For my beautiful partner in crime, the B to my V, Bex. Happy birthday, boo.
He walks the quiet streets, wringing his hands together. His mother left. She took Jellybean and just walked away. Part of Jughead wonders why she didn't bother to take him too. He wonders if maybe she saw too much of his father in him.
He kicks a pebble, sending it skidding along. He doesn't know where he's going. He thinks that if he were older he'd just leave Riverdale all together. It's not like anyone would miss him, especially not his dad who has spent the past week blacked out, barely aware that he even has a son.
He doesn't really think about it. His feet take him to the river. Jughead recalls the scene in The Awakening where the main character just walks into the ocean, lets it swallow her whole. He wonders if he could do that now. But really, he doesn't want to die. He just doesn't want to exist. Falling into oblivion would be so sweet.
With a sigh, Jughead lays his jacket out and curls up on it. It isn't soft and warm like his bed. But it's quiet out here, with only the lull of the river to grace his ears.
Falling asleep isn't easy. It's cold, and bugs dance across his skin every time that his eyes close, but somehow he manages.
In the morning, he discovers that it's rained in the night. His jacket and hair are caked with mud, and he grimaces. Attempting to wipe it away only smears it in more.
With a sigh, Jughead climbs to his feet, tossing the muddy jacket over his shoulder. He'll go back home just long enough to shower and change. Then he'll be out of there again as quickly as possible.
They call it a sleepover. Jughead wonders how long he can keep extending it.
Fred Andrews is warm and welcoming, but Jughead knows that he'll grow tired of the intrusion soon enough. But it's an escape. A brief, glorious escape from falling asleep wherever is convenient.
"It's kind of like having a brother," Archie says, tossing a chip at Jughead.
Jughead smiles, but it doesn't reach his eyes. He wishes that he could be Archie's brother, that he could have a home with the Andrews family.
"It's been a week, Jughead," Fred Andrews says with a patient smile. "Won't your dad miss you?"
He can hear the double meaning behind the question
Don't you have somewhere else to be? Do you really have to stay here all the time?
"Yeah, sorry," Jughead says, his cheeks burning. "Thanks for having me, Mr. Andrews."
The old fort is still there, though it's worn out and ragged after years of neglect. Eventually, he and Archie had decided that they were too old to play bandits hiding from the law. Eventually, they grew up, and their secret hideout suffered for it.
Jughead climbs inside. He's taller now, and it's a tight fit. It's hard to believe that he and Archie had both been able to fit comfortably inside.
Cramped and cold, he curls up, listening to the crickets chirp outside. It amazes him how he no longer has to be comfortable to fall asleep. Anything that even vaguely resembles a shelter will do when you're exhausted.
In the morning, he notices the damage that's piled up over the years. The roof has fallen in some places. The walls are covered with a musty, slimy mold. When he tries to stand, he notices that the flooring is weak in some spots and will soon break away just like the roof.
It isn't a good place to stay. He had hoped to find some safety within his childhood haven. But like everything else is in his life, it's left him completely disappointed.
It's easy sneaking his things into the projector room at the drive-in. Now that he works there, he has a key, and no one ever really checks. If his boss happens to notice the makeshift living area he's formed, Jughead knows that he can always lie and say that he's set it up to work on his schoolwork during the movies.
For the first time in a long time, Jughead feels like he's home. He remembers loving the drive-in as a child. So many fond memories of hiding in the trunk with Jellybean, careful not to make a sound until it was safe to come out. It's always felt like a second home to him, the warmest memory he can recall.
Jughead locks the door behind him and plugs his phone up, a satisfied smile on his lips as he climbs into bed.
The Twilight is doomed. He had fought and fought, and yet it's gone.
"I figure something out, Dad. I always do," he says, and it's almost enough to convince himself.
But he's running out of options.
"You can always come home," his dad offers.
And it's almost tempting. Jughead is so tired of running away, tired of freezing, tired of not having somewhere safe. But then he sees the flask tucked into his father's pocket. He wonders how many times it's been refilled today.
"I don't think so."
His closet is perfect. No one is ever at school early or late enough to see the security footage. They'll never notice him sneak in and out of his little hiding place.
Bed, electricity, hot showers. Plus, he's almost figured out how to get free food from the vending machine. It's everything that he needs.
Jughead sits on the makeshift bed, a burger from Pop's resting in his lap as he finishes up his essay. Part of him wonders if it will always be like this. Will he always have to hide? Will he always have to make do with what he has, never having a real home?
It's a depressing thought, but at least it's something.
He doesn't want to look Archie in the eyes when his secret is out. He waits for the joke, for his grim situation to be made into some sick punchline.
But it doesn't come. Archie's eyes hold nothing but genuine concern for his friend, and Jughead feels the shame threaten to explode his chest. Why didn't you tell me? You could have stayed with me. If my dad knew, he would have let you.
Jughead closes his eyes. It had been easy to find places to lay his head when nobody knew the truth. But now Archie knows, and for the first time in a long time, Jughead has no idea what he's going to do.
Jughead tells himself that he doesn't need to get used to it. Every good thing that comes into his life has a nasty habit of going away.
And yet he doesn't listen to reason.
Betty is warm and familiar, kind and good. When her arms around him, he feels that sense of safety that he's been chasing for so long.
"What are you thinking, Juggie?" she whispers, pressing a kiss to his lips.
"That you feel like home," he admits. "And that scares the hell out of me because home has always been just a temporary concept."
"Don't worry. There's nothing temporary about this."
And his mind tells him that everything is going to fall apart, like it always does, but his heart tells him that he has to have faith.