The midpoint of summer rises, thickening the already muggy, scorching air.
Archie doesn't know how he got all of this smelly grease on his clothes, but working at his dad's construction site for eight hours probably answers that mystery.
He's mopping off his sweat-drenched face with his t-shirt's hem, when Archie hears the sound of tires crunching over gravel, slowing down. A quick, upwards glance confirms it's the infamous crimson-cherry convertible. Only one person in Riverdale owns this kind of expensive hot-rod.
"Nice," Jason Blossom announces, turning in the driver's seat to stare at Archie.
For a moment, Archie's pulse heightens.
Jason's polo is heinously white, just like his privilege. There's a little upwards tilt to his mouth, too — not quite a smile, not quite friendly. The thing that's clear is the outright approval in Jason's blue eyes, roaming over Archie's exposed, muscular torso and back up to his sunburned features.
"You lost?" Archie calls out to the other red-haired boy, lowering his dirtied t-shirt. He internally winces at how hoarse his voice goes. Kill for some water about now. Any water.
(Does Betty get ogled like this by other guys? Christ.)
Jason's expression doesn't fade from its smugness as he pops out the car door facing Archie.
"Get in. I'm passing by your place on my way out." When the other boy doesn't move forward, Jason sighs as if mildly inconvenienced, lifting his arm and gripping onto the wheel. "It's ninety fucking degrees out and you look like you're gonna collapse. I don't have all day, Andrews."
Being generous for nothing is not a common occurrence for the Blossoms. But Jason isn't wrong — the inside of Archie's mouth feels like sandpaper and his legs keep trembling with each step.
Despite his better judgment, Archie slides in.
"Atta' boy," Jason says with a more obvious smirk, revving up the engine and pealing out in a cloud of yellowing dust. The air may still be hot, but at least there's wind blowing in Archie's face.
He closes his eyes. Upon opening them, Archie catches them speeding around Pop's Chocklit Shoppe.
"What's with the detour?"
"Didn't know you were such a wusspuss, Andrews." The comment is softly spoken but with an undercurrent of nastiness. Unlike his sister, Jason Blossom's brand of high school evil came from the shadows, webbed together in clever lies and subtlety. Archie has only heard rumors — and what happened to Polly Cooper — and nobody should willingly get tangled up in the spider's web.
"Relax," Jason tells him, peering sideways at Archie's guarded look. Jason's mouth tilting boyishly handsome. "We're getting ice cream." It's not a question he's addressing, but a statement.
Archie takes in a deep, steadying breath, closing his eyes again.
… … He shouldn't have gotten inside the car.
Everything feels hazy, distorted. Every muscle and nerve in Archie's body coiled up tightly.
"Archie, man, what the hell?" Jughead shouts through the other line. Archie's left ear burns. He's rarely ever this mad. "You ditched me—you know I can't return these tickets—"
"Sorry," he mutters, shifting his cellphone to his opposite ear. Archie wipes his palm over his face, over his eyelids. "I don't… I don't know what happened, Jug. I'm… this is so fucked. I'm pretty sure Jason Blossom kissed me."
He's not relieved by the bark of laughter.
"Uh… that's not something you question — it either happened or it didn't."
At the following silence, Jughead groans as if deeply pained, rasping out, "You, wow—seriously?"
He's never seen the ravine up this close. Water fills Archie's sneakers. There's a hint of strawberry ice cream on Jason's spit-glistening lips. Heated and possessive fingers on Archie's chin, keeping him firmly in place. Jason's eyes aren't really clearwater blue — but the menacing light is certain.
"You tell anyone 'bout this and I'll ruin you, Archie Andrews."
His pulse heightens once more, and Archie struggles for the next mouthful of air.
"I think I, uhh… need air or something…" he babbles out, walking in frantic, tiny circles on the foyer's rug.
Jughead's voice — composed and levelheaded, grounding him — returns. "Alright, listen, don't have a panic attack on me. Come to the tree-house. I'll bring beer."
He nods, even though Jughead can't see him.
"How are you sneaking that past your mom?"
Jughead chuckles. "Take the label off, and get this—it looks like root beer," he says curtly. Archie feels his mouth stretch into a more relaxed, easy smile. "Meet you in a few, Arch."
Pale, colorless fog hovers across the grass when Archie hops a fence.
He waves back politely to Mrs. Jones from the kitchen window. High above in the maple tree, bathing in the colors of the sunset, Jughead waves an opened bottle. "Took you long enough!" he hollers.
Archie doesn't miss the glimpse of Jughead's smile, or its familiarity.
Whenever things got rough, or he needed to get away from everyone, the tree-house ended up being a sanctuary. Not even Betty, who is Archie's oldest friend, has ever been invited up. It's not as spacious as when he and Jughead were kids, but it's not completely rotted. They turn on the flashlights.
Once settled, Jughead listens to Archie's retelling, leaning backwards to the floor. He snorts, incredulous. "—And you got inside his car because you could? That's not the greatest decision you've ever made."
"I was dehydrated and he offered me a ride home!" Archie insists, "I wasn't thinking straight!"
Jughead's lips press to a thin line.
"Did he… force himself on you?" he asks, suddenly hesitant.
Archie shakes his head, wiping foam off his upper lip.
"Wouldn't have put it past him," Jughead announces, deadpan. Archie then watches the other boy's grim expression, pausing from another sip of beer, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully.
"… Think if he had, you could kick his ass or something?"
"Or something." Jughead's tone sounds cryptic and dismissive. Instead of reaching for his frosty root beer nearby, Jughead grabs onto Archie's beer on the floorboards, taking a noisy gulp.
"He did pretty much threaten me."
"Was it even a good kiss?"
"No… not really," Archie replies, frowning. "That's the weird part. Like I'm really disappointed by my first kiss with a guy? Is that weird, man?"
Jughead shrugs. "Dunno. I don't go around kissing guys at random — and especially not Jason Blossom."
"It wasn't with anyone I liked. I don't think it matters if it's a guy or girl, or whoever… …"
He didn't mean to admit that so openly. Archie tenses up and eyes him, gauging Jughead's reaction. The other boy, however, doesn't look the least bit surprised. "If you're wanting a do-over, then I'm not your whoever…" Jughead quips.
This time, Archie laughs. "Didn't ask, but thanks for that."
Even with the disbelieving, amused glance, Jughead avoids any eye-contact.
"Right… yeah, you're hot, but I'm not kissing you," he says lowly, sipping on his root beer.
"Wait, wait… you think I'm hot?"
Jughead twists his face suddenly, as if grimacing. "Hot as in garbage on fire, not hot as in I'm attracted to you." It doesn't sound convincing at all, especially with the telltale flush on his cheeks.
Archie smiles, elbowing him slightly. "Juggie, that doesn't make any sense."
"You're…" The other boy gestures a bit too wildly, finally meeting Archie's eyes. "You're you. Of course you're hot, but that doesn't mean I wanna voluntarily kiss you."
Archie points out, seeming more and more entertained, "Again… I didn't ask."
"Good, good." Jughead nods as if the conversation hit a satisfying note. He moves around periodically, crossing his knees. "Glad we came to that understanding."
Somewhere in the process, their hips press together. Archie can feel his chest filling up with warmth and anticipation, and he grins when Jughead stares back as if challenging him. Go ahead, jackass.
But, that's not Archie's decision to make.
He's not Jason Blossom.
It's a couple more seconds before Jughead's forehead wrinkles. It's not defeat and rather, it's self-acceptance flooding him. "Whatever," he mumbles, setting down his empty root beer bottle and angling himself. Archie's only partly enthralled by the sticky sensation of Jughead's lips on his.
Or a lot.
He never imagined his best friend like this: so, so warm and soft, carefully searching in touch when one of Jughead's hands cradle Archie's neck. The kiss remains controlled with their closed, pressing mouths.
Archie gives him the lead, grasping harshly onto the fabric of Jughead's dark gray, striped button-up. There's no tongue invading unwilling space, or teeth or fingernails clawing into Archie. Jughead's thumb briefly strokes his cheek, shooting a tiny, shivery bolt of pleasure down his nerve-ends.
"You're a pain in my ass," Jughead whispers.
His lips twitch out of his pseudo-scornful glare when Archie's lightly freckled fingers brush the dark, curly bangs out of his eyes.