m okay,” Betty replied. “Just thinking about prom night.” No good in lying about where her thoughts had led her and she saw Jughead and Sweet Pea exchange looks out of her peripheral.

“The night your dad stalked you?” Sweet Pea asked, voice soft in only the way it was for her it seemed.

She hummed, nodding her head as she began to pour the cups of coffee. “Yeah.” It hadn’t been a good night and she could vividly remember the fear thrumming through her veins as she ran the empty hallways of her high school, trying to get to safety before his hook-for-a-hand sliced into her flesh, ending her life much sooner than she had thought it would.

Cheryl squeezed her shoulder gently. “I never did get a chance to talk with you about that. I know I was off doing Edgar’s bidding that year but how are you? Really?”

Betty smiled at her cousin. “I’m all right, really. Things haven’t been great but Jughead and I were up talking last night – after a nightmare I had – and he helped put things into perspective for me.”

She knew her words would reassure both Cheryl and Sweet Pea and she wasn’t disappointed when a moment later Sweet Pea threw a grateful smile Jughead’s way. “Thanks.”

His tone wasn’t too hard so maybe he wasn’t holding onto a grudge with Jughead’s book. Betty hoped he wasn’t; they had all made mistakes and Betty knew that Jughead regretted it. She would regret throwing her friends under the bus, too. Hell, she regretted not telling any of them about her kidnapping and resulting recovery. She hated that she kept that a secret but felt like she had no other choice; she wasn’t sure if they were still as close as they once had all been. A fact Sweet Pea hated, it seemed, if his reaction was anything to go by.

She knew she messed up too. Now they were just walking it all back, like Jughead had said the night prior. They all needed to be able to do that. It was important. They all needed a chance for themselves to be able to heal, her included.

“Don’t mention it,” Jughead replied, keeping his tone friendly as well. Betty knew he felt bad and wanted a chance to rectify the situation. She just hoped he and Sweet Pea could makeup as well. Betty knew they all had a long way to go but she was hoping for the best, for the first time in a long time. She wasn’t sure if it was because of Jughead’s encouragement to get her to talk more or not, but whatever the case may be, she was happy about it. She had shut everyone out; turning her shoulder on them and feeling like she had to deal with her pain on her own. Jughead was showing her, once more, that that wasn’t the case. She wondered why she always seemed to forget that.

“Sweet Pea, here’s your coffee. Cheryl, yours’ too,” Betty piped up, pushing over the cups, and letting them add their milk and cream the way they liked to. She didn’t want to mess with that lest she got it wrong and messed up.

“Thanks, doll,” Sweet Pea said, accepting his cup and adding what he liked to it. “You not teaching today?”

Betty shook her head. “No, I told Archie I’d start when I felt more comfortable to. I wasn’t expecting to tell anybody about what happened in Washington and now that I have…” she trailed off, sighing deeply. “It’s just messier than I thought it would be.”

“And you don’t have a clue as to who the killer is? As to who kidnapped you?” Cheryl asked, tone worried and Betty shook her head, staring down into her coffee before taking a sip of it to give herself something to do.

“I have no clue whatsoever,” she sighed. “I didn’t recognize their body or anything and of course, I didn’t see their face. I was too drugged out the majority of the time to even know if they spoke to me or not.”

Jughead hissed through his teeth, as did Sweet Pea.

“I want this guy’s head on a stick,” Jughead snapped, tone rough around the edges and stressed and Betty knew it was for her, not because of her.

“You and me both, Jug,” Sweet Pea ground out. “The prick had no idea what he was doing when he took you, hon. We’ll catch him. In the meantime, don’t travel by yourself, you hear me?”

“Yeah, Betty, no more woods adventures for you,” Jughead added, leveling her with a look.

“Woods adventures?” Sweet Pea asked flatly and Betty sighed, choosing her words with care.

“I thought I saw him, TBK, in the woods,” she said finally. “I didn’t, but I ran off before Jughead and Archie could stop me, trying to catch him if it had really been him.”

Sweet Pea groaned. “Betty, you can’t do shit like that, you understand me? We can’t have you dead. I won’t survive it and I know Jughead sure as shit won’t survive it either, despite the fact that the two of you are dancing around your feelings that are still there.”

Betty spluttered on her coffee as Jughead smirked slightly. “Knew I liked you for a reason, Sweet Pea.”

“And on that note,” Betty muttered, face red as she took another sip of her coffee to give herself time to clear her head. It was Cheryl who spoke up, voice far too amused for Betty’s liking.

“Well, cousin, it wasn’t anyone else but Jughead that you asked to spend the night last night,” she reminded her. “I would have been happy to stay had you asked me to.”

Betty narrowed her eyes at Cheryl. Who’s side was she on. Cheryl simply grinned at her like the cat who ate the canary, the smug bitch. “Thanks for that, Cheryl.”

Cheryl didn’t say anything but just kept the grin stretched across her lips and Betty couldn’t help but to smile fondly in return. She sighed the next moment. “Guys, what are we going to do? There’s a killer out there who most likely wants me dead.”

“He isn’t going to touch you, Betts,” Jughead said harshly. “He won’t lay a fucking finger on you and if he tries, I’ll break his god damn neck.”

“Makes two of us,” Sweet Pea added, voice nothing more than a vehement hiss. “He isn’t getting anywhere near you. I don’t care if I have to move in next door and keep an eye on you and your house. Hell, I’ll even move in if need be.”

Betty was quick to shake her head. She didn’t want Sweet Pea to have to move in with her. It was fine just being Jughead. “That’s okay, Sweet Pea. I am good with just Jughead being here.”

Cheryl and Sweet Pea exchanged smirks.

The little shits.

Author’s note: Just a lighter chapter before I work on upping the angst. Sorry not sorry. Enjoy and thoughts lovely per usual. Xxx

Chapter Text

Betty made it through the weekend with little to no scathing injuries to show for. She woke up Monday morning the following week and decided to go ahead and go teach her auto-shop class for the time being. She couldn’t stay and hide in her room the whole time – especially with her mom and sister coming home. Not if she didn’t want them to find out about her time in captivity. Polly wouldn’t know how to handle it and Alice would try to micromanage. It would be a nightmare.

She swiped on her final layer of lip gloss, making sure the bags underneath her eyes were hidden with her concealer as she studied her reflection in the mirror. She sighed. She would have to do for now. Sliding her sweater on over her frame, she made her way out of her room and down the stairs to where her mother had breakfast made and the table set. She wasn’t in the mood for pancakes and fruit. She didn’t want to be. She was tired and just wanted her coffee to go and to leave. She poured herself a cup, ignoring her mother’s question about breakfast with a shake of her head and quiet mumble about how she’d get something later.

Then, she was out the door and into her car, making her way down the sleepy streets of the town. Her and Jughead hadn’t talked about what they’d actually do once they were working together – she didn’t know if they were supposed to still act like the friends they were trying to be. It was so weird to try and be friends with him – she had forgotten what it was like since being in a relationship with him. It was all she knew. But, she didn’t put too much stock in not doing it right. She knew she couldn’t; not if they really wanted that fresh chance they talked about.

Pulling into her parking spot in the school parking lot, Betty sat in her car staring up at the building. She was nervous – this much was clear. What if she couldn’t teach the kids anything or worse? What if they were little shits who thought they knew more than her because they were at that age? She sighed softly, wondering why she had agreed to this in the first place. Stepping out of her car, she froze as she took in the parameter. Was that TBK hiding in the shadows? Waiting for her to come closer so he could go in for the kill? She wasn’t sure; wasn’t sure how she was supposed to be sure, either.

“You’re safe,” came a soft voice she had no trouble recognizing and she blinked past the anxiety that swarmed up inside of her.

“Hey, Jug,” she said softly, keeping her eyes on the ground. “How did you know?”

“Your face went pale and it wasn’t hard to guess what you were worried about,” he said calmly, keeping his tone soft. “You going to be okay to teach today?”

Betty sighed. She wasn’t sure if she was gong to be okay to teach or not today but she owed it to Archie. She had to try. “I have to be.”

“You don’t have to be anything, Betts,” Jughead reminded her softly. She knew he had a point. She just couldn’t concede to it. Perhaps he saw that in her expression because he was changing the conversation a moment later. “Let me walk you in.”

Betty nodded, knowing there was no other way around his offer – demand – and she joined him on the walk into the building. She was still shaking from where she thought she saw her abductor and she didn’t know what to do about it. “I thought I saw him. TBK.”

“I know,” Jughead replied calmly.  “I’m certainly aware that you’re going through something really hard, Betts, and I want to be here for you, if you’ll let me. Please let me.”

His tone was borderline pleading and Betty was brought back to all the times he helped her navigate her way through tumultuous waters. She was anything if not self-deprecating and she had to ask for her own peace of mind. She stopped walking and turned to face him, Jughead doing the same thing as he looked at her with a tender expression.

“Why do you care, Jug?” It was a quiet question and she didn’t mean any harm by it but she had to know. She had to know what he ultimately wanted from her – what she could provide him with.

“I don’t know why I care so much except the fact that I never stopped caring about you, Betty,” his tone was quiet as well, matching hers’ as she stared at him through green irises. “I mean, I know I called you drunk and must have said horrible shit for you to not even call me after your kidnapping but none of us knew that you were kidnapped, least of all me, and that hurt so badly. I know I hurt you – but god damn, Betty – to not be told about your kidnapping…how badly did I fuck up for that?”

Betty sighed, knowing she couldn’t lie. Not if they had a hope of changing the course of their lives. “You told me your life was so much better off without me. That all I had been to you was a hurting hindrance and you were glad to be rid of me.”

Jughead paused for so long she thought he wasn’t going to say anything. Then he exhaled a quiet breath and began speaking. “I’m so sorry I said that to you, Betty. God, I didn’t even mean it. I know we say things we wouldn’t normally say when drunk but you have to know I would never so that to you sober. I-I was being stupid and my pride was hurt. I hurt you just as much as you hurt me and I was holding onto a lot of anger and resentment for no reason. Wondering if I’d ever be good enough for you again. I’m so sorry.”

“Old wounds, Juggie,” she murmured, blinking past tears. “They healed with time. I just thought it was best if I stayed out of your life. That you may not have wanted me there anymore.” And that was true. She didn’t know if there was room for her in his life anymore at that point in time. Not after he said what he said.

He sighed. “God, I’ll always want you in my life. Please don’t let my shitty behavior say otherwise. I fucked up. I’m man enough to admit that. Like I said before, I’ll do whatever it takes to earn your trust back.”

She studied him carefully. “I think it’s a two-way street with earning trust. Like I said, you’re not the only one who messed up. I have a lot to work on to. And, we’re in the process of walking it all back, remember?” She gifted him a smile which he returned as he looped their arms together.

“Come on, let me walk you to class and then we can eat lunch together on our break if you want?” Jughead asked and she nodded.

“That’d be really nice and I’d really like that,” she answered softly. It was his turn to gift her with a smile and they walked into the building arm-in-arm together, worries far from mind for the time being.

Author’s note: This is going to be a slow burn. Prepare yourselves. Thoughts lovely per usual. Xxx

Chapter Text

Betty walked into the school with Jughead, eyes on the hallways and how different and smaller they appeared to her now. Had there really been a time when she thought this school was big? She was uncertain but she did know that it looked small now. She smiled slightly at the thought, catching Jughead similarly doing the same thing out of the corner of her eye. Perhaps they were thinking the same thing. It was a comforting thought to have when she felt so out of her element here; so out of depth with what she was doing. She sighed softly as she reached the auto-shop. “I guess this is where we part ways.” Betty looked towards Jughead, who appeared to be contemplating something.

“If anything happens – anything at all – come find me okay?” Jughead asked, tone insistent and she wondered why he cared; why he was taking such a great effort to make sure she was okay. He didn’t owe her anything. She didn’t owe him anything either – not after all these years and that phone call, but she couldn’t help but to nod.

“Yeah, I will, I promise,” she assured him, knowing she’d see that promise through in case she had a panic attack of any kind, which was likely. She had those more often than not these days. Jughead raised his hand and she tried to control the flinch that wracked her frame heavily but knew he saw it as he frowned remorsefully.

“Sorry,” he whispered, hesitatingly placing his hand on her shoulder. “I won’t hurt you. Not ever again.”

At least he knew he wasn’t the only one that got hurt. She nodded once. “See you for lunch?” Betty couldn’t quite keep out the hopeful infliction from her tone, hoping against hope that he hadn’t changed his mind about eating with her. He smiled slightly.

“Favorite class of the day,” he replied. “I’ll see you then, Betts.”

It was back to Betts now and the dream and resulting conversation that past weekend suddenly didn’t seem as suffocating. She smiled at him. “See you then.” They went their separate ways after that and Betty headed into her classroom, flicking on the light as she looked around. She had always wanted to take this class in high school but hadn’t been able to find the time with her regular course load and extracurriculars. Now, she thought it was pretty cool that she got to be the one teaching it. She just hoped her students weren’t sarcastic assholes who thought they knew more than the teacher because they were at that age. She didn’t remember ever feeling like that but she was certain there must have been a time or two when she did. After all, she had been a smart ass too growing up.

She set her coffee mug onto her desk and her bag that housed her lesson plan for the day as she looked around. They’d be working on a mustang – one from Reggie’s car lot – and she hoped she had students actually interested in taking her class and not just taking it because they needed to fill spots on their schedules. Just then, there was a light knock on the door and she looked up, spotting a brunette student who couldn’t have been more than sixteen. “I’m Amber. Are you Ms. Cooper?”

Betty received a jolt of surprise upon hearing her last name being used in a manner that reminded her all too well of her mother but she nodded, nonetheless. “I am. How can I help you?” She glanced at her watch, noting the fact that they still had an hour before the first bell rang and wondered – somewhat worriedly – why the girl was here so early. “Can I stay here before class starts? You’re my first teacher of the day.”

Betty knew better than to ask why the young girl was at the school so early – her expertise didn’t lie in providing a comforting shoulder to high schoolers but, regardless, she gave the young girl permission to wait in the auto-shop class with her until school started. “That’s fine, Amber. Just make yourself comfortable.”

Amber went and sat down in one of the chairs that had been placed in the room for Betty’s students and Betty turned her back towards her as she studied her lesson plan and took a sip of her coffee. It was going to be a long day.

XXX

It happened right before lunch. Betty’s class had been dismissed early because they finished their assignment and she was left grading their day’s work when the panic swept over her like a tidal wave. She clutched her desk, knocking over her now-cold coffee as she shook like a leaf in a rainstorm. She stared directly in front of her, wondering why TBK was tormenting her this way. He smiled menacingly at her – at least she assumed he did under his mask and she screamed, feeling like the walls were closing in on her. She was going to die trapped in a high school room with her abductor playing sick, demented games with her. What the fuck.

“Hey,” a voice broke through her cloudy mind and she took a fortifying breath, squeezing her eyes shut.

“You’re not here, I escaped, you’re not here,” she whispered these words over and over again like a mantra to push her through.

“Betty,” the voice said again and it didn’t sound threatening. It sounded like.. “It’s me, Jughead. You’re safe. He isn’t here. I am.”

Betty latched onto those words like a life preserver in a chaotic storm determined to blow her over. “You’re here – not him.”

“Yeah, that’s right, not him,” Jughead encouraged her, voice breaking through her hazy mind completely. She still felt the fear sticking to her in clumps and exhaled a shuddering sigh as she kept her back ramrod straight; nails curling in towards her palms. She felt, rather than heard, Jughead’s quiet expel of air – so soft it couldn’t be considered a sigh – as he moved his thumbs underneath her nails, preventing her from tearing more skin.

“I thought you beat this,” he said quietly, ducking his head to try and force her to maintain eye contact with him. She shrugged a weary shoulder.

“Old habits die hard, huh?” Betty asked, swallowing against her suddenly dry throat as her eyes darted around and she shook in fear. She felt Jughead rubbing soothing patterns against her skin and that’s perhaps what calmed her down a modicum of an amount the quickest.

“Want to tell me about it?” Jughead asked quietly and she knew  he was referring to her panic attack – or what would have been a one of big proportions had he not entered her classroom at the time he did.

“I-I just thought I saw him,” she whispered ashamedly, wondering when her mental health would get back on track, if it ever would.

He nodded once, mouth set. “I know.” A pause. “That doesn’t make you any less sane than I am. You went through something really traumatic, Betts. Of course there’s bound to be repercussions from your time in captivity. Try not to be too hard on yourself.”

She snorted quietly. “How did you know?”

“Seven years hasn’t made me forget about you,” he said quietly and she wondered if he was like her in the regard that he thought about her when he couldn’t sleep at night, either.

She nodded her head. “I know. Thank you.” It was a quiet murmur; too afraid to be voiced any louder in fear she’d wake up from this dream and be back in the hole in the dark, damp earth, drugs coursing through her veins as she hallucinated her reality.

They were silent for a few minutes as the last of her anxiety wore off before Jughead spoke once more. “Are you taking anything for your anxiety?”

She sighed quietly. “The psychiatrist at the bureau prescribed me something but I don’t take it regularly, no.”

He studied her. “Why?”

She shrugged a shoulder. “I’m not sure. I know it would help me in the long run but I feel like I should have a better grip on my life. I feel like I shouldn’t have to take medication.”

“Betty, you were kidnapped and tortured,” Jughead reminded her softly. “That’s going to leave scars even you cannot begin to see. No one would fault you for having to take medication to help with your anxiety. There’s no shame in it.”

She gifted him with what could be considered a small smile at best. “I know. I’ll start taking it.”

It was a whispered promise she intended to see through. She needed to get better and if medication helped with that then so be it.

Jughead smiled at her and changed the topic. “Ready for lunch? I brought mine here as I figured you didn’t want to eat in the teacher’s lounge.”

“Did you?” Betty challenged with a smirk and he laughed.

“I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do less,” he replied and it was her turn to laugh, anxiety seemingly held at bay for the moment. She knew that it was just a temporary fix though, her laughter and joking with her old boyfriend; nothing was going to fix this mess she was in until she got to the root of the problem. She sobered up.

“Do you think I’m crazy for not going to therapy?” Betty whispered, staring at Jughead.

“I think you’re hurting,” he replied back quietly. “I think you’ve been hurting for a long time and sometimes when we’re hurt, we don’t always pick the best course of action for ourselves. We deny ourselves the rights that we deserve – in your case, talking to a professional about what you went through and truly beginning the healing process.”

She nodded, tears forming in her eyes. “Will it ever get any easier?”

It was a question she wasn’t sure if he could answer but god, how she hoped he could. Jughead smiled softly. “You better believe it will or you’re fighting a long lost battle otherwise. And, I know you’re stronger than that.”

She smiled back at him, relief permeating her very being. It was the exact answer she was looking for.

For the first time in too long, Betty felt hope.

Chapter Text

Betty sat in her therapist’s office, Jughead beside her, as Dr. Burble tried to get her to open up about her trauma she had endured. She had asked Jughead to come with her because the truth of the matter was she felt safer with him there. She couldn’t explain other than the fact that she had always felt the most safe with him. She listened to Dr. Burble asking about what brought her into see her and Betty swallowed thickly, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. She could do this. She could. Dr. Burble was someone she had seen before in high school and she knew of her practice somewhat. She wasn’t going to pressure Betty to talk about things she didn’t want to until if and when she grew comfortable enough to talk about them. Swallowing once more, Betty slowly began to speak, Jughead’s eyes a constant and steady, comforting force on her.

“Uhm, about two months ago, I had chased after a lead I had gotten as an FBI agent about a serial killer we were trying to apprehend. He goes by the moniker TBK and he brutalizes his victims. I had heard that a woman named Theresa was his current victim at the time and I went to where his – I don’t know – lair I guess, was located in the hopes of saving the woman. I was too late. She was already dead by the time I got there. Then I was kidnapped by the serial killer himself and held hostage for two weeks before my team found me.

Dr. Burble studied her gently. “I’m very sorry that happened to you, Betty. How are you sleeping?”

Betty laughed bitterly. “Not well. I-I have nightmares more often than not most nights and I get a couple of hours at most.” She thought back to the night Jughead had woken her up from her nightmare; how loudly he said she had been screaming and she winced. She hadn’t wanted anyone to hear that, let alone Jughead. Betty took comfort in the fact that he didn’t judge her for her nightmares, however. He simply let her be scared and work through them with him.

“I figured as much. Can you tell me what the nightmares are about, Betty?” Dr. Burble asked and she sighed softly. This is where it always got tricky. The therapist at the bureau had wanted her to open about her nightmares and she couldn’t. Not to someone who was essentially a stranger being paid to try and get her to talk about her problems. Dr. Burble, however, wasn’t a stranger. She was a woman that Betty had sat in on therapy with a few times in the past. That helped her to answer the question.

“My nightmares are always filled with TBK and his means of torture, which was a chainsaw. He dismembered his victims while they were still alive with a chainsaw. He is a sadistic man and he got off on the idea of torture,” Betty explained slowly, mind wandering back to her time in captivity. “He would start and stop a chainsaw at the entrance of the man-made hole that I was being held in.” She could hear Jughead’s breath hitch in her throat – wondering what he was thinking at her admittance. “He, I assume, was always smiling behind his mask – was always taking pleasure in the fear that radiated off me. He drugged me so many times during those two weeks that I had to go through detox just to make sure I didn’t develop a dependency on them.”

Dr. Burble wrote something down on her clipboard before looking back up at Betty. “I bet that was invasive and something you didn’t want to go through.”

Betty chuckled without any humor laced behind the sound. “You’d bet correctly. I feel like some drug addict and it wasn’t even my choice. But I understood why they did and I’m grateful, actually. I would have hated to develop a dependency on the drugs TBK pumped into me.” She thought over all the times she had been drugged; how she had passed out from the copious amount of drugs filtering through her system and she sighed. Her abductor had really done a number on her.

Jughead spoke up then. “Betty, hon, you okay?”

His tone was soft, judgment free and it was such a vastly different sounding tone than the one he had left her the message in. That tone had been harsh; words as sharp as knives being hurtled against her skin with the intentions to maim. She nodded her head, plucking a tissue out of the box Dr. Burble pushed in front of her with a gentle, sympathetic smile. “I’m okay. Just thinking about my time in captivity. I thought I was going to die – had hoped for it at one point because the pain was too much to bear.”

She heard the way Jughead’ breath hitched in his throat; heard the way he drew in a sharp inhalation. She knew that admittance scared him – that he couldn’t fathom a world without her much in the same way she couldn’t fathom a world without him, but she had to be honest. The first step to recovery was honesty. She learned that in an earlier session in her life with Dr. Burble. Back when Alice Cooper was micromanaging everything in her life to a T. “I’m glad you fought to survive Betty.”

Jughead’s tone was nothing more than a fierce whisper, layered in pride that she recognized all too well. She knew he was proud of her and that left her feeling proud of herself, she supposed. Proud that she had fought and not given up the way her mind told her to time and time again while she was six feet in the hole in the ground. She had fought as hard as she could, and she had survived. She kept surviving each day after. Perhaps she was a survivor – perhaps that’s what her actual job was supposed to be.

Dr. Burble smiled kindly at her. “You’re going to be okay. Maybe not today, tomorrow, or the next day, but you will walk away from this with your head held high and a winner. I know it may not seem like that now – that maybe you feel as if you’re drowning in anxiety – but I can give you something for when the anxiety gets to be too much; for when you just want to dull it a bit.”

Betty looked at Jughead who nodded encouragingly. “All right, Dr. Burble, I’ll accept the medication.”

It was time for her to get well again.

Chapter Text

Betty and Jughead were at Pops, eating a late dinner when Betty’s phone rang. Glancing down, she saw that it was her superior calling. Smiling apologetically at Jughead, she answered the call on the second ring. “Hello, Glenn.”

“Betty, he’s moved,” was the sentence she was greeted with and Betty felt all the color drain out of her face. She didn’t know what to think as she watched Jughead’s eyes narrow in concern; a hand reaching out to hesitantly grip hers. She drew strength from that.

“Do we know where to?” Betty asked, willing her voice to stay calm and relaxed; if she had a panic attack in Pops, the whole town would know by morning. 

“We’re thinking somewhere just east of Riverdale,” Glenn muttered, somewhat apologetically. 

“Riverdale?” Betty whispered, looking up as the bell above the door rang and in walked Archie and Veronica, and Cheryl and Toni. They all spotted her and Jughead, with Cheryl’s lips curling into a frown as she studied Betty’s expression. Her cousin knew her well – the two having gotten closer when Betty was in college – and she nudged Toni, tilting her head towards their booth when Toni looked around. Veronica spotted them the next instant and she frowned too, and the next thing Betty knew, the four of them were walking over to their table, sitting down as Jughead continued to hold her hand. 

Archie’s eyes fell to their clasped hands and he smiled, but Betty had no time to converse with him – any of them – while she was on the phone with Glenn and trying to figure out just exactly where TBK was in relation to her. 

“You were the one that got away, Betty.” This was Glenn, pulling her back into the conversation and away from her thoughts. 

“I know,” she whispered, horrified at the thought of him coming after her again – or worse – her friends and family. She counted her lucky stars that Polly and her mom were out of town for the next however long; they didn’t need to worry about her with this. Especially not when Polly was raising her twins. 

“Do you have somewhere you can stay until we can get a detail on you?” Glenn asked. 

“I don’t want a detail, Glenn,” she replied seriously, ignoring the looks of confusion on everyone’s faces, besides Jughead, who just looked determined. 

“But, Betty,” Glenn tried.

“No, Glenn,” she said irritably. “I don’t want a detail on me. They’ll upend my life and I have a job to do; friends to see. If TBK wants me, he can come and get me.”

Jughead’s breath hitch and he squeezed her hand gently, shaking his head. “Betty, have a detail put on you, please.”

She studied him for a long moment, knowing that he wouldn’t ask if he wasn’t scared for her safety but she stuck true to what she told Glenn. She didn’t want a detail tailing her wherever she went, whether or not they were in plain clothes. “No, Glenn, I’m sorry but my final answer is no. I won’t have men come uproot my life. Not again.”

She heard Glenn sigh.

“Fine, Cooper,” he muttered. “Just keep your gun on you at all times.”

“I’m not going to carry a gun to the school I teach at, Glenn, but I’ll have it on me wherever else I go,” she informed him and Glenn muttered underneath his breath before sighing once more. 

“You’re a pain in my ass, Cooper,” he snapped, before disconnecting the call and she knew he was worried about her safety. 

Shutting the phone softly, she looked up to spot the others staring at her. “Care to explain, Betty?”

This was Ronnie, worried in pitch as she asked her (former?) friend about the contents of her phone call. Looking once to Jughead, who sent her an encouraging smile, Betty hesitantly began explaining about her time in captivity. 

“I was kidnapped by a serial killer a few months ago named TBK , or the Trash Bag Killer. He dismembered his victims – all women – with a chainsaw while they were still alive,” she began, voice shaking ever so slightly as she got caught in memories of the past. “He held me hostage for two weeks and when I was found by my superior – Glenn – and the rest of my team, I wasn’t doing well. Malnourished, drugged, broken bones – pretty much everything that could have happened to me, physically, did. They got me to the hospital and I asked the team of doctors monitoring me to not call anybody. I didn’t want anyone to know.”

“Alice doesn’t know, does she?” Cheryl asked quietly and when Betty shook her head, cupping her elbows closer to her, the redhead blew out a harsh breath between her clenched teeth. “Why not tell any of us, Betty?”

“I didn’t know how to,” Betty replied honestly. “I-I thought it was penance, you know?”

“No, I don’t know, Betty,” Veronica said. “What on earth would be so bad you had to repent by being kidnapped and tortured?” 

Keeping her eyes staring resolutely at the table and not flickering to Archie, Betty shrugged a shoulder as casually as she could manage. “I suppose Hal – Chic and Charles.”

“Not good enough in the slightest,” Jughead said quietly, an undercurrent of anger dripping from his tone and she hesitantly looked up to meet his blazing eyes. “Their indiscretions are not a reflection upon you and you shouldn’t have to pay for their sins. Or pay for anything else.” Jughead’s eyes held a certain depth of understanding to them and Betty knew he knew what she wasn’t saying; what she was too afraid to say. 

“Thank you,” she closed the topic and signaled to Tabitha for a refill on her coffee. Jughead’s eyes watched her and she knew what he was worried about - her not sleeping that night - but honestly, if her abductor was getting closer to her, then what was the point of sleeping when there was work to be done? She knew it was detrimental to her health and counterproductive overall if she chose not to sleep but she couldn’t help it. It looked like she had a serial killer to catch once more. 

“Why didn’t you call me, Betty?” Archie asked. 

“While you were in the army?” Betty questioned. “No, it was best if I hadn’t called any of you.”

“Yet, Jughead knew because he wasn’t the least bit surprised when you told us your horrifying tale,” Cheryl said briskly and Betty wanted to elbow her to make her shut up. Eyes flickering to her cousin, she shrugged a shoulder. 

“He found out, yeah,” she said. 

“How do you just find out about something like that?” Veronica asked dubiously and Betty sighed. 

“It’s a long story,” she said.

“One that doesn’t have to be told now or ever if Betty doesn’t feel like sharing it,” Jughead added as Tabitha came by with the pot of coffee and topped them off and then took everyone’s orders. Betty’s stomach was in knots and the idea of food repulsed her so she just kept it at coffee, feeling Jughead’s eyes burning holes into her. Too fucking bad, Jug. 

“Do you think your team will come out here?” Archie asked before Jughead could comment on her lack of ordering and she was relieved as she latched onto the topic change. 

“I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “Glenn was pretty mad that I wouldn’t let him put a plainclothes detail on me.”

“Why not?” Toni inquired, studying Betty closely.

Taking a sip of coffee, she pondered her answer before replying. “I just don’t want men – and Glenn would undoubtedly send men – to come into my life and upend it once more. It took me several weeks to get to a decent enough place after my abduction and some days, I still feel like I’m drowning.”

“I understand that,” Toni replied quietly, not pressing the issue further and Betty appreciated that.

“Is it safe for you to be teaching at the school?” Archie asked, and Betty understood what he wasn’t saying: were the kids safe? 

“I am for now,” she replied honestly. “If I need to leave for the students' safety I will.”

Archie turned red. “I-I’m sorry I implied that.”

Betty held up a hand, halting his apology. “No need for it, Arch. I would be worried too if it was someone else who was going through this.”

“If you leave Betty, I’ll come with you,” Jughead said. Not offered, but said, and she knew he wouldn’t back down on that statement because he feared for her being on her own. 

“You need the money too, Jug,” she reminded him, but it was his turn to shrug a shoulder.

“Not that badly,” he replied. “I’d rather know you’re safe over anything else; the rest doesn’t matter.”

The conversation they had many years ago in the Blue and Gold about the other things in her life being white noise crept into her mind and a small smile played at her lips. “I know.”

“Good then, it’s settled,” Jughead said, leaning back into his side of the booth. 

Betty didn’t know if anything was technically settled but she accepted his answer for what it was worth and vowed to bring down her tormentor one way or the other. 



Chapter Text

Jughead spent the night again at Betty’s house, a silent understanding between them both that he would just be there. She found herself standing out on her porch, cup of hot tea in hand as she looked towards the night sky, and the door opened a few moments later, shutting quietly the next second. “Hey.”

Betty didn’t jump or startle; she had been wondering when Jughead would come out and check on her under the pretense of wanting to chat. A small smile flickered across her lips as she took a sip of her tea. “Hey yourself.”

Jughead stopped right next to her and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, tilting his head questioningly in Betty’s direction. “Mind if I have a smoke?”

She shook her head. “Help yourself.”

She didn’t lay into him about the health concerns and risks that came with smoking because honestly, there were worst ways to die. She felt her hands trembling at the thought of TBK killing her and all those other victims, the teacup rattling against the saucer it rested on. Jughead frowned after he finished lighting his cigarette. “Hey, you want to tell me what’s got you spooked right now?” His tone was judgement free which is perhaps why she found it easier to answer the question than she would have if it had been someone else asking.

Sighing, she began to explain what she was thinking in a quiet voice. “I’m just thinking about the victims he got to and the fact that he was close to killing me too.”

Jughead’s breath hitched in his throat as he took a step closer to her, reaching out hesitantly to curl his hand around her elbow; waiting to see what she would do. When she leaned into his hold just as hesitantly, she felt relief flood through her as he wrapped his hand around her elbow, centering her in the feeling of being home once more. Home wasn’t a place for her; it had always been Jughead, she had just forgotten. Biting her tongue so she didn’t spew out words that would send him running, she smiled slightly at him as he spoke up. “I’m not going to let this sonofabitch get to you, again. I promise.”

She laughed tiredly, feeling as if the weight of the world was resting on her shoulders. “I don’t think you can make that type of promise, Jug.” Her voice was quiet and weary; accepting what was to potentially come.

Jughead gripped her elbow in a gentle hold, rubbing his thumb back and forth across her skin. “I can and I will. I won’t let anyone hurt you again – not even yourself.” His eyes batted down to her palms and Betty felt shame burn low in her belly. “It’s not your fault. God knows I’m not blaming you; but you do have to work on not letting it be a habit once more.”

Betty closed her eyes at his soft and understanding voice, unsure of what she did to earn it. She smiled slightly, the corners of her lips upturning ever so slightly. “I’ll work on it.” It was a promise laced with good intentions and he smiled at her in return.

“I know you will, Betts,” he encouraged her, and the nickname was like a warm blanket after a cold storm. She felt warm – a feeling that had been lacking from her life as of late. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt warm and safe; perhaps in college when she wasn’t being chased by demons of her past. She nodded her head.

“I will, I promise,” she assured him softly, wanting to hold true to that promise because there was simply no other way up than up. She had to keep climbing to make it out of the proverbial hole she had dug for herself; she didn’t want or need to be in anymore holes. Not since her time in captivity.

Jughead fell silent after that, seemingly accepting her answer for what it was worth, and she felt relieved. The two of them looked towards the sky once more, each absorbed in their own thoughts and – for Betty – fear of being found and kidnapped again, this time not making it out alive. She found herself shaking once more, the thought of being back in that man-made hole in the ground terrifying the hell out of her and she heard Jughead sigh softly. Looking at him apologetically, she watched as he shook his head, snuffing out his cigarette and pulled her into a hug. The fact that she smelt smoke on him, and his aftershave made her feel safe and immediately became her new favorite scent. She could feel him slowly pressing a kiss to her forehead and wished it were her lips instead, and then quickly banished that thought lest he read it across her face clear as day and she got in trouble.

“You’re going to be safe, Betts, I promise,” he murmured lowly in her ear, and she nodded into his hold, wrapping her arms around him more tightly in an attempt to tether herself to him once more. She had been unmoored since they broke up – not sure which way to go. And, as she thought over his alcohol addiction, she felt fairly certain he had been unmoored too. She sighed softly.

“We’ll make it through this, right?” Betty asked quietly, desperately wanting to know the answer but simultaneously afraid at the same time. She didn’t know if she could handle him saying anything other than ‘yes’. Feeling him nod against her head from where his own rested atop of it, she relaxed significantly more.

“We’ll make it through, I promise you,” he whispered. “I’m not leaving you to fend for yourself, not anymore.”

“And I’m not leaving you to fend for yourself, either,” she replied quietly. “Besides, we work better when we’re actively communicating, I think.”

“Without a doubt,” Jughead replied in a voice tinged with fondness. Betty smiled against his chest, feeling secure in her safety as the two of them stayed outside, holding each other til the sun rise.

Chapter Text

Betty and Jughead spent more time together in the coming days, not really leaving each other’s side for anything. Jughead hated the fact that Betty felt as if she had to do everything on her own and she knew this. She understood his anger over it, too. But then, he understood her reasoning: they hadn’t talked in so many years. Seven, long years had passed them by and if it wasn’t for her kidnapping and Archie calling them all back to their hometown, she didn’t know if she and Jughead would ever get the chance to speak once more. So many things had changed between them; so many things had been left unsaid in the wake of their breakup and she wasn’t sure if any of it would be able to get fixed again or not.

Sighing softly, she accepted the mug of tea Jughead handed her with a small smile and nod of thanks, taking a sip the next moment. “Thanks for being here, Jug.” She didn’t know how else to express her gratitude and she knew that it was easily the best thing that he could have done for her. He smiled at her and she felt the familiar swarm of butterflies she had always felt in high school whenever he was around.

“I’m happy to be here, Betts,” he replied sincerely. “You don’t have to thank me for that.”

His tone was so self-assured that Betty couldn’t help but to believe him. She sighed softly, happily, and as she looked up to make eye contact with him, her heart warmed at the way his eyes were soft for her and her alone once more. It was as if they were those high school students in love once again. It wasn’t the worst thing to experience, she thought to herself. “I know.” And she did know. She always knew. But, she also knew that she owed him a lot more than a thank you; that he had saved her life yet again and he didn’t even seem to know it. “Still, I need to thank you.”

Jughead brushed the pad of his thumb along her knuckles, the movement soft and soothing, and her eyes fell hesitantly to his lips before flickering away as she stood up, taking another sip of her tea. She knew that kissing him right now wouldn’t probably be the best thing that she could do and she hated that. She wanted nothing more than to see if the feelings were still there, something, she suspected, that were. Going into the living room, she sat down on the couch and pulled her case files towards her, studying them as she did so. She could see Jughead enter the living room out of her peripheral and study her for a moment before going to sit down onto the couch next to her. “Why force yourself to look at these images, Betty?”

Betty sighed, eyes trailing the images of her tied to a chair; of her being drugged relentlessly by TBK. The man, whoever he was, didn’t seem to care about her wellbeing while she was his hostage. Not that she expected him to. She didn’t. Eyes still on the images, she began speaking in a slow and measured tone, careful to not let her voice shake in the slightest lest Jughead hear and shut the files and pull them away from her. “I have to know where I messed up at, Jug. I have to know how I didn’t know it was a setup; that Theresa was already dead by the time I got there.”

Jughead sighed softly and he spoke up in quiet tones a moment later. “You did nothing wrong, Betts. I promise you.”

“But if I had just -,” she said but he cut her off.

“Hey, look at me,” he encouraged her gently, trapping her face between his hands and making her feel an infinite level of safety that she normally never felt elsewhere. She studied him, eyes flickering back and forth between his, taking in his expression hungrily. His eyes dropped to her own lips, much in the same way hers’ had did to his and he hesitantly spoke once more. “Nothing about your kidnapping and resulting torture is your fault, all right?”

Betty slowly nodded, taking the time to really hear what her ex was saying to her. “Okay.” It was a quiet whisper; her acceptance at his words and how she could agree with them now. He hesitantly trailed his thumb along her cheekbone, causing her to inhale softly, hoping for the kiss she so desperately wanted to feel in her toes. He acquiesced her wishes, slowly bringing their faces together as he gave her all the time in the world to pull back. When they were inches from each other, Betty closed the distance between them, pressing her lips against his and molding them together. She kissed him deeply; hungrily as their lips worked in-sync with one another and his hand came up to cup the back of her head, cradling it in his palm. She felt the kiss spread from the crown of her head to the tips of her toes and she finally remembered what it felt like to be home. Sighing softly, they kissed once, twice, three more times before the need for air became a necessity and they pulled back, each trying to catch their breath.

Pressing their foreheads together, Jughead was looking at her by the time she opened her eyes once more. Bringing her fingertips to her lips, she pressed them there gently, feeling the remnants of his lips on hers’. Swallowing once, she sought after the words to say that wouldn’t shatter them and the moment they just shared with one another. “No going back now?”

“No,” Jughead murmured, pressing his lips to hers’ once more in a gentle hold before pulling back and finishing his sentence. “And I don’t want to. I don’t want to go back to what we were. Do you?”

Betty thought about it, head shaking the next moment.

“No.” It was a quiet whisper; assertive in her answer. She didn’t want to go back to who they were either.

Chapter Text

Betty and Jughead spent the next couple of days just being together, which was honestly the nicest thing Betty had experienced in a long time. The following Monday showed her going back to the high school to teach and she wasn’t sure how she felt. Jughead came down the stairs, freshly showered – with her – and changed. He tilted her head back, pressing a kiss to her lips and she melted into it. Sighing softly when they broke a part, Betty looked at Jughead curiously. “Not that I’m complaining, but what was that for?” Her tone was soft; quiet around the edges.

Jughead grinned. “Just because I felt like it. I can kiss you anytime I want, now.”

She matched his grin with a shy one of her own, ducking her head as a blush painted her cheeks. She felt him place a hand underneath her chin, gently tugging on it so she was looking upward once more. “That’s a good reason.” Betty was still smiling and Jughead pressed a kiss twice more against her lips before kissing her forehead and pulling back.

“You ready to go to the school?” Jughead asked, and Betty sighed, rolling her bottom lip in-between her teeth. Jughead frowned. “Hey, if you’re not ready, Archie will understand, baby.”

Betty shook her head. “It’s not that I’m not ready – what if I mess up?”

“Mess up teaching a bunch of high schoolers?” Jughead asked, tone dubious and filled with laughter and Betty sighed, smiling sheepishly.

“It’s pretty silly when said out loud,” she concurred.

“Definitely,” Jughead winked. “Just remember, they think you’re not a half bad teacher.”

She nodded. “I know you’re right.” Standing up, she went to go pour herself one more cup of coffee, popping down the toast that she had placed in the toaster and waited for it to pop back up so she and Jughead had something to eat. She leaned against the counter, taking a sip of her coffee as she looked at him over the rim of the mug with a smirk playing at her lips. “Feel like skipping fourth and going to get lunch with me?”

“Betty Cooper wanting to skip class?” Jughead asked, tone playful. “I never thought I’d see the day.”

She rolled her eyes as the toast popped up and she began to butter it. “Yeah, yeah.”

Jughead grew somber the next minute and she wondered what he was thinking. Walking towards her, he tucked a loose tendril of hair behind her ear as he studied her. “I’m trying not to overcrowd you right now because of my fear that you’ll get hurt again, I really am. But, Betts, I need you to try and stay as safe as possible when I’m not around you, okay?”

Betty sighed softly, understanding her – was Jughead her boyfriend now? They hadn’t talked labels – whatever Jughead was to hers’ fear. He didn’t want anything to happen to her and she wasn’t in any rush to let anything happen to herself, either. She didn’t want to find herself back in that man-made hole dug into the earth. She didn’t think she could survive it. “I promise I will be as safe as possible.” Betty didn’t see any other way around his request and she didn’t want to lie to him, either. And, if she were being honest with herself, she didn’t want to be hurt again so she would stay as safe as she could with TBK close by.

Jughead studied her carefully and she left her face open and honest for him because she meant her promise she had just made. She wouldn’t go wandering off in the hopes of finding her abductor once more. She just couldn’t. Not when TBK had already taken away her sense of peace. “Okay.” Jughead’s voice was quiet and she knew he believed her – that he knew she wasn’t going to go looking for anyone, especially not on her own. He brought his lips to hers’ in a languid kiss and they stood there, in the middle of the kitchen, kissing for a solid minute before the need for air became a necessity once more. She pressed her forehead against his, toast long forgotten.

“I almost forgot,” she murmured.

“Forgot what, baby?” Jughead whispered quietly, breath fanning her face and she cupped his cheek, trailing the pad of her thumb across his cheekbone as she replied.

“I almost forgot what it felt like kissing you,” she said quietly. “Seven years is a long time.”

“Too long,” he breathed, and she nodded.

“I agree,” she replied. “Let’s not do that again, shall we?”

Jughead laughed. “No baby, let’s not.”

It was quiet for a few, blissful moments before she spoke up again. “I know we have a lot to talk about – a lot to sort through but -,”

Jughead cut her off by placing his palm against her mouth gently and she stared at him, smiling slightly behind his hold. He always did know how to get her out of her own head. “We’ll talk, sweetheart, I promise. But let’s just enjoy this right now, okay?”

Betty nodded and he removed his hand, interlacing their fingers together as they both simultaneously reached for the toast they had neglected. Each taking a bite, they left the conversation there for now as they hurried out the door, Betty locking it behind her as she went.

XXX

At the school, they had to separate but Jughead pulled Betty aside, into a little alcove that they had snuck to many times in their youth, and spoke to her in quiet tones, as if afraid to burst the bubble they had been in since the past weekend. “Text me if you need me at all, okay?” Jughead’s voice was urgent, as if he were worried she wouldn’t agree to his wishes and she pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek, not really one to have a lot of PDA in front of students.

“I will,” she murmured quietly. “I promise.”

Jughead sighed, carding his fingers through her hair. “I just – I just got you back. I wouldn’t be able to survive it if anything happened to you, all right?”

Betty curved her hand down the side of his face, glancing around before pressing a tender kiss to the corner of his lips. “You’re not going to lose me again, I swear.”

There was nothing left to be said after that and they went their separate ways, Betty hoping to God she could keep that promise.

Chapter Text

Betty was able to keep her promise to Jughead until she wasn’t. She didn’t actively go looking for TBK but he, whoever he was, still found her in a sense and was able to get to her. Psychologically, at least. Betty had made it to the end of the day and as she headed out to her car, she stopped by Jughead’s classroom to check on him and see if he wanted to walk out together. 

“Hey, you.” Her voice was quiet – so as to not startle him as he seemed to be in deep thought about something. She watched the way he gave his head a shake, clearing it of its thoughts most likely, before looking at her and smiling softly.

“Hey, baby,” he said quietly, bounding over to her and giving her a kiss on the lips. “How was your day?”

“Long,” Betty sighed, tucking a loose tendril of hair behind her ear. “High schoolers are mean when they want to be. Such little shits.”

Jughead snorted as he nodded his head in agreement. “That they are, Betts. What happened?”

“They’re all more interested in who Hal was rather than learning about anything I could teach them in auto-shop,” she muttered, rolling her eyes heavenward as she did so. “I don’t understand people’s morbid fascination with serial killers.”

“Ah, it’s like you said though,” Jughead wrapped his arms around her waist in a loose hold. “High schoolers are little shits.”

Betty laughed, the sound sounding carefree even to her own ears and she sighed happily, placing a gentle kiss to his lips now that there were no students around to see and report them. “So how ‘bout it? Want to walk me out?”

Jughead nodded, placed one more kiss to her lips and then went and got his briefcase – which Betty found utterly adorable – and snapped it shut, walking back over to her the next moment. She wrapped her arm through his as they walked out of his classroom and out of the school, heading to their cars where they had parked them by each other that morning. Betty spotted a piece of paper stuck between her windshield and her windshield wiper and she looked at it warily. Sighing, she unattached herself from Jughead and went to go inspect the inevitable damage whatever was on that note would bring. Opening it, she read the sentence on the paper.

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide for a liar. 

She scanned the note thrice more and then looked out into the distance to see if she could see anyone who looked suspicious as hell. It took her a moment to realize Jughead was calling her name. “Hmm?”

“The note, Betty, what does it say?” Jughead asked firmly, studying her intently. “And don’t bother lying to me – I can still read you well.”

Betty felt a flare of annoyance at the fact that he did still know her so well, even after seven years apart. She sighed and handed over the note so he could read it for himself. “Here.”

Jughead took it from her and scanned it, hissing through his teeth the next moment. 



“That sonofabitch, I swear to God I’ll kill him.” His voice was nothing more than a vehement growl and Betty knew how mad he was by his tone alone. “Why the hell is he calling you a liar, though?”

Betty rolled her bottom lip between her teeth, trapping it there in an imprisonment of some sort and it wasn’t until Jughead freed it and smoothed out her lip that she answered him. “I’m not sure what this note is actually pertaining to. I’ve lied at various points in my life but I was too drugged up to lie to TBK when he was holding me hostage. So I have no clue.”

Jughead’s eyes fell back to the note, rereading it in much the same way she had done moments prior. “He was here.”

“Either that or he had someone deliver it,” Betty agreed, folding her arm across her chest; she was cold all of sudden.

Jughead noticed her tense posture and squeezed her shoulder gently. “Hey Betty? Betty, listen to me. Just because some sicko sent you this letter, it does not mean that he’s going to get within ten feet of you. I won’t allow that to happen, okay?”

Betty searched his eyes, staring at him as she desperately tried to hold onto something that would help keep her afloat against the high tide. Eventually, she expelled a quiet breath and nodded slightly. 

“Okay.” It was a quiet agreement, one she knew Jughead wouldn’t take lightly so she meant her promise in that moment. She did believe him when he said that he wouldn’t let her captor get within ten feet of her, she just wasn’t sure if that meant Jughead would be safe or not. She couldn’t stomach the idea of something more happening to him. 

“As your boyfriend, I’ll help you handle this,” he promised her earnestly. 

A small smile graced her lips, eyebrows quirking up at the implication behind his words. “Boyfriend?” 

He rubbed a sheepish hand down his neck, chuckling awkwardly. “I mean, it still has a nice ring to it seven years later, don’t you agree?” 

Betty grinned, brushing her lips against his in a chaste kiss that still caused her stomach to swarm with butterflies. “It does. And I like the way the title sounds on you.” 

He kissed her back, settling his hands on her waist after setting the note back down on the hood of her car.  She felt secure in that moment of time – an iota amount. No matter how small the increment of safety may be, she felt it infinitely, warming her chest because she knew without a doubt that this time she had Jughead for good; that this time, he wasn’t going anywhere. Yes, they had both made mistakes in the past and perhaps they had needed to utilize their voices more during that time period but Betty was quite content with where they were sitting. As she kissed him languidly, the note wasn’t completely forgotten – just held at bay until the time came when they needed to investigate further. 

 

Chapter Text

Jughead hated the fact that TBK had gotten to Betty like this once more. It was bad enough that the prick had kidnapped her but now he was sending her threatening messages? Jughead wanted his fucking head on a stick for all the pain he had caused the only light in his life. And wasn’t that exactly what Betty was to him? A light? Yes, their breakup had been messy and yes, he hadn’t handled it the way he should have for which he was ashamed of, but they had come back together in the end. And Jughead would be damned if she left him again – especially at the hands of someone else. He’d annihilate TBK into nothing more than a bad memory for Betty. This he was certain of.

Jughead sighed as he lit a cigarette and took a drag of it, letting smoke curl and furl around his lungs and make a home there for itself. He was tired – he had been up much the night before with Betty, trying to decipher where the note came from. They knew who it came from easily enough; the dick practically signed his name on the letter but how it was delivered, they didn’t know. Would TBK be willing to walk onto school grounds just to deliver a note or would he have someone do his dirty work for him?

Jughead didn’t have the answers to the million and one questions rolling over in his mind nor did he know where to begin to look. He was out of his depth here – sure he had dealt with people who had been kidnapped before, his baby sister coming to mind, but hadn’t had to deal with a kidnapping of this magnitude before. Jughead didn’t know how anybody could expect his girlfriend to bounce back from this. He wasn’t even sure if he expected her to. He knew she was so very tired and wanting nothing more than for this to be a distant memory of the past but he had to help her get to that point. He expelled a quiet sigh before taking another drag of his cigarette, looking towards the front door of Betty’s house when it opened.

Stepping outside, Betty made her was over to Jughead and tucked herself up underneath him as he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close, pressing a kiss to her temple. “You all right?” His tone was soft in ways he had forgotten he could be – and she was the only one that could pull that tone of voice from him. She nestled into his hold, pressing a chaste kiss to his lips before pulling back and nodding.

“I’m fine,” she murmured quietly, continuing to speak the next moment. “I don’t know how TBK could have gotten that note on my car. I don’t see him, whoever he is, willingly exposing himself out in the open this way. He’s smarter than that; more careful.”

“The stupidest thing he could have done was kidnap you,” Jughead replied flatly. “He’s started a war that he won’t get the chance to finish.”

Betty nodded, looking out over porch and into her front yard. “I know that.” Her tone of voice was quiet; subdued and Jughead wondered what it was she was thinking.

“Hey,” he said softly, snubbing out his cigarette and turning her in his arms. Pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead, he smiled slightly as she wound her arms around his waist and buried her head in his chest, home once more. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that I’m really fucking tired of this game we’ve all been thrust into by a sociopathic killer. TBK takes and he takes things that don’t belong to him with no regard for the fallout that’s always surely to follow. Sometimes…,” she trailed off and Jughead pulled back slightly so he could look into her eyes.

“Sometimes…what?” Jughead asked quietly, tracing her cheekbone with the pad of his thumb and he felt his heart clench as he witnessed tears slowly gathering in the corner’s of her eyes.

“Sometimes, I wish he had succeeded,” she whispered, shame-faced and staring at a spot on his shoulder resolutely. Jughead felt like he had gotten the wind knocked out of him because no matter how mad he was at one point he would never have been able to survive it if she had died down in that hole. He would have lost a part of himself that day, too.

“Don’t say that, Betts,” he whispered harshly through his teeth, pulling her in towards his chest with a gentle hand cupped to the back her head, settling her against him, where she belonged. “Don’t say things that would break all of us. If you had died – god, none of us would have survived. Not one of us, least of all me.”

Betty sniffled against his chest and it tore at his heartstrings. He rubbed a soothing hand up and down her back in a repetitive motion, keeping her close to him. “I just feel like if I had, died I mean, then we wouldn’t be in this predicament.”

Her voice was so very worn down and Jughead understood then and there that she was exhausted. He didn’t blame her, not for a minute. He carded his free hand through her hair, keeping her pressed close to him as he dropped a kiss to the crown of her head. “Had you died.” He began in a shaky voice, words tasting like poison in his mouth. “None of us would have been able to come back from that. You’re the rock of our group, always have been. Imagine how Veronica would feel if you died; or Archie?”

He was trying to make her see reason and realize she wasn’t alone. That their group would have taken a  huge hit had she have actually died. He couldn’t fathom a world in which Betty Cooper didn’t exist. As she got ready to reply, Jughead heard the squealing of tires as they screeched down the street. “What the fuck?” The window to the car rolled down and a gun appeared and Jughead didn’t think, he just acted on instinct, shoving Betty to the ground as shots rang out in the air and she gasped. He kept his body on top of hers’ until he heard the car drive away and then he looked down at her. “Betty? Say something.”

“My arm -,” she groaned and Jughead peeled back her sweater to spot a bullet wound the size of a dime on her shoulder and he swallowed, placing the sweater back over it and wincing when she cried out in pain.

“I know, baby, I know, but I have to stop the bleeding. Hang in there, okay?” Jughead urged her and Betty lost consciousness as soon as he dialed for an ambulance, and he howled.

Chapter Text

By the time the ambulance showed up, Jughead was ready to either scream, punch something, or both for the amount of time it took the paramedics to get there. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t that long, and they were probably driving as fast as they could, but every time Jughead saw blood seeping through the sweater covering Betty’s arm, his stomach churned. He didn’t know if the bullet nicked an artery or not. He didn’t think so but the rate that she lost consciousness was a little alarming. When they wheeled a stretcher out, Jughead found himself unable to let her go. “No, I need to be with her. She needs me.” He didn’t recognize his own voice; not with the way it sounded so hollow to his own ears.

“Son, you’re allowed to ride with us to the hospital with your friend -,” one EMT began but Jughead was quick to cut him off.

“She’s my girlfriend and I can’t leave her alone,” he snapped, wiping the back of his hand across his nose as he gathered her closer to his body. The EMT got down on his knees and placed a fatherly hand to Jughead’s shoulder.

“I understand, son,” he said quietly. “My name is Charlie and all I want is to get your girlfriend to the hospital so they can take care of her. I’m not going to take her from you but we need to hurry.” His voice was logical; the words making sense to Jughead in a way they hadn’t before.

Tears gathering in eyes that he kept on Betty, he spoke up softly, never once looking away from her. “You want to save her?” He had to be sure; he didn’t trust anyone but himself with her right now.

“I do,” Charlie promised gently, and Jughead sniffed.

“And, I don’t have to leave her?” Jughead double-checked.

“Only when we get her to surgery, but we need to get her there now,” the man said, tone grave. “I’m afraid she’s been shot elsewhere.”

Jughead blinked, not understanding what he was saying, and he followed where the EMT was pointing and spotted blood gathered around her abdomen. “What? How did I not see that?” His voice was nothing more than a whimper and Charlie squeezed his shoulder firmly.

“You’re in shock, they’ll have something for that at the hospital, but we need to go now,” he said. “Can you stand up and let us get her on the stretcher?”

Jughead felt the lightest of pressures against his hand and knew Betty was still there; was still fighting and that was all it took for him to be scrambling to his feet and giving the paramedics room to work. He hurried after them into the back of the ambulance and sat down on the bench, holding Betty’s slightly cool hand in his much warmer one. He pressed a chaste kiss to her brow. “Hang in there, baby.”

XXX

At the hospital, it was a madhouse of doctors in white coats and nurses in blue and teal scrubs. Jughead got a headache at all of the different colors swimming before his vision, but he forced one foot to move in front of the other and hurried to follow after the paramedics as they ran from the ambulance, guiding Betty to the nurses waiting right outside of the emergency room doors for her. “GSW to the shoulder and abdomen. Victim lost blood and consciousness right around the same time. Her breathing is stabilized for now but if you want to save her life, you have to do it now.”

Jughead had the wind knocked out of him for a second – or was it third – time since the bullet(s) pierced Betty’s body. Betty was close to dying and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. Turning petrified eyes onto the doctor, he began speaking.

“Please,” he gasped, not giving a fuck about the tears creating two pathways down his cheeks. “Please, I am begging you: you have to save her. She’s all I have left.”

The surgeon put her hand on his shoulder. “I promise to do everything in my power to keep her alive. Now, let the nurse’s assistant help you.” She nodded her head to a man holding something in a Styrofoam cup.

“Its hot chocolate,” he said with a kind smile. “It’ll help soothe your nerves.” With that and a hand to his shoulder, he led Jughead away from the doctors who were wheeling Betty into the OR, guiding him into a seat the next moment. “I know you said she’s all you have but is there anyone else at all I can call for you.”

Giving him Archie, Ronnie, Sweet Pea and Cheryl’s numbers, the man began making the calls as he kept an eye on Jughead, who slowly drank his hot chocolate.

XXX

“Jughead!” Sweet Pea’s voice was the first one that broke through the haze in his mind as the taller skidded to a stop in front of him, their other friends crowding around him as well.

“They shot her,” he said, voice void of emotion because he was simply tapped out.

Who, Jughead?” Cheryl all but growled.

“Someone TBK knows or maybe even TBK himself,” he whispered, wanting nothing more than to go see Betty and see how she was doing. He glanced at his watch – she had been in surgery for about an hour now and he still hadn’t heard any news.

“How bad?” Archie whispered and he looked towards the redhead and his brunette counterpart, both of whom looked terrified to the bone.

“One bullet to the shoulder and – and one to the abdomen,” he replied in a voice that shook. “They’re still working on her.”

“Have they come out and said anything?” Sweet Pea rasped in a hoarse voice.

Jughead shook his head and Cheryl sat down next to him, gathering his hand in her's with a steely look in her eyes.

“No news is good news,” she said. “We need to remember that.”

Jughead nodded once, short, and sharp and they fell silent once more as they waited for news of any kind.

XXX

It wasn’t until another thirty minutes did the doctor walk out, spot Jughead and everyone else, and walk towards them. He stood up on shaky legs with the help of Archie and Sweet Pea and the two guys kept their hands on his shoulders as he looked to the doctor with what could only be described as a mask of fear.

“She survived,” those two words allowed his heart to beat at a normal rate once more and he all but collapsed against his two friends who helped hold him up.

“Thank you,” he choked out.

“That’s not to say recovery won’t be a process,” the doctor warned him. “I want her to stay the next week to avoid running risk of an infection.”

“But she’s out the woods?” Sweet Pea clarified, fingers digging almost painfully into Jughead’s shoulder.

The nurse bore a kind smile. “She’s out of the woods. Betty is a hell of a fighter. I can take you to her room in a few minutes – they’re just finishing setting her up.”

“Is she awake?” Archie asked.

“She is,” she said, turning to look at Jughead for a moment. “Asked about you – wanted to make sure you were safe.”

He closed is eyes with a groan. “She shouldn’t be worrying about me.”

“Would her saying that make you stop worrying about her?” The doctor asked knowingly and Sweet Pea snorted.

“Thank you,” Cheryl whispered. “Please let us know when we can see her.”

“Shouldn’t be too long now,” the doctor replied, walking away and down the hall to presumably Betty’s room.

“Thank God,” Jughead whispered, running a shaky hand through his hair, and staring at the door the doctor had disappeared behind.

“She’s all right man,” Archie said, squeezing his shoulder, and Jughead grinned in relief.

“Yeah,” he whispered.

“You go in first, Jug,” Cheryl said.

“You guys can come,” he offered, wanting nothing more than for them to deny it.

“Nah, go be with her,” Sweet Pea encouraged. “We’ll have our turn with her in a little bit.”

Looking at all of them for a moment, Jughead nodded once as the doctor called to him, beckoning him forward. Turning on his heels, he followed her into a dimly lit room and spotted Betty staring at him out of tired eyelids. He swallowed harshly as the doctor shut her door to give them a modicum of privacy. Making his way towards her, he looked at her for a moment, lip trembling, before he bent down and pressed a kiss to her forehead, crying against her skin. “Scared the hell out of me, Betty Cooper.”

“Does it help to know I’m sorry?” Betty asked in a tired voice and Jughead sat down in the chair next to her bed, scooting forward.

“A little,” he admitted with a nod, tangling their fingers together as he needed to touch any part of her that he could; needed to reassure himself that she was still alive. “I didn’t even know you had been shot in the abdomen until the EMT showed me.”

Betty shuddered and he rubbed her arm gently. “I’m just glad you all got me to the hospital so fast. I’m not through being a pain in your ass.”

“Please be a pain in my ass forever,” he laughed tearfully, sharing a wet and salty kiss with her. She smiled against his lips.

“I might not be able to stay awake for much longer,” she warned and he carded his free hand through her hair and breathed out two words into the quiet room.

“Then sleep.”

He’d stand guard. He’d always stand guard.

Chapter Text

Jughead’s chin was resting on Betty’s bed as he looked at her through wide-awake eyes. He didn’t want to fall asleep and miss something she may need from him. He didn’t want to do that at all. Jughead wasn’t stupid; he understood he may be being too protective right now but in his defense, his girlfriend had been fucking shot in front of him and he wasn’t sure if she was going to make it or not. He had never been that scared in his life. And, even though it had been a few weeks since he had a drink, he could have easily seen himself drinking a Scotch or something to help soothe his nerves. He knew that wasn’t what was needed, however. That Betty would much rather him have a coherent mind and not one filled to the brim with alcohol. He could do that much for her.

Just then, there was a light knock on the door and he beckoned whoever was there into the room with them. He was unsurprised to see all of their friends walking into the room and Veronica immediately fussing over Betty’s wounds. “Has she woken up yet?”

Jughead shook his head, swiping the back of his hand across his nose before replying. “No, not yet. The doctor said she’ll wake up when she’s ready.”

“She will, Jughead,” Sweet Pea replied quietly, eyes on his favorite blonde and Jughead understood just how hard it was to see his best friend laying in a hospital bed. Cheryl sat down across from her and held her other and in her own, tracing soothing patterns against her skin.

“We have to believe she’ll come back to us,” Cheryl said quietly, eyes on her cousin and only family member she didn’t hate, and Jughead knew the redhead was right.

“Did anyone call Alice?” Jughead asked quietly a few moments later.

“I did,” Archie replied from where he was sitting at the foot of the bed. “Her and Polly are on their way back. I think Alice knows that Betty is keeping something from her and she wants to know what.”

“You didn’t tell her, did you?” Came Betty’s quiet voice and they all smiled in relief.

“Hey, you,” Jughead said quietly, leaning over to press a gentle kiss to her forehead. “Good to see your eyes again.”

Betty smiled tiredly, humming low in her throat as Jughead held his lips to her forehead for an immeasurable amount of time before pulling back and smiling at her as he cupped her cheek in his free hand; his other holding onto hers. “I can’t sleep all the time, now can I?”

Ronnie snorted. “When you’re recovering from a gun shot wound, I’d say you get to sleep for as long as you like.”

Betty’s eyes traveled around the room, looking at each person in there with them before landing on Sweet Pea, who was staring away from her resolutely. “Pea?” Her voice was gentle; kind for her best friend in ways it was only ever kind for Jughead.

“Hmm?” Sweet Pea hummed, still not turning around, and facing her.

“You all right?” Betty asked kindly and he finally relaxed and turned around to look at her. Jughead was unsurprised to find tears gathered in the corner of his eyes. If anyone could make Sweet Pea cry, it’d be Betty.

“Scared the shit out of me, Cooper,” he said, placing his hand on her forearm and rubbing it gently. “You’re not allowed to die, you hear me? I won’t allow it to happen.”

Betty nodded; eyes tired as she smiled knowingly. “I hear you.”

“Good,” Sweet Pea sighed, bending down to give her a gentle hug. “Make sure you don’t let something like this happen to you again.”

“I promise to try,” Betty countered and Sweet Pea rolled his eyes.

“Good enough for now,” he agreed, and Jughead knew that was one fight he wasn’t going to win. Betty would always run head first into danger if it meant saving other people. That’s just who she was. Hell, that shone through when she went to go look for the victim that TBK had before her. She had no regard for her safety while trying to look for the woman who had been kidnapped and then she ended up getting kidnapped too when she least suspected it. Jughead’s stomach still churned at the thought of that. Churned at the thought of Betty being by herself in that hole in the earth, no one there to help her or promise her she’d be okay.

The group stayed with Betty for another hour, leading up to visiting hours being through and Jughead watched all of them as they stood up to leave. He wouldn’t be leaving the hospital until Betty left the hospital and all their friends seemed to realize that. Cheryl squeezed him on the shoulder as Sweet Pea clapped him on the back, both of them sending their own goodbyes to Betty and, as she got ready to walk out the door, Cheryl told Betty that Alice and Polly would be back home no later than the afternoon the next day. Jughead knew Betty was a bit uncomfortable with that; not because she didn’t want to see her family but because she knew they would be upset to come and find out about her harrowing past at Quantico. When the door shut behind Sweet Pea, the last person in the room, Jughead turned to Betty. “How are you feeling?”

“Tired,” Betty admitted with a small, apologetic shrug. “But not in any pain. The painkillers they hand out at hospitals are the good shit.”

“Yeah,” Jughead laughed quietly. “They are.” He remembered his own painkillers from when The Ghoulies kicked his ass and Betty had been the one laying in the hospital bed with her. He knew that over the course of their lives, they had both been in and out of the hospital a few times – her seizure coming to mind and the time Fangs got shot – but this time was a bit different. She had almost died – in his arms – and he wasn’t sure how anyone expected him to bounce back from that. He kissed her gently, relishing in the fact that she wrapped her good side of her body around him, pulling him close. He was happy to acquiesce her wishes and meet her in the middle. Pulling back, he spotted Betty smirking at him and quirked a quizzical eyebrow at her.

“Ready to help me catch this sonofabitch?” Betty asked.

The fact that she was willingly accepting his help to catch the serial killer who had been haunting her was the best thing he could have hoped for. Smiling back at her, he nodded.

“You bet your ass I am.”

Chapter Text

Betty was discharged from the hospital at the end of the week once no infection set in from her bullet wound. Jughead wheeled her out of the hospital and to the car that Archie had brought, thanking him a moment later. “Okay, babe.” Jughead helped Betty slowly stand up and get into the car, careful to not brush her still healing wound. After easing her down into the car, he easily caught the keys Archie tossed in his direction and nodded at their friend.

“I’ll be by later,” Archie said. “I know Alice is home.”

Alice had come home three days prior and had blown into the hospital like a mother on a mission. She broke down when she saw Betty laying in the hospital bed and Jughead and Sweet Pea, who had been visiting, decided to give the mother and daughter some space. They had walked aimlessly around the hospital, before ending up in the cafeteria and eating their shitty food before heading back to the room after about an hour. Jughead found Alice sitting close to her daughter’s bedside, carding her fingers through her golden tresses as Betty slept. Having turned to him, she simply thanked him for saving her daughter’s life.

Alice Cooper had calmed down over the years and instead of micromanaging Betty’s life, she became the mother her daughter needed and Jughead was relieved to see the two women repairing their relationship. He knew what it was like to want a good relationship with his parent – FP being the one he wanted things to get better between. And they had when he put the bottle down.

Jughead was pulled from his thoughts by the sound of his phone buzzing and he paused to check who the message was from, laughing a moment later. “Veronica says if she doesn’t see you for girls day this Saturday, she’ll come after you.”

Betty grinned tiredly. “May be able to succeed where TBK did not if I miss girl’s day.”

Jughead frowned. Ever since she had been shot, he had been a bit more needy with her; needing to feel her heart beating against his chest. “Here baby.” He bent down and kissed her gently, loving the way Betty sighed into the kiss and he held her close to him.

Pulling apart, she smiled up at him. “Let’s go see my mom.”

Jughead nodded, jogged around to the other side of the car, and got in, holding her hand in his.

XXX

Alice Cooper hurried out the door as soon as Jughead pulled up to there driveway but she slowed down when the car was stopped and Jughead knew she was trying not to overwhelm her daughter. He appreciated that. Getting out of the car, he smiled at the older woman and hurried to around the side of the car to help Betty out of the car. “Come on, love.”

Helping her to stand up, Alice hurried to her other side to offer support while she walked and the three of them made their way inside the house where Jughead heard not only Polly’s voice but-

“FP, is that you?” Betty called and Jughead was surprised to see his father bounding around the corner, out of the kitchen, and holding his arms open for a hug that Betty readily agreed to.

“Hi, honey,” he said, before looking at Jughead with a grin. “Long time, boy.”

“Too long,” Jughead agreed, going to give his father his own hug. “What are you doing here, dad?”

“Alice called me after Betty got shot – by the way, honey, you’re not allowed to die,” he said, turning to look at her with a stern gaze and she nodded. “Anyways, Alice called me and I came back from Toledo since Jelly is in college now and Gladys is doing whatever the fuck it is she’s doing.”

Jughead laughed, knowing just how true that statement was. Alice turned to Betty. “Dear, are you good to be set up in your old room still?”

Betty nodded, looking at Jughead while chewing on her lip. “Juggie has been staying with me.”

Alice looked between them and Jughead smiled sheepishly. “Uh, sorry?”

Alice laughed. “God knows you two stayed together plenty of times in high school. I’m all right with it, especially if it helps you feel safe and can sleep.”

Betty smiled at her mother, as did Jughead, and FP said he’d help carry her luggage from the hospital upstairs and to her room if she wanted to get settled in bed.

“I think I’ll take the couch for a while, FP,” she said instead. “I’ve been laying in a bed all week – I’d like to be with family.”

Alice nodded with a smile as FP went and got Betty’s luggage. Jughead himself helped Betty to walk over to the couch and eased her down, spreading the blanket out on her incase she got cold or something. Sitting down next to her, he stretched her feet out onto his lap gently and began rubbing them. “You comfortable?”

“I’m good, Juggie,” she murmured with a smile as Alice came back from the kitchen and handed her a tea. “Thanks mom.”

After FP returned from taking her things upstairs and sat down next to Alice in the other chair across from the couch, he looked at Betty. “Can you tell me what it is that’s been happening to you? Alice said it was your story to tell, which I definitely respect. Can you fill me in on anything?”

“I’d have to go back a few months ago, to the beginning of it all, and start there with what happened,” Betty warned, and FP nodded as Jughead held her hand. “I was – uh, well I was kidnapped by a serial killer who goes by the name the Trash Bag Killer.”

“How long did he have you?” FP asked quietly, and Jughead knew his father was worried.

“About two weeks,” Betty murmured. “I was in this hole he dug in the earth for two weeks with a broken arm that required surgery.”

“And, did you tell anyone what had happened, sweetheart?” FP asked.

“Not at that point, no,” Betty muttered, brushing away a stray tear and Jughead’s heart hurt for her. “I only just told mom at the hospital this past week and Jughead found out because he knows me better than anyone and knew I was keeping a secret. He convinced me to tell him one evening and then I told the rest of our friends a couple of days later.”

“I wish you had told me sooner, honey,” Alice sighed. “I would have come home with Polly a lot earlier than I did. Instead, you got shot and I find out you’re in the hospital, recovering. From Archie.”

“I’m sorry about that mom,” Betty sighed. “Truly. I just didn’t want you to worry about me.”

“I’ll always worry about you whether you believe it or not,” Alice replied, smiling slightly at her daughter and Jughead knew they were going to be all right.

“What’s the next step?” FP asked.

“Well, we’re hoping to catch TBK soon,” Betty said. “Before he strikes again.”

“We’ll help with that,” Alice said firmly and Betty opened her mouth, looking ready to argue, but Jughead cut in.

“Its okay to have help, baby,” he murmured quietly, and she looked at him, before looking at their parents and nodded, expelling a quiet sigh.

“Okay then, we have work to do,” Betty said.

Yes, they did.

Chapter Text

Betty became withdrawn over the course of the next couple of days; quiet in ways that Jughead hadn’t seen her be in a long time. To say he was worried would be putting it lightly. He watched as she tucked inside of herself, keeping herself hidden away from the world and exchanged worried glances with Alice more than once. Pulling him to the side one day, Alice spoke to him in quiet, worried tones. “She’s relapsing in her fear and anxiety, Jughead.”

He nodded, expelling a quiet sigh as he kept his eyes glued to his girlfriend where she was sitting in front of the fire, staring unseeingly at the flames as they licked the crate. “I know, Alice.” It was a quiet murmur of agreement because he did know. He understood Alice’s fear because it mirrored his own. Licking his lips nervously, he cut his eyes to her momentarily before looking back at Betty. “What would you like me to do here?”

“Remember when Betty and Polly were little and we’d take them to our summer vacation house for two weeks in the summer?” Alice asked and Jughead was quick to nod his head because yes, he did remember that. She continued onward. “I can get you the keys and get her packed up. Go spend a few days out there with her; get her away from the madness that this all is. I can give you directions you can put in your GPS but its pretty much a straight shot in general, with only one turn off towards the end.”

Jughead nodded his head, acutely aware that he would do anything to get Betty to feel better again. “Thanks Alice. Maybe a week away from this town and its haunting memories will do us both some good.”

Alice patted him on the cheek. “You’re good for Betty in ways that no one else is. I’m sorry I didn’t support you guys in high school.”

To say he was surprised to receive that type of apology from Alice was an understatement but he didn’t let the surprise show in his features, knowing better than anyone what it was like to want to try and turn over a new leaf. He just smiled slightly. “Thanks, Alice.”

“Go on, now,” Alice said quietly. “Go talk to Betty about the idea and I’ll pack her up.”

Jughead nodded, looking towards FP, who got the hint, and followed out of the room with Alice. Jughead made his way over to the couch where Betty was sitting, gently clasping her hand in his as he got down on both knees and made eye contact with her. “Betts?”

Betty turned her green irises onto him slowly so he at least knew he had some of her attention, if not all. “Hmm?”

“You remember the cabin you and your family went to when you were a little girl?” Jughead asked quietly, tracing soothing patterns against her knuckles and she nodded. “How do you feel about getting away from Riverdale for a week and going there with me? Your mom offered us the place for the next week.”

Betty blinked, seemingly thinking it over before she smiled hesitantly. “Would be nice to get away from this mess for a while.”

Jughead hummed in agreement before speaking once more. “It would be. We could take a week and just be with each other; let you heal from your attack.”

Betty thought about it some more and Jughead gave her all the time she needed, hoping she would say yes. Then she smiled, nodded her head, and agreed. “Sounds good, Jug.”

“Great,” he replied, kissing her soundly. “Your mother said she’d get you packed and I’m assuming she already started on that. I’ll go pack up some of my things and meet you back here, okay?” Jughead asked, playing with the strap of her sling. She nodded once more.

“Okay,” she replied, kissing him back equally as gently as he kissed her. “I’ll see you soon, Juggie.”

XXX

An hour later, Jughead and Betty were ready to get on the road. Betty hugged her mother and FP goodbye, before FP hugged his son and Alice kissed him on the cheek. “Take care of my daughter this week, Jughead.”

“Always will, Alice, you know that,” he replied with a smile that her mother matched. FP helped him load their bags into Archie’s truck that their redheaded friend was letting Jughead use for the week. He owed him a pack of beer and gas money at the least. Betty settled herself comfortably on the seat next to him, waving to their parents with her good arm.

“Have a good time,” FP said as he tapped the side of the truck and Jughead grinned at them before putting it into drive and heading down the street, watching as FP and Alice headed back inside of the house out of the rearview mirror.

Turning left out of the neighborhood, neither Jughead nor Betty noticed the car pulling away from the curb a few houses down and following them at a steady pace. Jughead turned up the radio, letting classic rock fill the cab and he held the steering wheel with one hand while holding Betty’s hand with his other. “Looking forward to a week with just the two of us?”

“Definitely,” Betty replied with a smile. “It’ll be nice to escape the noise for a while.”

He knew exactly what she meant and agreed one hundred and ten percent with her. “Absolutely, Betts.” Following the GPS’s directions, he got on the highway and drove for a solid hour and a half before taking his exit and going down the street, turning at the corner like Alice told him he’d be doing. Pulling up to the cabin, Jughead whistled lowly. “This is where your family used to vacation?” He was impressed.

Betty chuckled, a hint of embarrassment underlining the sound and he knew not to keep talking about it. “Yeah. We came here when Pol and I were kids every summer. Have some good memories of my dad tucked away in this house.”

Jughead smiled at her sadly. He knew how much she wished things had turned out differently; how much she wished Hal Cooper hadn’t succumbed to his demons. Squeezing her hand gently, he opened his truck door. “Come on, let’s head inside and I can see what we need to buy from the grocery store we passed a few miles back and make dinner.”

“Sounds good, Juggie,” Betty hummed, sliding out of her side of the truck when Jughead went and opened the door for her. Heading inside of the cabin, neither one of them noticed the car that pulled up slowly and cut its headlights off, sitting in the entrance of the woods as thunderclouds rolled in.

Chapter Text

Jughead and Betty navigated their way to the kitchen after putting their luggage away and looked to see what groceries were available to them, if any. Upon not finding any, Betty spoke. “I guess mom didn’t have a chance to get here and stock the place up.” She turned to him with a questioning look. “How do you feel about going to the store that’s a couple of miles down the road?”

Jughead took one more look at the bare shelves and nodded his head, knowing that he wouldn’t make it longer than an hour if he didn’t have something to eat. “Yeah, let’s go before the storm gets too heavy and we get stuck in it.”

Betty hummed her agreement and they left the house, making sure to lock the door once they were outside. Feeling little droplets of rain drizzling down from the sky, they hurried to the car and made their way to the grocery store, neither one seeing the man standing outside of his car as rain hit the back windshield.

XXX

After going to the store and getting the groceries they needed, they headed back to the cabin and hurried inside as the ran fell more heavily now, forks of lightening pitching across the sky as thundered rumbled lowly and long. “It’ll be a monsoon out there soon.” Betty adjusted the strap her arm was in before taking it off altogether.

“Are you sure its okay to do that?” Jughead asked, a worried frown stenciled into is features.

Betty laughed gently. “It’s okay, Jug.”

He nodded and dropped the conversation, instead continuing to help her put the groceries away. After putting the last one of them away, Jughead shut the cabinet and looked at Betty. “What would you like for dinner?”

“I’m thinking homemade pizza?” Betty asked hopefully and Jughead grinned.

“What a coincidence,” he replied. “So was I.”

Betty pushed her face in the crook of his neck and he felt, rather than heard, the way she inhaled deeply and he knew she was grounding herself with his natural scent. She once told him that the cigarettes, coffee, and ink that clung to his clothes made her feel safe. He wasn’t sure what exactly she wanted to feel safe from – perhaps everything – but he stood stock still and let her have all the time she needed. Eventually, she pulled back from his arms and smiled at him, eyes soft. “Let’s make the pizza together?”

Jughead kissed the top of her head. “Of course hon.”

They separated and both began to work on cooking the pizza, Betty turning on music on her phone that played softly in the background. Jughead had just put the pizza in the oven when there was a particularly loud clap of thunder, followed by a dazzling display of lightening before their electricity went out.

“Shit,” Betty sighed, pulling open the drawer next to her and getting out a flashlight. “I’ll go check the fuse box.”

“I can do that,” Jughead said but Betty shook her head.

“You don’t know where it’s at. Its okay,” she assured him, before pivoting on her heel and walking out of the kitchen. As lightening illuminated the cabin in flashes here and there, thunder rumbling, neither Jughead nor Betty saw the third addition in the house with them, watching and waiting for something. After Betty went wherever the brakers were, Jughead beginning looking for another flashlight. His back was turned to the entrance of the kitchen, meaning he didn’t see the man walk in behind him and pick up a knife, inching his way closer to him. Another clap of thunder and Jughead turned around, facing out of the kitchen as he stared at the empty room around him.

“Betty? Where are the spare candles?” Jughead called and he heard her say something about checking the guest room. He went to go look just as the man in the kitchen with him peered around the pantry, looking into the room. He ran the knife through his hand, nicking his finger and licking at the blood that pooled there. Jughead saw a flash of lightening illuminate the sky as he walked out of the guest room and back into the kitchen, still not noticing the man as he held onto the knife in the corner of the room. The power shutting off had ruined any chances at him being spotted so Jughead had no idea he wasn’t alone in the kitchen.

Lighting the candles, Jughead didn’t hear the man walk behind him as he poised the knife to cut his throat. “Jug!” Betty called down the hallway and he turned to look in her direction. “Can you come help me?”

He set down the last of the candles that he had lit and made his way to her, helping her with fuse box. He noticed the lines seemed to have been cut or disconnected and he looked at her. “Are they supposed to be this way?”

Betty looked down at them and shrugged. “It’s an old fuse box. The wires were bound to give out eventually.”

Jughead nodded and he shut the case to the fuse box, noting that they wouldn’t be able to turn on the lights til the storm stopped howling outside. “Come on, baby. Let’s go back inside.”

Walking into he house, Jughead glanced around when he thought he heard the back door shut but Betty was already going on about the wind and that “rickety, old door”, so he let it go and they went and took a seat on the couch, waiting for the storm to pass as they did so and not hearing the steady drip of water falling from the stranger’s boot and onto the carpet, which was helping to muffle the sound. If they had, they’d have known he was on the second landing, watching them from over the banister as lightening lit up the sky and their shadows danced on the walls. But, they didn’t notice and Jughead and Betty had no idea of the long night they were in for.