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The Clouds Come and Go

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This night has not gone according to plan.

Betty is standing in the parking lot of the Whyte Wyrm, the gravel under her sensible heels making her wobble with every step she takes, her bare legs attracting creeping cold. She can feel the tears welling in her throat because—because he doesn't want her. Again. After everything. Everything.

First, her dance did not quite go according to plan. She planned to do her dance at the height of the party, with less eyes and a more upbeat song, something with some synth maybe. But, Archie and Veronica had an issue, so naturally Betty swoops in to try an salvage their stage, but it became a loosing game of striptease to some track from Donnie Darko.

Then, F.P. Jones decided to become King of the Serpents again, against his parole as well as Jughead's wishes.

Then, of course, Jughead—

Jughead who—

Who—

Betty suppresses another shiver and tries to gather up the courage to go back into the Wyrm to find her purse, but the fear of the embarrassment and jeers and Toni's sympathetic gaze makes her want to try to find a way home without it. Damn her emergency credit card, debit card, and student ID, she just wants to go home—

She takes a breath, wraps her arms around her shoulders and barrels into someone coming out.

"There you are." She bumps into a tall, toned chest and immediately steps back. She tilts her chin and looks up at the Serpent towering over her, broad shoulders and neck tattoo. She puzzles over him a moment, the dark eyes, slicked back hair, Cupid's bow mouth, and she thinks—maybe—she knows him. But, can't place him.

"Do I know you?"

He cracks his jaw.

It's an effortless, vaguely threatening gesture, like he's too deep in thought—

He extends a hand to her. "Sweet Pea." He says. No preamble, no "name's Pete, but most people call me Sweet Pea" song and dance, just the name—nickname, her mind supplies as she wraps her fingers around his. His palms are rough, big, warm. "C'mon. Let's get you a drink."

It strikes her that between the name and invitation that she needs more information.

"Oh, I'm underage." She says automatically, and winces. Probably the wrong thing to say in a bar, a bar she's been to before. Scratch that, a bar she is currently at. She can see the rest of this interaction playing out before her: his amusement, her embarrassment, and then a couple more tears in the bathroom.

The Serpent—Sweet Pea—just shrugs. "Well, Toni's on bar tonight and I'm seventeen."

"Did Toni send you to get me?"

He blinks. "Uh, no?"

Silence.

The blue neon sign above them casts a shadow over his face, bringing the high points of his cheekbones and nose into sharp focus. His eyes are on her, frustrated. "Look," he says and scratches the back of his neck. "Just, just come in for a drink and relax. It's . . . been a hell of a night."

Betty shifts one foot to another. "Well, I lost my purse . . ."

"Oh, Toni's got it, I think. I saw it by her jacket."

"Okay."


Before she knows it, she's sitting at the bar, an Old Fashion in hand since she didn't feel like she could handle Tequila just yet. Maybe someday she could walk into a bar with confidence and say "hold the worm" but she doubts it.

The alcohol burns like fire against her tongue when she takes a drink. She almost vomits right then and there. Part of her almost longs for Veronica's sweet martinis with sugar-rimmed glasses.

The kind of drinks that seem out of place in a dive.

Sweet Pea is talking to the guys around him, but he hangs close to her like she needs him. His fingers drum against his rum and Coke, each downward motion tap-tap-tapping his heavy rings against the glass. "So, what do you go by?" He asks suddenly, his lips too close to her ear. She turns her face. He's just close enough so she doesn't have to shout.

"Betty." She says and hears his hum of amusement.

"Alright," he introduces her to his friends, they buy her shots. Toni slides her a vodka and lemonade, electric blue with a lime. Her smile is almost genuine, not pitying, not sheepish. "I can't drink that stuff." She says and whisks away the glass Betty had been nursing. "This is a good starter drink."

She takes a tentative sip of the new drink and licks her lip. It's good.

Then there's another voice in her ear that asks, "Ever had a Bald Pussy?"

Since that turns out to be a shot—a really, really good one—she has three in rapid succession, one with Fangs, one with Toni, and one with Sweet Pea. Then her new best friend is tugging at her elbow and asking if she can dance.


She is thinking about dancing on the bar-top when Sweet Pea's hand closes around her wrist. "Alright princess, let's get you home."

"I'm not usually like this," she slurs and nearly falls off the barstool for her trouble. Sweet Pea steadies her and the two of them are making their way across the floor of the Whyte Wyrm.

"I know, kid, everyone says that." She's annoyed and too Bambi-legged to put up much resistance. He whistles to some guy behind the bar who hands him a set of keys. "Let's just get you home, drink a couple glasses of water and sleep it off."

"It's a school night," she whines and then realizes how stupid that sounds. In a bar, no less. Then, she thinks about things like hangovers and alcohol poisoning and her fingers curl into Sweet Pea's jacket, against where his shirt his sweat-damp against his side. She looks up at him, heat rising to her cheeks. "I think I'm going to be sick."

Sweet Pea's liquid eyes turn panicked. "Oh fuck!"

And then, well Betty is not quite sure but Sweet Pea swings her up in what she can only whimsically call a princess carry and then proceeds to barrel towards the back of the bar towards the restrooms. After that it's a vague mix of doors kicking in, some screaming, some spinning and then the feeling of his hands in her hair, gathering her curls against the nap of her neck as the smell of toilet water, then urine, then stomach acid rush up to meet her—


She is leaning across the sink to look into the mirror, swishing water around her mouth when she realizes that Sweet Pea brought her into the guys restroom. She can feel humiliation burning her cheeks as she washes her hands, once, twice, and spits.

"I am so sorry—" She's saying when Sweet Pea shakes his head at her in the mirror. He is standing like a leather-clad bouncer by the door, turning away anyone that's trying to come in, much to the chagrin of probably half the bar. "Really sorry."

"It's alright." He says. "Just get cleaned up and we can go."

She rinses her mouth again and looks into her own eyes.

She has weirdly dark eyes tonight; dark eyes, wispy hair, flushed, rosy cheeks—

She's drunk.

Vomiting has does nothing to remove that fuzzy, spinning feeling and the pleasant warmth that flushes through her. "I'm drunk," she says quietly, almost too quietly, and when she looks up—head spinning—Sweet Pea is staring at her. She wants to laugh, but taps that down.

"You gonna throw up again?"

"No."

"Good, okay, let's go."

He tugs her out of the bathroom and there's cheering. Why is there cheering? Sweet Pea shouts something over his shoulder as he pulls Betty to stand in front of him, cutting through the crowd with his hands on her shoulders as they steer towards the door—

F.P. Jones steps into her view when they breech the pool tables. Which Betty thinks is funny for some reason. Where has he been?

"What are you doing here, Betty? I thought you left with your mom." Betty leans back against Sweet Pea's chest and shrugs.

"You're son's a right bastard, Mr. Jones."

F.P. Jones looks as though she has grown a second head and he pins Sweet Pea with an incredulous look.

Sweet Pea sighs heavily behind her, his breath puffing against her cheek. "She's had a couple. I'm taking her home."

F.P. Jones' brows tug together, kind of like Jughead's. "Not on your bike you're not."

Sweet Pea raises his hand. "Hog Eye gave me his keys. I'll drop her off and be right back."

F.P. studies them a moment, sweeping from Betty's limbed stance and sighs. "Drop her off. Be back by three. I don't want Alice Cooper marching down here razing the place, got it?"

Sweet Pea must have gotten it because F.P. finally lets them leave.


Betty is having some trouble getting into the car.

It's not the exact logistics of it is what's making it difficult. It's more of the implication—going home, admitting defeat, Jughead not loving her. She's back to the start, where she began a couple hours ago, crying in the parking lot, gravel making her steps sink and fold.

"Fuckin' hell," Sweet Pea grabs her as she almost tumbles again and regrettably she grips onto his jacket, fingers digging in. "Tell me if you're going to vomit again, okay? Hog Eye will literally rip me a new one if you throw up in his car!"

And then she's thinking of how Jughead must see her, how they all must see her. A princess. Pink Perfection. Can't hold her liquor. Can't walk across gravel in heels. Can't handle crazy.

"I'm not—" She gasps, the sick feeling in her stomach twisting her up. "I'm not this."

"Yeah, I got that princess, now let's get you home."

Betty shoves him. "No."

The hand on her shoulder gets more insistent. "No?"

"Don't—don't take me home."

". . . do you want to stay at Toni's? Or, ugh fine, you can stay on my couch? I guess? If you don't want to go home, I mean."

She narrows her eyes up at him, confusion pooling her mind. "I don't want to go anywhere."

That annoyed look is back. "Well, you have to go somewhere."

Betty shakes her head, blonde curls whipping around her. "Not until you understand."

"Understand what, Barbie?"

"No! But I mean," She pushes against him to have some space and to her great surprise, he lets her. "I'm not a pink perfection." He raises a brow at her, his confusion obvious.

"Alright."

"No, I mean. I'm—I'm crazy. I am batshit crazy. When I want to be. My family's crazy. You know, I've broken into buildings before, right? I've faced off against serial killers, monsters, and football players. You know, sometimes, I don't understand why he thinks I can't understand crazy too. Why does no one think I can handle a little weird? I'm a reporter, I do my research. I get it, okay?"

Sweet Pea studies her again, this time as if really seeing her. Not in the red-light, shedding her skin, or flushed on a barstool, but teary-eyed and desperate, her lip bleeding from her teeth and her hands shaking in the cold.

"Alright." He says.

"What?"

"Alright, Cooper. I get it."

She blinks. "Get what?"

He gives he one utter annoyed, elongated sigh. "Look, just get in the car and I'll—"

"No."

"—I'll take you to that restaurant between the here and the Northside, okay? Pop's. They're still open, right?"

It takes her a second, a moment, to translate what he's saying through the slur of her own mind. She nods. Pop's is still open, will be open until three a.m., and it's already encroaching on two, if that clock in the bar was correct. She nods again, surer of herself this time.

"We can sit and you can tell me how crazy you are, alright?"

And that sounds, well, not better.

But it's the best she's going to get.

"Fine."

"Alright," Sweet Pea makes a gesture to the passenger side again, like Prince Charming offering Cinderella her pumpkin carriage. It feels oddly disjointed for a moment, but she slips inside, buckles up, and then Sweet Pea slips in beside her, turns over the engine and cranks the stereo loud.


She is pretty sure she has sat in this exact booth hundreds of times. With her mom and Polly after dance practice, with her dad after a root canal, with Archie and Jughead, then Veronica. It feels sacred, and strange to have someone else sitting in the spot that might occupy any familiar face, but Sweet Pea thinks nothing about sliding into the vinyl seat across from her and pulling out a menu.

The night-staff waitress brings them both cups of coffee, but while Betty's trying to figure out the creamer situation, she disappears again and doesn't return for ten minutes. "Better be quick." Sweet Pea warns, studying the menu intently as if it were battle plans. "Vickie's not too keen on gawkers and whiners."

When Vickie returns, they give their orders and still, she leaves without offering any creamer. "Probably for the best," Sweet Pea says as he leans back on his end. "Just drink it and wash it down with water, it might sober you."

"You do this a lot?" She asks and sniffs the black coffee. It's strong and sharp in her nose. She's usually about sweet things like caramel macchiatos and light blends, heavy creamers and sugars. She plucks a sugar packet from the holder and taps it with her finger. "Late nights at Pop's?" She elaborates.

"Only time the Northsiders won't hassle me for enjoying my food." He says blithely and takes a long drink.

She's got nothing to combat that.

She wraps her fingers around her mug, allowing the warmth to burn her palms, ignoring the protest of the fresh crescent-cuts singing against the ceramic. She closes her eyes and inhales the scent of fresh coffee, black, just how Jughead like it. Just like how his mouth tasted each morning before school.

She shivers at the memory.

"You cold?" She looks up at him, and slowly uncurls her fingers from her mug to press them against her chilly, bare knees. For one terrifying, horrifying moment, she thinks he might peel off the jacket that he wears like a uniform and pass it to her, give her a leather-cocoon all her own.

"No, I'm fine. Thank you."

"I see your manners are back." Sweet Pea leans back, his arms cross in front of him on the table and she has a chance to assess him. His hands, big and callous, scarred and adorn with rings. She studies the hills of his knuckles, the bruises on his fingers, consistent against the ridge.

She knows those bruises.

"You wear brass-knuckles?"

"Sometimes." He offers nothing else, and Betty's not quite sure she wants to ask.

"So, do you often give rides to Northsiders who make fools of themselves at Serpent parties?"

He clucks his tongue, "Am I being interviewed, Miss Journalist?"

He takes another long drink of his coffee, nearly draining the cup. When he sets it down, she can see the dregs settling at the bottom, collecting into shapes and symbols for readings. Or is that only tea leaves? She wonders and sets down the mug, creating another ring overlapping the previous one.

Sweet Pea taps his ringed knuckles against the counter, a nervous, quick rap.

He has Betty's attention.

"Listen, I don't have many rules, okay? But the Serpents are my life, and I don't know what your little boyfriend told you, but," Sweet Pea levels his stare on her. "If you do the dance, you're in. That's how it worked for generations, that's how it's done now. You're a Serpent, Cooper."

That is—

Not what she's expecting.

She wonders if she's still drunk.

"What?"

"It's a family, Cooper. So, I help you, and then you help me. That's how this works."

Betty does not quite get the time to panic as much as she wants to when Vickie sets two plates of pancakes in front of them and Sweet Pea drops a couple of bills on the table. "Check, too. Thanks."


He drops her off in front of her house—full on: pull into the driveway, radio tuned down, looks at her—and she sits for a moment, studying the line of the curtains and the security lights. She's not an idiot. She knows her mom will be waiting up for her, and there would be Hell to pay in the morning too, but for a moment, she just wants to sit.

Sweet Pea does not offer her his jacket when they sat at Pop's, not after their meal, or second cup of coffee, and not on the walk back to the car, but when they settled in the bed of the truck, he turned the heater up to hell and kept it that way until she was nice and toasty.

Sweet Pea glances at her after an uncomfortable beat. "Well?" She meets his gaze and is shocked for a moment by how close he is, how close she is, and shifts back, nervously.

"She's going to kill me."

"Will she bury you under the house or in the quarry?" He asks and a surprised laugh tilts his voice. Something delighted lit in his tone makes him sound teasing . . . almost. "Maybe she'll find a way to blame the Southside?"

Betty attempts to muster her best glare, but it's weak at best. "Are you going to keep making digs at my mother?"

"Depends," he says. "How long are you gonna sit out here with me?"

She sits for a moment, jaw tight and fingers biting into her palms, nails dragging across the fresh scabs. The tinge of pain breaks her from her reverie, just a little, just enough. The rush of it all makes the tension under her skin hot and rush.

"Fine," she mutters and unclicks her seatbelt, her hand reaches for the door handle and yanks the latch. Sweet Pea's hand on her elbow stops her. "What?"

"Should I keep the car running? In case you need an escape?" There's a smile curling at his mouth, but some part of her thinks he might actually be serious. The journalist in her, the one that likes to prod and poke and question and take-down, wonders if that is common Thursday evening (Friday morning) routine for him.

"No," she says quietly, the thanks and that's sweet but and why do you ask lie silent on her tongue. "This is my mess, I'll pick it up myself." His hand, heavy and warm, falls away from her arm and she steps out into the cool, blue night, the edges of early morning and dew clinging to the edges of her senses.

She leans down to look into the car again, meeting Sweet Pea's steady gaze. She is not quite sure what to say, her own mounting embarrassment seems payment enough, but Betty was raised better than that. She flashes the tiniest of smiles and offers a quiet, "See you around?"

To which, he replies, "Sooner than you think."

Betty is moving too quickly to really think about the Serpents, or the boy, or what happened tonight. Her mind is full of thoughts of curfews, underage drinking, and having to wake up in a couple hours for a full day of school—

But she looks back before she goes inside.

He waits for her to get into the house. She thinks she almost hears him scoff when she grabs the key under the mat and when she's goes inside, she stands in the cool quiet of the living room and shuts the door, locking it behind her.

Chapter Text

There is a dog on her bed when she wakes up Sunday morning.

The dog is huge and fluffy and shedding, but the wet nose prodding against her cheek making her adore him completely.

The note on her mirror reads: As per your initiation, you must take care of the Beast.

She stands for a moment in silent question, thinking about the last few days, long talks with her mom, and, of course, the self-defense classes she's supposed to start tomorrow.

Initiation, that's what Sweet Pea said.

The dog pees on her rug.


Although she finds a half pound of dog food waiting for her on the front porch, Betty has a sneaking suspicion that dogs need more than that. She has never had a dog before and the note scrawled across her mirror in a now destroyed shade of Pink Perfection didn't really give her any indication as to how long she would have "the Beast."

She digs out two old bowls in the kitchen for the dog to use while she makes tea and considers what to do next.

Betty (8:30 am): so fun fact: dog showed up at my house

Vee (8:35 am): ?

Vee (8:35 am): what's happening?

Betty (8:37am): can you give me a lift to the pet store?


That day, Betty and Veronica learn that Veronica is at best, a cat person, and at worst, a small dog person. The Beast slobbers over the backseat of Smithers' car and barks at every pedestrian, but once they are in the pet store, he is a perfect gentleman; walking beside Betty, not pulling on the leash, and gentling sniffing Veronica's mauve mules.

"So, why do you have a dog?" Veronica asks, inching to the other side of the aisle so the Beast's nose wouldn't smudge the velvet of her shoes.

"Uh, I dunno. I woke up this morning and he was in my room." Betty balances a couple soft toys and squeezes one for a satisfying shriek. The Beast smiles at her, yellow teeth gleaming behind his lips. "I think he has to do with my initiation."

Veronica raises a brow. "Initiation? Like," Veronica steps closer, a furrow appearing between her brows and her voice lowers. "Like the Serpents?"

Betty nods, tucking the toys into the basket on the bend of her arm. "I've run into a couple of them. They told me despite the fact that . . . that Jughead and I are done, that I did the dance, that means I'm in."

Veronica's eyes become very wide and worried. "What the hell—Betty, what do you mean dance?"


After Veronica drops her off and the promise of an all-exclusive girl's night once the dog is gone, Betty goes about the rest of her afternoon researching and YouTubing before she has a head-full of knowledge and a handful of new DIY projects on her Pinterest board.

She's making apple peanut butter doggy biscuits when her mother comes home and the dog rushes to meet her. "What in hell—Betty! Why is this mongrel in our house?" Betty peers into the living room where her mother is standing, new silk dress pants currently being pressed upon by two dog paws.

She and her mom have not really talked about the night at the Wyrm. After she got home, it had been a moment of where were you and straight to bed before either could get a jab in edgewise.

Betty summons a nervous smile, "It's part of my initiation." Her mother's eyes fly to hers and widen in surprise. "Uh, watch the Beast?"

"Hot Dog?" Alice Cooper glances from her daughter to the animal pawing for the chicken salads she was currently holding aloft. "I thought he was hit by a car."

"Maybe they got another dog that looks like him?" She offers and pulls Hot Dog down by his collar, then turning him back to the kitchen. "I woke up and he was in my room."

Her mother is stony silent behind her. Betty assumes that this would be the moment, when her mother puts her foot down and sends her to boarding school in Sweden, but when her mom comes into the kitchen, she sets their salads down, lights a candle and informs her, "You're starting self-defense classes. Tomorrow."


There is not much she can do by way of argument, but still she finds herself on Wednesday after school being shoved onto a mat and seeing stars.

Betty prefers yoga, working on core strength and inner peace, breathing techniques to help calm the anger within. Something about bring that angry tarry feeling within her just makes her feel sick in retrospect. But, she is exhausted by the end of the session, sweat making her shirt cling to her back and her brow.

She goes through the steps like her instructors asks, learns how to hold her keys, the fear of secondary locations, and has the guy at the counter check her pepper spray for an expi-date.


Jughead (5:30 pm): hey call me

Jughead (5:40 pm): betty seriously

Jughead (5:45 pm): betty toni just told me you accepted the Serpent pledge?

Jughead (5:47 pm): do you have hotdog?

Jughead (5:30 pm): betty please call me

Betty deletes each message as it comes in and sinks further into her bath. The sweet-smelling water enveloping her aching muscles.


Betty is curled up on the couch, scratching at her homework with Hot Dog on her lap when a knock comes to the door. It's nighttime, and she's home alone, and Betty is not too secure in her first few classes of self-defense to just answer the door.

She steps, feather-light and careful to peer out the curtains at the front door. She can barely make out a dark shadow, the light reflecting off a leather jacket, the dark hair—

"Jug?" she calls and her visitor turns.

There's a snort and then, "Guess again."

It takes her a moment to realize it's him. The Serpent that gave her a ride home, the one that invited her for a drink and pulled her off the bar and sat with her in a booth at Pop's. She freezes for a moment, staring at him through the panel of glass.

"Can I come in?"

She opens the door and then she is facing the same dark-haired Serpent, his expression just as drawn and pensive as she remembers.

Hot Dog comes running from the living room and barrels at his legs, hip-checking her in the process.

Betty watches at the leather-clad Serpent in front of her melts as he falls to his knees to dig his fingers into Hot Dog's freshly cleaned coat. "Aw, did he smell that bad that you gave him a bath?" He asks, over the yipping and nail clicking of Hot Dog.

Betty shrugs. "He needed it."

Sweet Pea doesn't speak with her for another minute as he proceeds to ask Hot Dog if he really needed a bath and if he liked living with a bunch of Northsiders.

Betty stares at him. "So, did you come here to visit, or—?"

He looks up at her, dodging Hot Dog's kisses as he smiles. "I figured you would like to know that you are the talk of the Southside. F.P.'s putting a stop to it, saying its rumors, but everyone at the Whyte Wyrm knows the truth."

"Yeah, Jughead mentioned that." She mumbles and fiddles with the edge of her sweater. She is about to follow up with a sassy and that's my problem how or annoyed is that all you came here to say when Sweet Pea beats her to the punch.

"Bet you're happy your boy-toy is coming back to you, huh?"

"I'm not," she says and fearing sounding indignant, adds. "And he's not my . . . boy-toy, so don't talk about him like that. We're done."

Hot Dog paws his way into Sweet Pea's arms, claws dangerously close to that coiling neck tattoo. Sweet Pea still has the idiotic sense to pout at her. "Awe, trouble in paradise?"

Betty's jaw sets and notes that he is at perfect level to knee in the nose.

"Look, do you want to help me get Hot Dog's bag or not?"

Sweet Pea's brows pinch. "His . . . bag?"

"I bought him some stuff." Betty explains and once she has the door firmly shut and locked, she shows Sweet Pea the small basket of toys, his treat box, and the doggy bed she improvised for him.

Sweet Pea whistles and then says, "Give me your number."

"Why?"

"If I ever need anyone to watch Hot Dog, it's gonna be you. I cannot trust Fangs after the last incident." She does not really get a chance to ask about that as she hands Sweet Pea her phone and he punches in his number. Barely glancing up at her, he asks, "Your ma here?"

"No, she's working on an article." Betty says.

"Alright, well, you've been summoned."

"Summoned."

"You've got a couple more days with the Beast before your initiation is complete." Sweet Pea hands her phone back to her and meets her eye. "F.P. has a job for you and he likes to do these sorts of things in person."

There is a moment of thrill that rips through her at the thought. "Fine, let me get my jacket."

When she returns from upstairs, Sweet Pea is by the door again, waiting. He opens the door for her and she marches out, steel cording up her spine until she spots the motorcycle parked in front of the curb.

Oh God, Mrs. Fitz is going to have a field day telling my mom. Her ears perk when she hears the door shut and lock behind her and Sweet Pea hands her the mat key.

"You might want to put this in a better hiding place, alright?"

He strides passed her to the bike and Betty has a rebellious impulse to drop the key back under the mat where it belongs, but she knows he has a point. She drops the key into her purse beside her housekeys and walks after him.

As she clears the bushes, she spares a glance at Archie's house, and the dark slant of Archie's bedroom window and wonders what he must being doing.

She pauses when she gets to the curb, Sweet Pea already mounted on the bike and, with no helmet to offer her, rests his hands on the handlebars. He smiles.

"Scared, Cooper?" He jabs and Betty glares at him. She throws her leg over the back of the bike and sits for a moment, cautiously trying not to touch him. Sweet Pea reeves the engine loud and calls back a quick, "Grab onto me." Betty hooks her fingers into his beltloops and, with a snort, Sweet Pea pulls away from the curb and into the night.


They park a little way behind the Jones trailer, kicking up gravel as the pull into Sunnyside. Sweet Pea walks in front of her with purposeful strides as he lifts his chin to glance in through the window. "Wait," he reaches out and takes her elbow, his voice is low. "Can't go in yet."

Betty lifts her chin in the blue evening, trying to peer through the orange light of the kitchen window where she can see five dark shapes huddling the table. Instantly, her sleuthing instincts seem to kick in.

She narrows herself behind Sweet Pea, keeping her voice low. "Are we hiding me, you, or the both of us?"

"Both of us, definitely." Sweet Pea mutters, his hand falling away so he can lean up to get a better look. "Tall Boy's here." Betty mentally files the name away for later when Sweet Pea adds, "He's a loud mouth, F.P.'s second in command, don't cross him."

"Cool." Betty mutters and suppresses a shiver. "Do you want to huddle by the backdoor, or do you think they'll go out that way?"

Sweet Pea looks at her, one brow raised. "Back door?"

Now, it's Betty's turn to look at him like he's stupid. "You live here and you don't know about the back door?"

Sweet Pea's brows pinch. "I don't live here."

"Oh, well," Betty inches towards the backend of the double-wide, the nearly unused door that would bisect the hallway and block off the bathroom. It's a neat little hideaway, with a rusty alcove and a wild thrush of trees and brambles. Perfect for hiding.

Sweet Pea stamps on a couple of them that are filled with bugs. "Mother—"

"Shhh." Betty presses her ear to the backdoor, the tinny, muffled sound of voices carried down the hallway, but nothing distinguishable. Some phrases like "rise up" and "declare dominance" and "maintain the territory" were discernable, but not enough to string together a conversation.

Especially, not with Sweet Pea's noise.

"Okay, were you born a mouth-breather or—?"

"Oh, I'm sorry Nancy Drew, did you forget your stethoscope?"

"As a matter of fact," she whispers, breezily. "I did, now could you shut up?"

To her surprise, Sweet Pea snaps his jaw shut and stands beside her, ear pressed to the ancient door, trying to make out parts of the muffled conversation, but alas, it is coming to an end. Chairs scrapping, bottles clinking, boots shuffling.

Betty sighs and leans away, rubbing absently at the grim and cool numbness of her ear. "Do you know what he wants me to do?" She asks in a low voice, but Sweet Pea hums his answer.

"Not a clue." He cracks his jaw. "But apparently, he needs the two of us to do it." This makes Betty snort. "What?"

"It's just, why you?"

Sweet Pea shrugs. "I was the first one to greet you, I guess, so it's become a point of me leading you through the rest of your initiation."

The gravity of the statement is not lost on her now. Not harrowed by what would be a spectacular hangover, or writing on her bedroom mirror, but cold, blatant fact. She did the dance, she's in. She did the dance, she's in. She did the thing with consequences, and now she's in.

Like dancing on a stage is an indisputable rite.

You knew that though. A voice chimes in the back of her head. You knew that and you committed. You were ready. You did it.

Sweet Pea's expression changes slightly, the heaviness of his brow and tightness of his mouth lessen some and Betty is left wondering what must read on her own face before she hears a door open and slam from somewhere else in the trailer. The front door.

Together, they wait as the sound of motorcycles rev up and out before Sweet Pea pounds his fist on the backdoor, sending a shuttering, scuttle of dust and rust to fall down around them.

"You knock like a cop." She comments, dryly.

Sweet Pea's mouth lifts in a corner when he asks, "You know from experience?"

Betty thinks back to a couple dozen times a deputy or the Sheriff showed up at the house because of an article that her mom and dad—mostly her mom, let's be honest—published. "Yeah, a couple times."

Sweet Pea gives her a look like he wants to ask more, but is interrupted when the door opens, a tired looking F.P. Jones standing before them in the orange light. "Sweet Pea, Betty, good of you to remind me to cover this door."

He steps back to let them pass and Betty cuts a clean trail through the hall, the kitchen, and stopping short at the living room. All the blinds and curtains are closed now, she notes, turning in a slow circle. She also notes that Jughead's backpack isn't where he usually drops it and when she turns back to Sweet Pea and F.P., she remembers again why she's here.

Not for Jughead.

Business.

F.P. slips behind the divide of the kitchen and calls, "Sit wherever, I want to talk to you two." She hears the fridge door opening and the tell-tale clinking of bottles in the fridge. He's drinking, she notes with more surprise than she feels. So, much for cold turkey. He said he was quitting the Serpents and drinking, and here he is doing both in one fell swoop—

"Hey," Sweet Pea drops onto the loveseat and she stops, glances at him, and then takes in the image of F.P. Jones sidling into his living room, beer in hand and faded flannel making him the picture of the F.P. from her childhood, the background of barbeques, never too close, never really gone though. Like an after image.

F.P. lifts his chin to her. "How're you feeling, Betty?"

This catches Betty as a razor question. How is she feeling? With her mother's sudden change of heart? With her life's sudden twists? With having to toss the rug her nanna made for her? With being initiated into a gang?

"I'm feeling fine, Mr. Jones." She says and watches the strange expression knit itself on F.P.'s brows.

"You can call me F.P. from now on then, Betty. I'll get awkward if you don't."

"Right," She agrees and, needing to do something with her hands, she smooths them down her hips as she sinks back into the couch beside Sweet Pea, her shoulder thumping against his momentarily.

F.P. drops into the adjacent easy chair. The chair sighs and groans to accommodate him, even thought F.P. is looking especially thin and pale these days. Betty almost wants to make a mental note to make a casserole, or something, but she's not sure if that would be appropriate anymore.

How does one treat the father of one's ex-boyfriend now gang leader?

"So, I'm just going to cut to the chase here, kid." F.P. leans forward in his chair, a bit like how Jughead does, shoulders stooped, elbows on his knees, the bottle braided between his fingers is a new touch. Betty lifts his chin to look attentive. "I know since I got locked up that you kids have been doing a lot to help us out and I appreciate that, I do, but I'm back now and I know I'm not the first to say that I don't want you, or Jughead, or any of your other friends to get involved in what we're doing here."

Betty's first impression is to balk. The second is anger, it's always anger.

"And what exactly are you doing here?" She asks, venom clear in her tone and she can feel the shock that snaps through Sweet Pea as he shifts on the couch beside her. F.P. snorts, taking it in stride.

"Never you mind," he says. "I want you kids to have a normal time. You don't have to concern yourself with every little thing us adults are doing. And I don't care what that Lodge prick is doing either. I don't use my kid as a prop."

Betty wants to argue. She really wants to argue.

F.P. Jones had no qualms about letting Jughead and Archie egg Malachai into a street race al la Grease Lightening not even a month ago, but now he wants them to pull away? Just when it's about to get serious?

F.P., as if mused by her silence, lifts his brows. "Is that a problem Betty?"

It's a voice she has never heard before from him. A little terse, a little commanding, a touch do you really want to go there? And no, Betty does not want to go there. She doesn't even know where she currently stands.

"No, I was just thinking." She eases her nails out of her palms and listens to Sweet Pea's exhale. "I'm just wondering, if you don't want us to help with the Ghoulie problem, then what do you want us to do?"

F.P. studies her for a second, dark eyes narrow and measuring. He lifts his chin up, eyes meeting Sweet Pea's. "Southside High is going under."

For the first time, Sweet Pea speaks, "Wait, w-what?"

F.P. nods. "Exactly as I said, Southside High is going under. We got ahold of the transfer list and it seems like most of our Serpent juniors are heading to Northside High." F.P.'s gaze lowers to Betty's again and then time, his gaze is gentler, like before, back when she was just Jughead's girlfriend. "You see this swings in our favor here because Southside has always been a bit, well, let's say low funded and we have some smart kids."

Betty is half-tempted to remark on once watching a couple of Serpent kids peeling around the backroads in a shopping cart tied to a truck, but decides it's not in her best interests.

"What do you want me to do, exactly?"

"Well, Betty, you're an honors student and on the student council, so I want you to be the one to roll out the red carpet for our Serpents. Get them acclimated to the school, get them the connections they need, and keep them safe. I want you to be our snake on the inside, no public initiations, or declarations, just keep our kids in school and out of the way."

F.P. tips his bottle back to his lips and takes a long swing, almost taunting her to comment, but her tongue is leaden and heavy in her mouth.

"Unless, you want out?"

And that's the million-dollar question. Does she want out?

True, she did the things that Serpent law, or whatever, dictates makes her a member, but she is continuing with the initiation. She is taking care of Hot Dog and letting Serpents into her home and meeting with gang leaders when she should be studying Calculus.

Does she want out? Now, when Jug have gone Native, Hiram is on the loose, and the Ghoulies are running around leaderless?

When even if there is not much she can do, maybe there is something—anything—she can do to help?

"No, no," Betty presses her palms against her knees. "It's like Sweet Pea said, I did the dance, I'm in. That's the Law."

F.P. nods and rises from his chair, supposedly, to gather the transfer list as well as a list of things he wants her to do, and Betty sits there, beside Sweet Pea, in her ex-boyfriend's trailer, wondering what she has just done.


"You looked like you were going to vomit back there." Sweet Pea flicks a sugar packet at her. It bounces off her thumb and lands on her lap. She glares at him, but it's weak. "What's on your mind? You backing out?"

Betty hums over her café latte. "I'm not sure. I want to help and do that I think is right, but I'm not even sure what that is anymore."

"Well," Sweet Pea tilts his head, eyes rolling up to the ceiling. "I would say that what's right would be fulfilling Serpent interest."

Oh right. Betty pulls at the skin of her temples. Now she has to put together a pitch for Weatherbee, bypass the student council, set up a meet and greet for the incoming students. It had been easy when it was just Veronica, but a pack of Serpents? How many students did she just agree to chaperon?

"Aren't you sad? Your school's closing and—" Sweet Pea shakes his head.

"Trust me, this is the best thing to happen to the Southside in a long time."

The abruptness of it surprises her. "I just figured, since you live here, you learn here?"

Sweet Pea shoots her a purposefully blank expression.

"Didn't you learn that from your mom? The Southside isn't exactly the kind of place someone can really," Sweet Pea pauses to glance at the glossy Northside High brochure on the table between them. "Activate and expand your horizons. No, this is a good thing. For all of us."

She nods and takes up a spoon to stir the frothy caramel into her latte. After another beat of silence, she asks. "Do you like school?"

"That's a dumb question. Do you?" He cocks a brow at her that she purposefully ignores.

"Well, when nothing weird is going on—yeah."

"Well, I don't know," Sweet Pea's brows are drawn tight, a deep thoughtful look falling over his eyes. His attention turns back out the window of the coffee shop. "I'm good at Math. I would like to learn it from someone who can actually teach it."

"What level are you?"

"I dunno. Trig? I guess?"

"That's pretty good." He doesn't spar her a glance. "I'm in Calc."

Then there is the rumbling of motorcycles. Betty peers out the window in time to see three of them pulling up to the curb. Each with at least two riders. The respective Serpent students. Her stomach clenches at the sight.

She recognizes a few of them, Toni and Fangs, but the other four are a mystery to her.

"Just relax, Cooper. They're not going to eat you." Sweet Pea mutters and then does a double take. "Okay, seriously, relax."

"I'm fine."

"You know, I would never peg you as a nervous one."

"I'm usually not." She mutters and takes a sip of her latte and, as calmly as she can, sets it down. "We're just laying the ground work, right? Everything we're going to do on Saturday?"

"Cooper," Sweet Pea says and he leans back in his chair. "Just think of this like taking care of Hot Dog. You're just looking out of other members of the pack, making sure they're happy, healthy, and have what they need."

Betty pauses for a moment, mulling it over. "That's why Hot Dog is apart of the initiation." It's a statement, not a question, though it has been what she has wondered about since Hot Dog appeared in her room a couple days ago.

"We don't just need muscle. We need people that prove they care about people in our group."

The bell above the door chimes as the leather-clad Serpents begin pouring in. There is the loud raucous of laughter and jokes. One of the boys pushes Fangs and he snorts a laugh, putting his arm around Toni and another girl. His eyes find them immediately and he beams. "Hey guys, you beat us here!"

Sweet Pea lifts a hand to beckon them over.

Toni nods coolly and saunters over, sliding into the booth next to Betty. "So, F.P. says you're out liaison for the Southside shift?"

Sweet Pea meets her eye and mouths, "Show time."


 

Chapter Text

 


Betty is sitting on the porch in the early morning when Toni comes to pick up Hot Dog.

Toni is also surprised by Hot Dog's new bag of goodies and grooming. Pleasantly surprised. "Wow, S.P. wasn't kidding when he said you domesticated the Beast."

She smiles thinly, a little reluctant to let Hot Dog go, but too embarrassed to be in Toni's presence too long. She still remembers the old wounds: Jughead confessing to kissing her, letting her spend the night, thinking she was cute. Betty finds herself pressing down on those old bruises just to feel the sting that lingers.

Toni smiles up at her, fingers in Hot Dog's fur. "You used to have a dog?"

"I've always wanted one, but my dad and sister were allergic so," she trails off, for a moment, hating herself for mentioning her Dad and Polly. However, if Toni notices the past tense, she doesn't comment.

Toni instead let the moment gracefully stretch and then drop. Her hands full of fur and then, her eyes flicker up. "Hey, do you mind if I sit a minute?" Toni indicated the chair beside her.

Betty shakes her head, leaning back into her chair with her mug of tea and watches Toni climb the steps and sink into the cushion, dropping her bag and arranging her hair. She gives a cursory glance around, noting the lawn furniture and the flower-patterned seats. "Nice house."

"Thanks." Hot Dog climbs obediently back up the stairs, swishing his tail before throwing himself down at their feet, presenting his belly. Betty sets her mug aside to lean down and pet him. "Did you want some tea or coffee, maybe?"

"Nah, this won't take long." Toni digs through her bag another moment and pulls out a tube of lipstick. "Sweet Pea kind of ruined yours when we wrote on your mirror. I figured I would be the one to replace it. In good faith."

Betty accepts the offers and lifts her brow at the words Supple Scarlet in curvy gold letters.

Toni smiles and Betty smiles back, in spite of herself.

"Next time you come out to the Wyrm we should get ready together. We can put together some outfits, do our makeup. I mean, that lingerie set was sexy as hell, but I don't think the good girl gone bad look will work anymore."

Betty curls her fingers around the tube. "Thanks," She thinks back at the outfit she wore to the Wyrm. The midriff top, the pink skirt, the surprise underneath. Black lace brimming with possibility. Her smile strains. "I feel like I made a fool out of myself the entire time."

Toni shakes her head. "I feel that, but you did good. The song choice was a bit—" She must read something on Betty's face because she switches gears quickly. "What I mean is, it's supposed to be about 'shedding your skin' and 'new beginnings.' Still, you learn our laws and you're one of us." Toni twists a lock of hair around her finger. "Even if F.P. says you're not a member."

Betty's brow crunches. "Yeah, I'm still very confused about that."

"I think it's mainly about Jughead."

Ah, there like a slug to the gut, her ex-boyfriend swings right back into view.

"How is he?"

Toni's mouth tucks at the corner. "Mad as hell. F.P. tried to boot him out, but he's a Serpent through and through. He did the tasks, he survived initiation, he stands up for his own. Jughead is a Serpent, but F.P. is still the leader. When Jughead spoke up, he got all of us sidelined."

"All—?"

"The youngers, I guess. Everyone under eighteen is under a strict no meddling policy."

Betty rolls the lipstick tube between her fingers, admiring the matte black and the color sample. It was a red that could be seen as bloody, almost. Like war-paint. "I don't see Jughead taking that."

Toni snorts. "Understatement of the century." Leans back in the chair, more comfortable now. "Sweet Pea's getting a kick out of it, though. Between you and me, S.P. respects him, but he doesn't exactly like him. You get me?"

She doesn't, but she nods anyway.

"But, anyway," Toni stands and stretches, the tattered ends of her tee shirt dress riding dangerously high on her thighs. "I've better get going. Busy day tomorrow and all."

Betty nods in agreement, but swoops down to kiss the space between Hot Dog's eyes and rubs his ears. She cannot help herself but baby-talk him. "Are you going home? Are you going home?" Hot Dog keens and whips his tail back in forth. "I'm going to miss you!"

Toni rolls her eyes. "You can get him next. I think he's stay with me while I crash at Poe's. He has the biggest yard." She smiles. "I could convince him that you might want some more time."

"Thanks, I really like having him around."

Toni shoulders the doggie bag and gathers up the leash. "Well, see ya."

"See you." Betty echoes.

Toni makes it down the stairs when Betty rises to her feet. "Hey, if you ever want to—" Toni looks over her shoulder, brows raising in polite question. "—spend the night or need a ride, just let me know, okay?"

She pauses a moment, mouth quirking into a small smile. "I'd like that." She says and waves with her free hand. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Alright."

Toni slips into the old pick-up, the same Sweet Pea borrowed to drive her home, and takes off down the street. Betty turns back to her chair when something catches her attention out of the corner of her eye.

Next door, standing on the Andrew's porch like a bit of shadow, is Jughead.

Quietly watching.

After a moment, Betty raises her hand to wave, but Jughead turns and walks back into the house. The resounding slam of the front door echoes in her ears.


"—not to worry Principal Weatherbee," Betty says with a finishing flourish. "I have taken the initiative of getting to know most of the students transferring in and I am sure I can help them acclimate to Riverdale High seamlessly."

Despite her best review, Weatherbee still looks unconvinced by her optimism. And, in that regard, she understands. She had been so nervous when F.P. gave her the assignment, but after meeting the pack of Serpents, and subsequently the other students, she had a bit more confidence than most.

However, she cannot really instill that confidence in Weatherbee.

"Are you sure," he begins skeptically, "that you can . . . handle them?"

"Absolutely."

"It's a lot of work."

"Well," she shifts, tugging at her skirt again. "I asked the rest of student government, but they all seemed to be busy. I mentioned the extra credit they would get but," she trails off as she knows the answer as well as Weatherbee. No one wants to show the Southside kids around.

So, she was left with twenty incoming students. Eight of which were Serpents.

Weatherbee nods sagely. His hands come to a steeple on his desk. "Miss Cooper, I am going to be frank." Betty nods slowly, giving him the go-ahead. "I have taken the liberty of reading the files of some of our incoming students and they have shown some . . . less than favorable histories. This includes probable gang activity."

Betty hopes her dole expression isn't too off-putting.

"I understand, Principal Weatherbee, but I have already met with a couple of the students, and I think they will fit in nicely."

It's a half-lie, but better than a half-truth. She smiles through her embarrassment.

Weatherbee sighs. "Should you encounter any issues, inform me immediately." She nods and Weathebee leans back in his chair, setting it to swivel slightly. "Just get them their books, schedules, show them around, and where to go for lunch. I don't want any funny business, and no—no gang activity."

"I can assure you, Principal Weathebee," Betty says lightly. "There will be no gang activity."


At the bottom of the ninth, her friends decide to come around.

Kevin and Veronica are hovering outside Weatherbee's office. "Principal Weatherbee, we would like to offer our time to showing the new students around school—"

Weatherbee cuts off whatever flawless speech Veronica must have planned with an exhausted hand. "Very good. Excellent show of school spirit, just . . ." He makes a dismissive gesture as he steps back into his office. "Just keep them out of trouble."

Betty runs her finger along her binder, straightening the schedules. Veronica flashes a small smile. "We figured you might need some help."

"Oh yeah." Betty divvies up the schedules as she sees fit, but collects Sweet Pea's, Toni's, and Fangs' she figures they might work better with her to guide them. "We don't really have to do too much. But, I stapled maps to the schedules and available lunch options, just in case. Ooh! Make sure to ask if anyone has allergies and then make sure they know where the nurse's office is—"

Kevin takes the schedules out of her hands and smiles. "Betty," he says pleasantly. "You're OCD is showing."

Betty flushes, defensively. "Well, that's not politically correct."

"No," Veronica says, smiling. "But I can see the steam rising out of your ears. Just a bit." Veronica takes her stack of papers and hums, considering. "I'll make sure to show them all the places they can get caught smoking in the library."

"Ronnie," Betty begins, but Veronica makes a dismissive gesture.

"I'm kidding, c'mon." Her and Kevin fall into step behind her, leafing through their schedules. "You're going to get some serious college application letters for doing this." Veronica says helpfully.

"Yeah, student gov flaked on me." Betty glares pointedly at Kevin.

"What?"

"You should have joined."

"Betty, I'm not going to let you bully me into extracurriculars."

"Whatever," She pinches the creased shoulder of Kevin's sweater until it smooths. "There."

Kevin smiles in thanks as they round the corner to the front office where Mrs. Brunner has rallied the new students. The physical mass of them fill up the entire corridor and Betty is comforted to see a few familiar faces amongst the group.

Show time, indeed.

Betty makes quick hello's and gives her welcoming speech. In a quiet hum between silence and sleepy conversation, the crowd parts as Toni and Sweet Pea cut through. Toni deposits herself at Betty's side. Sweet Pea lingers beside them, casting a menacing profile in his sleeveless shirt and snake tattoo.

She notices the shift in the crowd, even the non-Serpent kids seem to shift to attention as Toni and Sweet Pea stand beside her.

It's a declaration. A warning.

"Well, you heard the girl. Find your guide and listen up." Sweet Pea jerks his thumb back at Veronica and Kevin, and even Kevin seems to startle a little.

The crowd begins to shift in the murmur of conversation and Veronica moves to the side, but not before cutting Betty a questioning look. Betty ignores it, guiltily, and smiles back at Toni. "Thanks."

"Not a problem," Toni says, flipping back her long pink hair. "Just please tell me you got my schedule for me. I would rather be with a familiar face."

Betty brandishes her schedule stack. "Yeah, I grabbed you, Sweet Pea, Fangs, Poe, Lisa, Corey and—" Her fingers skim over another sheaf of papers. Ones she was not sure if she should pass on. Then she frowns, checking the crowd. "Where's Jughead?"

"Meh, he said he had something to take care of." Toni shrugs, but Betty thinks there might be more to the story. Still, she cannot quite find herself to entertain the idea of stopping by his place. She extends the paper schedule.

"Can you give him his? Tell him they switched his third and fifth, but it's basically the same."

Toni smiles, kindly. "Yeah, of course."

Fangs raises his hand in earnest. "Would it be alright if I tagged along with Sweater Vest over there? The civilians are going to eat him alive."

Betty's attention flickers from Fangs to Kevin. "Yeah, go ahead." Fangs nods and swaggers over to where Kevin is trying to get the attention of his own rowdy group. Once Fangs enters, the crowd seems to cool, eyeing Fangs jacket nervously.

Corey jerks his chin towards Veronica. "Want me to go with your friend there?"

"Oh, Veronica should be—" And then, as if to prove her point, Veronica's voice cracks down like a whip, startling her group into attention. Betty smiles. "Veronica's good."


Betty spends the next thirty or so minutes helping her tiny crew set up their student accounts and emails. Most of Sweet Pea's preferred options get vetoed by the school's software, but he finally settles on something school appropriate.

Corey, Poe, and Lisa make basic options so it leaves them with time to chat and test just how far the school's net-nanny will allow them to search. "—but what if I need YouTube?" Poe, a boy with a bleach-blond mohawk and a lip ring, whines. "Like for school?"

"Uh, your phone? Duh, numb-nuts?" Lisa cackles and clicks around to another browser. Her blue eyes, cornflower blue, flash up at Betty. "Do you guys have clubs here?"

"Um," Corey chimes in. "No one is going to let your baby-faced ass into a club on the Northside."

"Not that kind of club." Lisa grumbles. "Like school clubs? Book club? Fencing? Comics? Give me something here, Cooper."

Betty brightens, happy to help. "Yeah, we got a couple." She leans down around her to pull up a list of the school clubs off the website. "They have the dates and times listed, so you should be able to just show up if you want to join."

Lisa makes an excited noise and begins stabbing at Poe with her nail. "Hey, hey, we could start that ghost hunting club we wanted—"

Betty leans back in her seat, spinning from side to side as Lisa, Poe, and Corey chatter on. She likes them. She is surprised by it, but she does. All the Serpents so far have been kind and warm to her, the girls maybe a touch more than the guys, but it feels all the better.

Toni pushes back from her desk, propelling her wheelie chair back up to her. "What clubs are you in?"

"Oh, a couple." Betty taps her fingers along the plastic underside of the chair. "Student gov, obviously. But, also Book Club, AP Successors, Foreign Language Club . . ." she trails off, racking her brain for the growing list of activities filling up her calendar. "Oh, and the Blue and Gold, but that's more of an activity."

"Yeah?" Toni brows raise, interested. "You guys need a photographer?"

Betty thinks back to Sunday, when Toni came to the house. How kind she was. How she tried to bridge the gap between them. She smiles. "I am looking for a new photographer."

Toni touches two fingers to her forehead in salute. "I'll bring my camera tomorrow, boss."

"Got any extracurriculars for me?" Sweet Pea asks, leaning back in his chair. Betty assesses him, his shoulders, his neck tattoo.

"Mathletes meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school." He snorts and mutters something around the lines of "funny Coop" which makes her smile brighter. "Football is done for the season, but . . . basketball is starting soon."

Toni glances away from her screen long enough to give Sweet Pea a look. "Really?"

"I'm not trading jackets, Toni, just getting some exercise. Besides, it'll make these Bulldogs uncomfortable."


She is halfway through a tour of the old library when Sweet Pea takes her elbow. He pauses between Russian Lit and the beginning of the Impressionist when he turns to her and says, "I was serious about the basketball thing."

Betty gives him a nervous look. "Why are you still on that?"

Sweet Pea shrugs his shoulder. "I need the exercise."

"Didn't you and those guys get into a fight? I heard from Archie you guys fought half the football team." Sweet Pea nods again. "Why would you want to join them? They could—I don't know—gang up on you, or something."

"Or something." Sweet Pea repeats. "But, I want to join basketball. I'm good."

"So? Play with your friends."

Sweet Pea's brows raise in mock seriousness. "Are you trying to keep me from a basketball scholarship, Cooper?"

"No, I—"

"You know, for being one of us, you sure know how to—"

"I just—I don't like talking to the basketball guys, okay?" Sweet Pea stares at her.

"And that's my problem?"

"I don't want to."

"You have to. The Law—"

"Your law says I have to help you get onto a high school basketball team?"

"If the King commands it, yes." Sweet Pea flashes his dimples at her, oh so sweetly. "Which he did. You're supposed to help me with anything I need and acclimate me to the school. Now, show me where the gym is or I'll find it myself."

Betty stares at him. F.P.'s own words thrown back at her. Her jaw tightens. "Why do you want to get on the team so badly?"

Sweet Pea's face is deceptively blank for several seconds. As if warring between the charade or letting her in.

"Help me do it and I'll tell you."

"I can't guarantee you'll get in." Betty crosses her arms over her chest, annoyed. "We'll have to go to the coach, but after that the team line up goes through . . . Reggie Mantle." She waits, but receives no reaction from him. He cocks a brow. "He's the captain of the basketball team?" Nothing. "He's that guy with the . . . lantern jaw and curly hair?"

"Dude, I have no idea who you're talking about."

"You fought him?"

Sweet Pea shrugs. "No idea."


"Ah," Sweet Pea says when she points him out, the curve of his cheeks when he smiles makes him look almost childish with glee. "That guy."

"Yeah," Betty sighs and tugs at the sleeve of her sweater. "That guy. Look," She turns to him, fixing her best glare. "I know Reggie and if you want on the team just, just let me do the talking, alright?"

Sweet Pea crunches a brow. "Why?"

"Do you need to be on the team, or not?" She volleys back and watches the question strike, connect, and slip under his skin. That same furrowed expression and curved mouth as before takes its place.

"Fine," he says after an overly-dramatic minute of silence. Betty hears the screech of shoes against the waxed floors cease, signaling the end of practice. Sweet Pea's eyes cut through the little window. "But if he starts talking shit, I'm shutting it down."

"No, you'll let me finish talking. Then you'll be on the team. Then you'll tell me why."

He snorts and makes a gesture for her to go through the door first. "Whatever, let's just get this over with."

She steels herself for a moment before going in, taking a breath in and then out. The smell of rubber and sweat beyond the door. She can hear practice winding down for the day. Reggie's voice calling out the next practice date and for the guys to hit the showers.

She can feel Sweet Pea behind her, a heavy, leather-clad presence, and Betty pushes the doors open, drawing a long sound.

Reggie Mantel is pulling on his tee shirt when they walk in, his gaze questioning when it reaches Betty and outright volatile when he spots Sweet Pea behind her. "Well, look what the cat drug in." He calls, his voice booming across the empty gym as he moves to meet them. "A Serpent."

Sweet Pea snorts. "Got any new fanged comebacks, Bulldog?"

Betty shoots him a heated look and that Sweet Pea shoots as if to say he started it. However, he hangs back when she crosses her arms over her chest, a barrier between him and Reggie.

"Reggie," she says, pulling her on the pleasant professional tone her mother uses. "I see you and Sweet Pea have met," She pauses for a moment, running through her script in her head and puzzling over what to say next when she decides that, the most blatant option, is the most obvious, "Sweet Pea would like to try out for the basketball team."

"Pssh," Reggie huffs, a whoosh of noise from between his teeth and then he sees her expression. She thinks she even sees Reggie's eyelid twitch. "We're full."

"I already talked to the coach. He gave him the go ahead to try-out, just like everyone else. Your defensive line is weak this semester. You need another person."

Reggie's lip curls. "I'll put a freshman on the frontlines before I put some Southsider—" Sweet Pea shifts and she holds up a hand. Silence follows.

Reggie's gaze shifts to her again, confusion twining with annoyance.

She can feel the edge of a threat on the tip of her tongue. "Well, I know Chuck won't be returning to the Letterman crew anytime soon." Betty forces herself to keep her voice cold and cool, a breeze creeping over Reggie's fire, blowing out the flames, not fanning them.

She locks eyes with him, head tilting in the way she's seen Veronica do when she's about to deliver a verbal slap. "But if I'm not mistaken, you were also involved in that scorebook, weren't you? Twenty-eight points? That must have not come easy."

It takes a moment, a moment of tension, and locked jaws, and sweat beading against her neck before Reggie gets it.

"You're bluffing." He says, and then again, "You're bluffing."

"I've still got the photos Reggie and I will lose no sleep running them in my next issue in the Blue and Gold." She can see the gears turning, the wires connecting, but she has to make it stick. Just like her mom says, let them know they are being watched. "You applied to state, right? That's lofty considering your grades, but those sports scholarships always pick up the slack."

Reggie's jaw works.

She can see him swallow. She can see the palpable fear in his eyes, as he imagines what happened to Chuck doubling ten-fold over him. Accusations, anger, loss of scholarships, loss of future, all down the drain because of some archaic jock rite-of-passage and pissing off one Betty Cooper on the war path.

"Fine Cooper, have it your way," he snorts, attempting to piece together his wounded pride. He glares at her. "But if your boy can't hack it, then don't come bitchin' to me—"

"He'll pass try-outs." Betty says blithely and lifts her chin. "But if I hear anymore of your Southside-Northside rhetoric," her mind scrambles for a point, an argument, something, "then I won't be happy."

Reggie stares at her a moment, as if searching for the right collection of words that would deliver the best comeback, but his jaw locks, eyes flickering to Sweet Pea. "Tuesday after five, meet here. Don't wear biker shoes. If you scuff up the gym floors, Coach will have your head."


Sweet Pea still looks confused while they're picking up textbooks for him and Toni at the backroom of the student library. Toni is knee-deep in a Computer Science text that she doesn't need, but is quickly charming the librarian to let her borrow, and Betty climbs the old shelves to grab Basic Fundamentals of Trigonometry.

She is in the middle of a character run-down of each and every one of Sweet Pea's teachers when he asks, "So, what the fuck was that?" In a voice that almost seems sing-song, despite the swearing.

It takes Betty a moment to realize what he means. "Wha—oh, nothing. That's just Reggie. That's how you have to talk to him to get him to understand."

"No, I mean," Sweet Pea waves a hand dismissively, balancing three textbooks in the crux of his arm. "The whole blackmail thing you seem to have going. What did he do that you have so much sway over him?"

Betty glances back to where her friends and the rest of the Serpents are waiting patiently, gathering their textbooks and talking amongst themselves. She catches Veronica's eye briefly, and her friend mouths a subtle you okay? To which she nods, vehemently.

"Oh, that's—that's old news."

"Seems pretty fresh to him." Sweet Pea mutters and Betty thins her lips, looks at her hands and then back at the bookshelves around her. Sweet Pea presses on. "So, what'd he do? Did you catch him stealing, underage drinking, what?"

Betty can feel the uncomfortable gooseflesh of her skin, the prickle and pine of hers and Veronica's first mission after the death of Jason Blossom when the whole world went to hell.

"He, he and the rest of the football team were keeping a scorebook of girls that they, well, that they allegedly slept with. Most of the stories weren't true. So, this guy Chuck decided to do that to a friend of mine, and spread rumors about her. We teamed up and found the scorebook and I, uh."

Sweet Pea's brows are drawn, but he nods, silently urging her to go on. "And then?"

"I sent it to his family, our principal, and all the colleges that Chuck applied to with letters explaining." Betty shifts. "I was angry when I did it, but Chuck actually lost his scholarship, got kicked off his team, and has been on probation since. I kinda, well, ruined his life."

Sweet Pea stares at her, eyes rounding.

Betty can feel her nails digging into her palms, tension coiling inside her.

"He do that to you?"

"What? No, it was just my friend. And, my sister too."

"Wow." Sweet Pea says after a beat, shifting his weight.

"Yeah."

"You're one scary chick, Cooper." Then he throws his arm around her, a half-hug, half-choke hold in her opinion. She squeaks as she falls back against his chest. "Remind me never to get on your bad side, m'kay?"


 

Chapter Text

Betty has a multicolored schedule set up on her desk when her phone goes off, cutting short the podcast she had been listening to while she worked. She glances at it, pink highlighter clenched between her teeth to find Sweet Pea's name on her screen.

Sweet Pea (10:32 pm): I thought you said the hw would be more challenging.

Sweet Pea (10:32 pm): Imma test out of this shit

She smiles to herself and takes up her phone to type out a quick reply.

You (10:33 pm): Mind taking a look at mine? Sanchez is killing me with the second section

Sweet Pea replies before she can put her phone back down.

Sweet Pea (10:34 pm): You're not asleep?

You (10:35 pm): No?

Sweet Pea (10:35 pm): I thought you were one of those people who when to bed insanely earlier

Sweet Pea (10:35 pm): *early

You (10:36 pm): Nope! I've got a lot of work to do.

You (10:36 pm): Why'd you text me then?

Sweet Pea (10:37 pm): I dunno I was bored wanted to bitch

She swings her legs back and forth a moment in her chair, bare feet brushing across the carpet. Sweet Pea is one of the few Serpents who has her number, aside from Toni and Jughead, obviously, but he is the one who texts her the most.

Usually about nothing in particular. Questions about parking permits, class schedules, and where detention was, not that he got one yet. It had been a week since the Serpents have started going to Riverdale High and, so far, things have been going swell.

Sweet Pea (10:37 pm): Do you want a ride to school tomorrow?

Distracted, her gaze snaps up to the window where Archie's light has flickered on. She taps her fingers against her phone. Her small saving grace as a child, quickly turning into a bother as she rose from her desk, inching back towards the light switch. It has been customary these past couple of nights, snapping off the lights and then shutting her new black out curtains. Very effective.

Still, she pauses a moment, motionless, as she watches Archie toss his bag down and then—

Jughead.

Jughead is in Archie's room.

She freezes like a deer in headlights. Watching the two of them chat a moment before Jughead flops onto the bed, face burying in the pillows and going motionless. Archie's brows are knit, even from a distance she can see the tense line of his shoulders, his fists. He walks out.

Jughead remains, rolling over on the bed and sitting up. Betty snaps off the light to her room.

She watches Jughead's head turn to her window, brows pinched as if trying to see something Betty knows he can't see. But he knows she's there. Somewhere.

She hovers for a moment in the silky darkness of her room, between closing the curtains and turning the lights back on. She hates how it feels between them now. This tension. The not-talking. She is so tired of not talking, of breaking up, of being in perpetual limbo.

Then, there is the part of her that is not ready to talk. The part of her that has been avoiding him as much as he has been avoiding her.

Quietly and quickly as she can, she gathers her things and inches back towards her bedroom door. She can sleep in Polly's room across the hall, in her perfect sunlit yellow and Paris theme. Her phone lights up again, the white light of the screen almost blinding in the darkness. It's Sweet Pea again.

Sweet Pea (10:47 pm): yo did you fall asleep?

And then again.

Jughead (10:47 pm): can we talk?

Betty puts her phone on the charger and goes to sleep in Polly's room.


Her mom is in the kitchen when she comes down for breakfast.

It startles her for a moment to come around the corner for the last couple of days and have an empty kitchen and a quiet house, and now to see her mom, dressed with her hair up, sitting in the kitchen with her laptop and papers. It's jarring.

She peers up over the screen of her laptop, reading glasses perched on her nose. It takes her a moment to smile, however briefly. Betty almost feels guilty for breaking the quiet spell her mother has created.

"Good morning," she says and looks back to her work before Betty can say anything.

"Morning," Betty mumbles and skirts the kitchen island to the cabinets, suddenly not as hungry as before. She slips around to the side pantry, fingers curling anxiously against her palms, and glances back at her mom—still wrapped up in the papers in front of her.

They have lived like strangers since Hot Dog appeared in her bedroom, an emblem of her Serpent initiation, and since, her mother has been oddly silent about the whole thing.

Which is weird.

Very weird.

Betty cannot remember a single decision she has made where her mother has not had anything to say. Even when she was fifteen and opened her own debit card account.

But, they have been orbiting around each other at a polite distance that seemed to grow steeper and steeper as the days passed.

She faces her mother, looks at her honey blonde hair and tense expression, but—

—no words follow.

She tries for too long to get herself to say something—anything—but the words don't come, just lodged in her throat.

Her phone chirps again, the second time this morning, but Betty cannot bring herself to look at it. Jughead's text still lies unanswered on her phone.

She lingers in the pantry a moment, looking over the breakfast bar options and peaks around the door. Her mother is flipping through a book, marking a line with her finger and then going back to her laptop.

"Hey mom?"

Her mother looks up, her blonde hair haloing her face. "Hm?"

"Are you . . ." Betty can feel the heaviness of her words, her tongue, her shoulders. "Are you okay?"

Alice Cooper stares at her a moment and takes her reading glasses off. It is a moment oddly reminiscent of the time Betty told her she was going on a date with a junior when she was a freshman. The impending storm of a lecture brewing in those stormy blue eyes, cruelty curling on her lips, but nothing follows.

The glasses clatter on the table.

"Do you need a ride to school?"

It's the longest sentence she has heard in a week.

"No, I—" She starts to protest, but her mom is already rising from her chair and out of the kitchen.

Betty feels a twinge of frustration, a spark that may ignite into fire. Why is it so hard for her mom to just talk to her? Yell at her, even. Anything. Anything would better than the frosty silence her mother insists on punishing her with.

She curls her fingers into her palms, nails sinking.

It's the not talking that does her in. The multitude of possibilities for what her mother might be thinking—about her, about her choices—that drives her crazy. She would rather have a stone to stand on. Have a line to draw in the sand. You stand here, I stand there. Something to help her conceptualize where she stood.

It's not that simple. Betty counts back from ten and sighs. She knows better.

A moment later, her mom slips back into the kitchen a moment later, smoothing the collar of her jacket. "Well?"

There is a jingle of keys and Betty bites her lips together.

"Sure, thanks."

She grabs her bag from the table and follows her mother out.


Without the support of the basketball team backing her, Cheryl's brief stint as fascist Barbie goes over as well as a one-woman act. Still, it's just a touch more offensive than strictly necessary—and it's not necessary—and leaves a dark cloud over the day.

Betty begins the day by fielding grievances.

"—and then she went off about above average GPA scores and stomped off in her little heels. Honestly, had we been anywhere else, I would have swung." Lisa snarls. Toni shifts her gaze from Lisa to Betty, eyes rolling upward. Lisa blushes, nose wrinkling. "I would have."

Betty's eyes flint to Toni, who steps in gracefully, hands tucking against Lisa's shoulders. "No fights, Lisa. You're almost eighteen. You don't need something on an adult record."

Lisa visibly relaxes and snaps her locker closed. "You're right." The shift is almost instantiations, one moment rage and the next, docile as a kitten. She grins. "Well, I'm off. I need an iced coffee after this shit. See you in gov, B."

"Bye." Betty calls, but Lisa is weaving through the crowd on her merry way. Betty relaxes back against the lockers, temples throbbing.

"You okay?" Toni asks.

"It's just—it's just so," Betty trails off, hands extending in some vague gesture. Toni nods though, in tune with her frustration.

"It's okay. Lisa's all bark and no bite." Toni leans back against the lockers, arms crossing her chest. "Besides, we're not supposed to draw attention to ourselves like that."

"I'm not worried about that." She lies, even though she is kind of worried about that. She wonders what would happen if they weren't under those orders and images of Cheryl covered in pig's blood, like in Carrie, pop in her mind. She pinches the bridge of her nose. "It's just, Cheryl can be complicated."

"Cheryl," Toni repeats with a hum. "That's the redhead's name?"

"Yeah."

Toni's lips quirk an almost-smile, almost smirk; something deep and contemplative in her eyes. "Nice." Betty gives her a hard look to which Toni answers with lifted brows. "For a grandma. Anyway, you were saying?"

Betty eyes her for a moment. "I just don't want her causing trouble for you guys."

"For us."

"Right." Betty shifts her backpack on her shoulders. "But she's always given me trouble. I don't want her stinking her claws into you guys."

Toni leans against the locker. "She bother you?"

"It's Cheryl, she's always bothered me." Toni stares at her for a moment, mouth pulling as if trying to work something out. Then, her expression shifts. "What?"

"We've got no time to worry about her, c'mon," Toni loops an arm with hers and begins tugging her down the hallway. "Show me where this student lounge is. I wanna get my Serpent germs all over it."

The sail into the student lounge a moment later to find most of the Serpents have migrated there almost naturally. Lisa is kicked back on one of the couches, iced coffee in hand, and leaning against Corey's shoulder. Sweet Pea is on the other side of her, talking to Fangs' with his feet up on the low table.

Toni launches her backpack at Fangs, drawing attention to them. "Hey guys!" A chorus of "hey Toni" follows and Lisa lifts her iced coffee into the air in salute. Betty is about to circle the couches until she notices a Jughead sitting there, still as a statue.

"You almost gave me a concussion, Toni."

"Your hard head will protect you." Toni chirps back and climbs over the back of the couch, leaving a divide between Jughead and the rest of the couch. Space enough for her. If Betty weren't so nervous, she might actually be grateful, or annoyed, but instead she stands there, swaying and wishing she went to class early instead.

A knot of anxiety tightens in her like a fist and she hangs by the door a moment and Toni glances back at her. "You good?"

Annoyance surges up in her, but she fights it with a tight smile. "Yeah, just remembered a paper, I—"

"Hey!" Sweet Pea chooses that exact moment to notice her. "Why didn't you answer my text?"

It's such an innocent question. So, innocent. Betty might be able to walk into the hall right now and hear that question from several other people and have it mean nothing. But, Betty stares at him a moment too long. It takes a second before it clicks and she remembers.

The text from last night.

Before Jughead texted her.

Instantly, she feels bad for leaving him hanging after he offered to do something nice, but then she catches Jughead's cutting stare. His pale face drawn and serious, dark eyes super-focused on her face. Tracking her response.

Forcibly, Betty tears her gaze away and looks to Sweet Pea. "Sorry, I fell asleep."

He looks ready to question, pull and pry, but—thankfully—the bell rings. Everyone rises, caught up in their own worlds, rushing off to class and filling up the hallway. Jughead is among them, shooting up like a spring and out the door. Betty has the brief thought to go after him, to explain—explain what exactly?—but is caught by Sweet Pea at the door.

"Hey," He bows to her ear. "You mad at me or something?"

Jughead is turning down the hallway, disappearing into a classroom.

"What? Oh no," She sighs. "I just had a weird morning with my mom. My mom gave me a ride earlier. She wanted to talk to me."

"Oh," Sweet Pea relents, but he is still in front of her, a tall, broad-shouldered wall of teenage boy just blocking her path. "Everything okay?"

Why do you care? Her teeth graze her lip. "Yeah, everything's fine. Just school stuff."

"Cool." He pauses a moment and then adds, "Well, don't forget today's Tuesday." She stares at him. "I'm trying out for the team today? You threatened Reggie and you're obligated to come?"

"Right," Betty nods, teeth clenching. "Five thirty?"

"That's the one." Sweet Pea nods and hikes his bag up his shoulder. He glances down the hall. "Well, I'm gonna head to class. See ya later, Cooper." He says it almost as an afterthought, unimportant, they totally could have had this conversation later.

Betty is left standing in the emptying student lounge, gripping her backpack strap, feeling more stressed and annoyed than she already is. "See ya."


Fangs nearly shoves Veronica out of his way in order to get Betty as his running partner for gym class. "I thought you rich kids didn't have to sweat!" He complains during warm-up stretches. "I thought this school offered shit like lacrosse and yoga and—"

"You can take yoga next year." Veronica says, pulling her arm across her chest. She is still not too happy about Fangs joining them, but keeps her comments to herself. "At my old school, you didn't have to do gym after sophomore year."

Fangs gives her a look of disbelief before letting out a low whine. "Uh, I knew it."

Veronica tries to meet her eye over Fangs' shoulder, but she can never get a moment alone with Betty. Fangs has completely affixed himself to her side.


Lisa and Poe sit behind her in American Government, which is to say they also sit next to Archie, and create a cool wall of sarcasm and quiet commentary throughout class. Betty often has her lip between her teeth, their jokes a welcome distraction from the noise in her head, but a deterrent for her note taking.

"—can you guys keep it down?" Archie hisses behind him and is met with twin blank stares. Lisa brings the straw of her well-nursed iced coffee to her lips and takes a long pull, dragging a loud ice sucking sound. Betty can see the hair on Archie's arms stand up. "Please."

Poe leans over the aisle, his nails drumming on Lisa's desk. "And this is a perfect example of how the majority tries to exact control on the people."

Archie flushes a moment, cheeks turning pink. "That's not even—"

"Guys," Betty says, fingers clenched around her pen. "Please. I'm trying to take notes."

"Sorry B." Lisa mumbles and Betty hears Poe lean back in his chair, motorcycle boots hitting the back of Archie's desk on emphasis, but nothing else. Archie sends her a questioning look, brow raised, but Betty ignores him. She tries really, really hard to.


Between remembering its Tuesday and, therefore, the day Sweet Pea has been waiting for. Betty has some time to prep herself into Crazy Cooper before she has to go to French with Reggie. Reggie who, upon entering class, drops his backpack onto the desk beside hers and grins. "Afternoon, Betty."

"Reggie."

She casts a glance around the room, noting the shift in the seating chart to accommodate Reggie's theatrics, and settles it. Its going to be a long day.

"Today's the day."

"Today's a day." She intones, pulling out her yellow notebook and pen. Reggie keeps her stare heavy on her, even as Madame begins writing out the day's assignment. Reggie has a heavy sort of stare, permeating, as if he were sizing her up to see how much trouble she could be. Or, how easy it would be to take her down.

"Well, since today is a day," he says under his breath, still managing to sound as peevish as if he were shouting. "I just wanted to make sure we understood each other. If your boy can't hack it, I still want the copies of that thing we talked about."

"Well why would I do that?" She asks, all false cheer and smiles. "I might need you again."

He smiles, but the cracks are already appearing. His untouchable façade in the gym cracked and this one crumbles. "Blackmail is against the law, Betty."

"So is harassment." Betty says lowly, keeping her gaze down as Madame sweeps the room. She raises her hand to answer the question, but gets passed over for the girl behind her. Good. "So, back off while you're ahead Reggie, I don't feel like talking right now."

He is silent for several seconds.

Papers get passed back. Someone coughs.

Then, he turns to her, eyes narrowing. "And if your boy gets in? What then?"

She can tell it pains him to insinuate that Sweet Pea might be good enough, but she is still surprised he asked.

Betty bites her lip. She doesn't feel good about giving Reggie Mantle false promises. She felt even worse about giving the evidence against Mr. Blossom to Cheryl, but that had been different. And necessary. This, however, is not as necessary as securing Reggie's life-long submission.

The longer she is quiet. The quicker Reggie loses his composure.

She watches his foot jiggle under his desk, uneasy.

"How do I know you're not going to go off the rails and turn against him?"

"Because we made a deal."

"So, you'll keep him on the team and—what? Is he safe to use the locker room? Will you hide his stuff? Steal his keys? I'm not letting you mess with my transfer students, Mantle."

"Oh, right. Your precious transfers." Reggie's lip sneers as if he had been smacked. "Do you think I'm some kind of jock stereotype?"

"No," she says through her teeth. "I think you're an idiot who used to harass girls for sport. Which does, actually, fill the jock stereotype." She keeps a finger tapped down on the part of her that wants to snarl and push and shove. She knows what she has to do. She knows how to get what she needs. "Those are my terms, take 'em or regret 'em."

"That is not fair," Reggie's jaw squares. "I want the copies. All of them."

"I don't really carry them on me, Reggie."

How sad. She forgot she is committing blackmail today.

"Colette," The curt utterance of her French name sends ice through her veins. She looks up to the front of the classroom to find Madame standing at the beginning of her row, arms crossed. "Perhaps you would benefit from sitting away from our Pierre, non?"

"Oh, I," Normally, Betty might argue. Might try to kiss up and appease Madame in order to keep to keep conflict off her record. But this is not a normal day. "Oui, Madame." So, she quickly gathers her books and moves to a seat in the front of the classroom, no man's land, leaving Reggie alone with his thoughts.


"So," Veronica presses, dragging her plastic fork thoughtfully through her salad. "Have the southside kids imprinted on you, or something?"

"Or something," Betty mumbles, taking a bite of chicken strips. This is the only good part of her day. Chicken strip day. Something about these deep-fried pieces of meat just hit better than any store-bought brand she could find. "Most of the kids are scared of them."

"Mh, there's a reason for that." Kevin intones and lifts his chin subtly. "They keep looking over here." He looks thoughtful for a moment and then asks, "Do you want to invite them over?"

"When hell freezes over." Veronica clips smartly with a strained smile. "I am having a hard-enough time talking to Betty during state sanctioned torture—"

"—do you mean gym?" Betty asks, sweetly.

Veronica's lips purse at her interruption. "—yes, but this is my Betty time. Now, tell me something quick before tall, dark, and greasy gets any ideas. Have you talked to Jughead yet?"

Betty proceeds to shove the rest of her chicken strip into her mouth, hoping that the cramming would keep her from crying.

Kevin hums. "Oh no."


By the end of the day, Betty is ready to call it quits and go home, but Toni herds her into the gym to watch Sweet Pea fight for his space on the basketball team.

It is not that she doubted his ability, per se, and not that she wanted to be proved wrong while pulling the Chuck card on Reggie Mantle. Sweet Pea is tall for his age. Muscular. Confident. She has seen the basketball team in action from the rotating seasons, but he seems to blend in the myriad of athletes, just in black leather and tattoos.

Still, she finds herself in the bleachers with Toni, watching a Shirts and Skins match when Sweet Pea basically body checks the defensive line to score.

"—is, is that allowed?" She asks, following Sweet Pea's progress through the ring of Skins.

Toni grins. "Does it matter?"

She doesn't get a chance to answer because Reggie is right on him, but Sweet Pea is too quick and, maybe too high on victory, as he jumps easily, dunking the basketball into the hoop and scoring a point for his team.

Toni jumps to her feet and whistles, drawing the ire of several players. Betty feels like she is shrinking behind her textbook, pulling in on herself. Toni settles beside her again, picking up the iced coffee she picked up before kiosk outside closed. "What's got you so down in the mouth?" She asks around her straw.

Betty shrugs. "I dunno." She closes her book again. No need to worry about Econ now. "I just thought you guys were supposed to be keeping a low profile, you know?" She cuts her eyes at Toni cautiously, waiting for a slip up. Toni is stone-faced. "Isn't that what F.P. wants?"

Toni shrugs. "What F.P. wants is for us to be normal teenagers and stay out of trouble."

"I know, but is antagonizing the basketball team normal?"

"I mean," Toni flicks an eyebrow and looks back to where the Shirts and Skins match has divulged into an all-out war on the court. The shrieks of gym shoes creating the thrum of the ball.

Sweet Pea is at the center of it, of course.

"Didn't you have a little one-off on them before?" Toni prods and paint-chipped finger at her shoulder. "Sweet Pea tells me you have them whipped into submission."

Betty's cheeks color. "Well, I don't want to say whipped—"

"Hey! Look out!" The shout comes a second too late as the rogue basketball comes crashing into the bleachers at their feet. Knocking Toni's drink into a volcanic ark towards them. Betty and Toni shriek accordingly, jumping to their feet.

"You did that on purpose!" Toni shouts in no general direction, but several voices rise up to claim otherwise. Toni answers each of them with a finger though she is notably unscathed.

Betty tugs at the sheer material of her sweater, picking it off her chest. What a day to wear white, she thinks dismally as the frothy, caramelized mess soaks into the cream-colored sweater, creating a giant brown splotch. She glances up. Sweet Pea is right in Reggie's face. Oh no.

She stumbles down the bleachers towards them, but by the time she reaches them, Reggie is already cutting away, hands in the air. "I don't fuckin' care, man! Vejay! Get him his schedule on the way out! Practice is over."

Reggie stops short when he sees her, eyes narrowing. The iced coffee sticks cold against her chest. Then she is nose to collarbone with Reggie Mantle's naked, sweaty torso, forged from years of sports and vanity. He is radiating.

He cracks his jaw. "Your boy's in. We're square, right?"

Betty feels herself being slammed back into the role from before and she scrambles. How did she get Reggie to relent before? How did she scare him off? How? She stares up at him, unabashed and angry, and feels herself grasping at straws.

Reggie seems to sense her hesitation because he steps forward, further invading her space. "We're square, right?" She thinks she sees a curl of his lip, the tip of his chin. All the shows of dominance without the cards to play it.

Somehow, she doesn't know how, but she knows Sweet Pea is standing behind her. Like a wall of muscle at her back, keeping her upright. Her fingers curl into her palms.

You have the power here. She coaches herself and does her best to keep her gaze calm and cool. Despite the sticky caramel iced sinking into her white sweater. Think. Focus.

"So long as you do what I asked. We're square, yeah."

"I want the copies."

"I want a way of believing you."

"That's bullshit."

"Yeah?" Betty steps forward, thanking every bone in her body as she stays upright. "Then, be better, Mantle. Be better than Chuck. Be better than all those guys who came before you and handle it."

Reggie looks ready to argue a moment before he turns away, the same frustrated expression curling at his features. "Whatever, Betty. Just get the fuck out of here."

She is left standing there, the basketball team dispersing around her until none remain.

Sweet Pea nudges her with his elbow. "You okay?" He asks, tugging at the helm of his own shirt, a perfect mirror of her. The old gray tee fit snug on him, sweat damp in some places, faded in others. Betty thinks she can make-out the faint shape of a cartoon character.

Her fist curls tighter in the wet cashmere in her fist.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Congrats."

"Thanks"

The stand in silence for a moment like this morning, the heavy awkward air still hanging around them. Betty shifts, uncomfortable. "Where's Toni?" She asks, peering around him to find her books neatly stacked and the coffee still spilling over the bleachers.

"She went to go find some paper towels." Sweet Pea says dismissively. "I told her I would give you a ride home."

The two of them stand like that for a minute, awkwardly shifting back and forth as the gym empties. There is a bead of sweat on Sweet Pea's neck, right beside his snake tattoo, the serpent curling up to taste it. "Do you want a ride home?"

"Yeah, thanks."


Jughead catches her outside the changing rooms. She is a little more than surprised to see him standing there, leaning up against the wall, knee popped, arms crossed. He looks like a greaser from the old movies. His brow quirks. "Not who you were expecting?"

Its his tone of voice that gives her pause. The sudden, vitriolic tone that almost accuses her of something. Something she is not in the mood for after having to ring out her new sweater in the sink and change into her dirty gym tee.

Betty can feel her muscles coiling under her skin as she straightens, spine of steel. "No."

It sounds like a gunshot.

Her fingers curl up into her palms and meet the tender skin of her palms. Her jaw tightens. "Did you need something, Jug?"

He assesses her a moment, jaw working. "I want you to step back from the Serpents."

Betty stares at him a moment, ire curling in her chest. "That's all you want to say to me?"

"Yes."

It's absurd, it's stupid, it's childish, but it hurts and that's all that matters.

"Well, this has been a great talk. Thanks Jug. I'll see you later." She cuts a jagged line around him, heading for the side doors that lead to the parking lot. She this the door open and blinding sunlight pours over her. Its cold in just the shirt sleeves of her gym tee, but she is too far gone to go get her jacket now.

Jughead is right behind her.

"I'm really not in the mood right now."

"Yeah, I heard you threatened Reggie Mantle's livelihood." Jughead grabs for her hand and manages to wrap his fingers around her wrist. "Hey, hey. What's going on with you lately?"

"Nothing." She yanks her hand back, almost reflexively, and takes a step backward, balancing her heel on the edge of the curb. "I've been busy."

"Betty, listen to me. I don't know what my dad said. Or what Sweet Pea said, but you're not involved in this and you don't have to be. I know you want to get the story, or keep your eye on me, but you need to back off before you get hurt Betty. Do you understand me?"

It strikes something hard and bitter in her that makes her knuckles clench. "That sounds like a threat Jug. You know something I don't?"

"What? No, no! Betty, no, why would I?" He stares at her a moment like he's never seen her before. Like she's something different. Something dangerous. It sets her teeth on edge. "I just don't want you to get hurt. You have no ties to the Serpents other than me and now. I just want to understand why you're doing this—is it me?"

"No."

It doesn't taste like a lie, but it goes down like one. All sugar and cyanide.

"Then what is it? I've exhausted every other—" Jughead presses his lips together into a tight line. Betty catches his stare and looks behind her to where Sweet Pea is shoving his books into the saddlebag on his bike. When she looks back, Jughead's expression is tighter than before. Piecing it together, as it will. "When did you two become friends anyway?"

She feels particularly malicious when she asks, "Does it matter?"

"I don't know, does it?" Jughead counters. "He's probably just hanging out with you to piss me off, or whatever—"

Betty feels a steady heat growing in her chest. "Stop trying to change the subject, Jug. Is that really all that you wanted to say to me? Really?"

"What else would I have to say, Betty?"

She snorts. It's the oddest thing. A strange, mirthless sound that she hardly ever makes, ripped from her in the moment.

"An apology, for one."

Jughead stares at her.

And stares.

"Betty—"

"Do you really think I don't deserve an apology?" She can feel when her voice cracks.

"For what? For trying to join a gang? For getting involved in things that have nothing to do with you?"

"No."

"Then for what?"

"How about that I chose you. In front of everybody! I stripped and danced and I chose you over my own mother. The only family I have left. Because I love you and I wanted to be with you and you—you," Betty draws herself up, tension curling on her shoulders. "And you left me! You left me in a parking lot in the cold, with no way home because you—"

She can hear her mouth running, absolute venom dripping from her words and nothing she can do about it but let it roll off her tongue and onto Jughead, who just stands there, taking it.

It feels like forever before it runs out.

It feels like she goes on for hours.

But, between her good manners and her own frustrations, she knows that her yelling is nothing more than shout, a hurried speech, words tumbling one over the other in a mad jumble, barely coherent.

All she knows is the moment she starts and the moment Jughead reaches for her.

She smacks his hand away.

It's like a movie.

One second, he is reaching, beseeching, mouth opened to say something to calm her down—

—and the next, Betty is smacking his hand away, the cool steel of anger between her teeth. But it shocks her. It shocks him. It shocks her enough to calm her down, drag her out of that cloudy rage.

"Don't," she sucks in a quick breath. "Speak to me. Okay, Jughead? I don't want to talk to you right now or else I'm really going to lose it, okay?"

"Betty," Jughead says steadily, maybe a touch too steadily. It leaves her staring at him, studying his body language, like a zookeeper trying to wrangle a particularly irate animal. "Betty, I just want you to be safe."

He's not listening to me. Betty realizes numbly and she realizes her hands are still balled into fists. Nails burrowing into her skin. She eases, just a bit, just enough, and drags her hand under her eyes. She's not crying. Not yet.

"Well, that's not your problem anymore, is it?" She can feel the ice in her own tone, like her mother's, like Polly's. She remembers the bite of it from the other side and her reaction is mirrored in Jughead's face. "Until it sticks, right?"

Jughead's face becomes unreadable then, a blank slate of dark eyes and a mouth curling in on itself.

She steps back off the curb and turns back to the parking lot when Sweet Pea is waiting patiently, brows pulled together. The unsteady rage is still curling in her, shaky and volatile like a storm. By the time she reaches Sweet Pea, she is so worked up, she hardly notices the helmet Sweet Pea is passing to her.

She shakes her head, but he persists. "Wear it." He snaps, something jagged under his tone. "If you fall off the back, at least you won't crack your head clean open."

It makes her laugh, in spite of herself.

It's funny to think about.

Begrudgingly, she pulls the helmet over her head, wincing when her earrings dig into the skin behind her ears. She deftly swings her leg over the back of the bike, backpack secure on her shoulders, and seats herself behind him.

When she glances back, Jughead is still standing on the curb where she left him. Still watching.

She wraps her arms around Sweet Pea's middle, as oppose to the treatment from before, grabbing his belt for some distance, but instead she pillows her helmet against his back.

The bike sounds like a dragon under them, roaring to life and tearing out of the school parking lot.


It doesn't take her long to realize that Sweet Pea is not taking her home.

By the time she has pulled herself out of the post-fight haze, they are passing through downtown on the way to the Southside. She calls out to him, but Sweet Pea cannot seem to hear her over the roar of the engine. When he finally pulls off, it is in a random parking lot, devoid of cars and people. Betty has no idea where they are, but a bigger bone to pick.

He cuts the engine and the first thing out of his mouth is, "You wanna tell me what's going on?"

"Yeah, I thought you were taking me home." She looks around, realizing that she has no idea where they are and curses herself. Curses Sweet Pea. Curses this day. "Unless you're planning on murdering me in the woods."

She slips off the back of the bike, removing the helmet so she can face him. Sweet Pea leans across the handlebars of his bike, glaring at her as if he had a reason to.

"I don't know what you're doing, but I am not into that."

"What?"

He scoffs. "Don't play dumb."

Betty rounds on him, brow raised. She feels scrapped raw from the day, but there is always something else, something real and volatile. "I'm not? I don't know what you're talking about. You said you were giving me a ride home, not to the middle of nowhere!"

"I don't want you using me as a way to get back at Jughead—"

"What? I'm not!

There is silence. Both of them breathing hard as they stare each other down, a couple of fighters sizing each other up.

"Alright." Sweet Pea says, his tone high and patronizing. "Sorry for calling it like I see it."

Betty digs her knuckles into her nose. "I'm not! Okay? I'm not using you. I'm not trying to make anyone jealous. I'm just trying to—I'm trying to get some closure."

Sweet Pea says nothing for a long time. So, long that Betty realizes that he's not planning on saying anything and just breathes. In and out. Breathing until the shaking rage ease out of her limbs, leaving her sweaty-palmed and dry mouthed.

When she looks up, her vision is blurry.

"I promise, I'm not using you to get back at Jughead or anything. I just needed to get away from him and you happened to be on a motorcycle."

He snorts. "Drama queen."

"I'm not—okay, look, I'm sorry, alright?"

Sweet Pea's mouth twists, but after a moment the tension begins to ease from his shoulders. "Okay."

"Okay."

"It's fine," he groans, mouth twitching at the corner. "I just don't like getting caught in that stupid shit. It's not fun for anybody."

The cold is sinking in.

"Where the hell are we?"

"Just, get back on the bike."


Ten minutes later, Sweet Pea idles them to a stop in a gas station parking lot. His bike kicks up a good amount of gravel as he pulls in, cutting the engine. Betty slips off the bike, easing her fingers from their death grip on Sweet Pea's belt as she did so. It's not as steady has gripping onto him, but Betty figures it was better not to do that, especially after the episode near the woods.

He swings his leg off the bike and tucks the keys into his jean pocket.

"What are we doing here?"

"I'm starving, but I don't have Pop's money right now. C'mon."

She ducks under his arm when he gets the door for her. The happy jingle of mismatched Christmas bells signals their entrance to a bored looking cashier. Sweet Pea shuffles in after her, tugging at the collar of his jacket, the Serpent on full display.

The cashier nods, solemn, knowing.

Betty notes the look between the two of them and glances around.

It looks like a regular gas station. A bit run-down, maybe, but a regular gas station with purple neon lights and Enya playing in the background. Betty's eyes skim over the selection of chips and candy, but sticks close to Sweet Pea's side out of habit.

Sweet Pea just cuts a line to the fountain station, pulls out a Slurpee cup and starts pouring one for himself. Cherry. "Get whatever you want, we can eat and talk outside."

"So, you are going to tell me why you wanted to get on the basketball team?"

"That was the plan," Sweet Pea laughs, short and loud. "You don't give up, do you?" His brow raises up to his hair line. Betty fights a smile as he switches the Slurpee to the raspberry dispenser. Fun.

"It's my reporter genes."

"Yes, your reporter genes."

"Stop trailing off," Betty grins and leans back against the drink machine, minding the grenadine syrup mess dribbling down the side. She makes an exaggerated gesture with her hand. "Tell me."

Sweet Pea's expression shifts for a couple seconds, the laughter crinkling in his eyes smooths to a cool seriousness, a focus that she has only seen a couple times before.

She does her best not to shift under his gaze, not to fold; she keeps her feet firmly planted and stares back.

"Why did you want to join the basketball team so badly?" She asks again, waiting. "C'mon you said you would tell me."

Sweet Pea's eyes flicker, his lips part, and then he says, "In a minute," Sweet Pea makes a cutting motion behind them and Betty looks back at the cashier again. Still bored, looking at his phone. Betty edges around the store, grabbing a bag of Cheetos and a fountain soda.

As she approaches the counter, Sweet Pea cuts in front of her, dropping a twenty for the cashier before she can get out her wallet. She is about to protest, but Sweet Pea waves her off. "C'mon." He leads her back out again, a happy jangle of bells, before they turn to sit at sun-bleached picnic table.

Betty settles in across from him. It's warmer here in the sunshine.

"So?"

"So," Sweet Pea draws out and Betty thinks he might trail off again. "Jughead thinks the Ghoulies haven't been upholding their part of the bargain by leaving the Southside alone."

Betty is not sure what she was expecting. Sweet Pea had been defending the reason like a dog with his teeth, and it had been the only reason she had not let up, not let it go. She sensed something in it, something strange, a story, and now here it is and she has no way of making heads or tales of it.

"He thinks?"

"He knows. We know."

She drums her fingers, fiddling with her straw. "So, have they been causing trouble?"

"They're selling drugs near schools."

"Jesus," Betty digs her teeth into her lip and then, "What?"

Sweet Pea nods, sagely. "And we have reason to believe that they're selling at Riverdale High."

Betty nods, drawing a line and intending to follow it. "So, do you think it's someone on the basketball team?"

"We know it's someone on the basketball team." Sweet Pea says with an assurance that Betty does not question. But, she notes it. Something to look into later. "I'm gonna gain their trust, be the guy on the inside."

Betty nods once, thinks. "It may have been easier to just have Archie snoop around."

"We don't need your little Scooby gang in on this." Sweet Pea snaps and then, almost as an afterthought, "And don't go telling your little mafia princess either. The last thing we need is Hiram Lodge getting into our business."

Betty colors, offended. She actually hasn't brought Veronica or Kevin up to speed since the whole serpent dance thing. She's had no time between counseling the southside students and classes and clubs. She's been swamped.

Part of her wonders if that had been by design.

"We could help."

"Yeah, no. We're in this mess because we didn't honor the rules. We're not making that mistake again. The more people who get involved, the messier the job." Sweet Pea picks up one of the hotdogs on his plate for emphasis. "I know you guys handled shit differently, but if you're a Serpent now, you can't go around telling everyone about our plans."

You haven't told me anything. She wants to snap at him, but holds it back. She is not really sure of the rules with Sweet Pea. How much can she say to him? How much can she trust him? Of course, he has been giving her rides and generally leading her through this mess she got herself in, but there is still so much she is not sure of.

And to tell her so much only to warn her about sharing with her friends? He must be holding something back. Something crucial she would need before she could make any moves of her own. Now, that is by design.

"Can you keep a secret?" Sweet Pea asks and takes a long pull of his cherry-raspberry Slurpee.

"I can keep a secret."

Sweet Pea's mouth curves, its an unkind smile. "You don't want to be a snake that bites its own."

"You can trust me." She says and hopes it sounds assuring.

"Last time your friends got involved, the Ghoulie King got arrested. That's three months. Three months, at least, but if he gets out early because of crowding or good behavior, we're toast. Half of the Ghoulies got sent to Shankshaw with him and another half got sent to juvie. They want war."

He leans forward on the picnic table, a rare moment of invading her space. "I know you doubt your place in the Serpents. Others do too. But, I know, as F.P. knows, that we can use you. You have no previous affiliations with us, you have a clean record, you are the daughter of two reporters. You have influence. You can help us."

"I figured as much," her mouth quirks.

"You're still on a trial basis with us. You'll have to see what Jughead thinks." She must have pulled a face because Sweet Pea shrugs his shoulders. "He may be a pain in the ass, but he's ours. And, he was acting king when F.P. was locked up."

"He's never going to let me help."

"Well, prove yourself to him. I dunno. I can only carry you so far, Cooper."

"But I want to help. I don't want to see something bad and do nothing."

"How noble." Sweet Pea grins around his straw. "Can you still recite your D.A.R.E. promises?"

"Shut up." She rolls her eyes, groaning. How can he be serious one minute, then serious the next? "Why do you want to stop them?"

"Pride, territory, loyalty," Sweet Pea lists and then, his tone shifts, a subtle ripple in his voice when he says, lowly. "And, my cousin goes to the schools they've been targeting. I'm not gonna let them fuck with him."

Betty supposes Sweet Pea has a bit more stake in the game than she does.

It's a bit more than she can handle right now. "I'm not going to let the Ghoulies try to make drug jockies out of you."

"Jockies?" Laughter seems to just bubble from him, the subtle movements of his shoulders and chest. "I think you mean runners, Cooper. They would have made us their drug runners."

"Whatever. We'll find the dealer in Riverdale and then, what?"

"Neutralize." Sweet Pea says, grinning. "They way you would a rabid animal."