Archie's been missing from Riverdale High for nearly a week.
Jughead hasn't gotten any texts from him and neither has Betty.
"He doesn't text me," Veronica says flatly, her plump red lips thinning together.
Everyone's been trying to give Archie his breathing space since the biology lab incident. Not talk about what happened, with him or with each other. The school mislabeled it "a hallucinatory panic attack" and wrote it down taking place right in the middle of the class.
All that Jughead remembers is coming back from trip to bathroom, and witnessing in a slow mounting horror as his best friend passed out cold.
"I couldn't understand what he was saying," Betty whispers, her hand clutched tightly inside Veronica's hands occasionally soothing her. Tears glistening on pale pink cheeks. "I-I think it was something about Ms. Grundy…"
It's been nearly a week, and Jughead can't wait for her memory to fucking die.
He cares about Archie, probably more than the standard tier level they should be at considering in their friendship, and that's why Jughead fought for him to expose her, to do the right thing. She's a monster.
"Hey, Jug." Mr. Andrews greets him at the front door, eyes squinting and his face wan. It looks like he's gotten as much sleep as Jughead has. The familiarity of the nickname eases some the tension in Jughead's chest. "You wanna come in?"
"If it's okay…"
Jughead shrugs his hands into his pockets and maneuvers himself into the hallway, freeing up one hand to pet Vegas's head. Archie's beloved dog sniffs the mud on Jughead's shoes before trotting out to the kitchen. For just a second, he misses Hot Dog.
"You're looking for Archie, I'm thinking," Mr. Andrews speaks up, breaking apart the awkwardly building silence. He smiles faintly at Jughead's slight nod. "Check the basement. Let him know dinner's almost ready."
The air feels thicker, humid.
Jughead wanders downstairs, listening to creaking metal and a noise like repeated, muffled impact.
He does find Archie, dripping in sweat and bare-chested, punching the hell out of a swinging, bright red bag. It's emotion-fueled anger and desperation sketched on Archie's features, powering him while he aggressively hits the object in front of him.
"Whoa, hey," Jughead says, eyes wide and holding up his hands when the other boy turns sharply. "It's just me, man."
The furious look in Archie's eyes softens away.
"Jughead," he croaks out, lowering his boxing gloves.
There's no what the hell are you doing? or any other statement to follow. Jughead swallows hard. "Thought I'd, um… you doing okay?"
A rush of humiliation slams into him. He cringes, groaning and shaking his head wildly. "Shit, wait… wait, that was dumb. I shouldn't have said that," Jughead apologizes. He's thankful for Archie's too-low murmur of "s'okay" but still feels like an total ass.
Of course he isn't.
"I'm surprised Dad let anyone in," Archie says after a minute, wiping off his forehead.
Me too, Jughead adds privately.
He figured that Mr. Andrews would be waiting in the entrance with a loaded shotgun, if anyone got too nosy or insistent. Mrs. Cooper seems to have kept her mouth shut, and it's probably Betty who convinced her. Jughead sucks in a deep breath for a moment, eyeing Archie.
"Nobody knows, dude," he says. "About any of it. So if you were worrying about the school…"
"I'm not," Archie cuts him off, his expression hardening but without the previous anger.
Droplets of perspiration roll down Archie's neck, creating shining paths. Jughead's eyes pull away. "The therapist I'm assigned to knows. He says… I will learn to let go of my guilt over being abused." Archie says it back to himself as if reciting the memory of his appointment.
There's nothing reassuring about the cynical, pained smile on his lips.
Or the suspiciously bright gleam in Archie's eyes.
There's no counselors or therapists like that in Riverdale. Jughead guesses they've been driving way out of town. It's better that way.
Archie shifts his weight, still refusing to make eye contact. "As much I don't… wanna believe it, she was using me to get what she wanted. And you knew that." It feels like oxygen squeezes slowly out of Jughead's lungs. "You tried to talk me out of it, but I didn't wanna listen," Archie says, finally meeting their eyes.
Jughead hates all of this, but especially Archie's wounded look. As if this was supposed to be Archie's fault for being a minor and getting manipulated into an unhealthy, imbalanced relationship. "Look… I'm gonna tell you who was right or wrong, because there's only one person who is to blame about this."
Jughead manages to get his voice relatively calm, despite his urge to scream and to keep screaming until his throat bleeds.
"It's not you, Arch… it's just not."
He needs it more than him, and needs that way to vent out what he's feeling. A shuddery, loud breath escapes Archie. His mouth scrunches up along with his reddened, sweaty face. It's tears falling down his cheeks. Jughead solemnly catches his elbow when Archie shakes his head at a frantic pace, gasping out for air.
"C'mere," he mumbles, tugging Archie in and winding his arms loosely around him, holding a palm over Archie's nape.
Enough tension vanishes out of Archie's quivering body to lean against the other boy, his own arms dangling lifelessly at his sides. Jughead isn't always comfortable hugging someone. The other boy reeks like hell and he's getting heavy, but Jughead is tired of watching Archie collapse under the weight of everything that's happened.
This time… maybe he doesn't have to collapse alone.
Fair warning: this directly addresses the aftermath of Archie's experience as a CSA victim. Nothing too explicit. I saw Archie boxing in the new promo, and I made me remember when I used to do boxing as a form of my own therapy after leaving a psychiatrist. (For all other fics I do, I wanna not bring up this subject about Archie and I wanna completely erase Ms. Grundy from my canon. It reminds me too much me and Archie's similarities, and I just want my faves to be happy - but at the same time, I thought writing this was necessary, at least for me and to process what I watched. So this is kind of a mess.)
I actually started writing this for Emily (thesprouses on Tumblr) in her askbox, and then she told me to post it, so here we are! Thoughts/comments are always appreciated! It's a heavy subject definitely. But I appreciate thoughts anyway.