here stands a man
with a bullet in his clenched right hand
don't push him, son
the music room is his favorite place for the span of a single day before it becomes the exact opposite.
still air becomes heavy, laced with tension, the taste of heavy dust coating over with the taste of blood when one of them breaches the 'don't touch his face' rule. he finds it in himself to be thankful none of them target the guitar, not sure if it'd be better or worse if they went for that instead of the span of his ribs, his spine, his gut until he thinks he might throw up.
he knows Mad Dog notices, but it doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce Mad Dog's not really the conversational type. but when Archie catches him staring at the new pattern of black and blue along his lower back, rippling up and around his ribs like a parasite latched and clinging there, pinching and pulling with his every move, Mad Dog doesn't look away. he simply watches until Archie breaks away first.
he likes Mad Dog.
he doesn't bat an eye when Archie randomly sits next to him out in the yard or during lunch, just continues drilling holes into the ground or eating his portion of whatever less-than-stellar meal they were served that day. Archie doesn't think he ever stops until their time of short respite is up or unless a ghoulie decides to breathe in their direction. then his eyes flit up for just a moment, unblinking, until the air settles again.
he really likes Mad Dog.
but Mad Dog has no reason to come to the music room and Archie has every reason to, between music being his passion and now his respite, it's like an itch in his bones to slink away to the empty room, even for ten—fifteen minutes. he needs it like he needs oxygen, and now that he's not chasing masked killers around town to satiate the restless stir in his veins, he feels it even deeper, wider, like he might suffocate under the weight of it if he can't do something.
Veronica helps. god, she helps. every twitch of her lips, every squeeze of her hand over his, it keeps his heart beating, keeps his own smile flitting over his face instead of withering to dust. he loves her. he knows he loves her; she knows it too.
but he can't quite get the words off his tongue as easily these days.
not when he's in here, shrinking, waning, disintegrating into the stone of the walls, and she's out there, wasting time trying to save him from something he deserves. needs.
no, he didn't kill anyone.
( he feels like he did )
no, he didn't kill anyone in the woods with a single ball of lead to the brain.
but he did lie awake at night picturing the sheen of a bullet in the moonlight piercing through a masked forehead, blood glistening a black hood darker, darker on his hands, the blood of a killer instead of the blood of his father, his own hands, holding that gun just to memorize the weight of it in his grip, steady and sure and prepared, resolved, a killer's hands, his hands, waving a gun in the face of those serpents, kids, they were just fucking kids like him, and for a moment, he let himself imagine what it would be like if he pulled the trigger, just the twitch of a finger and man turns to meat.
not the Black Hood, not Betty's serial killer father. just a kid in the street, bloodstains on the sidewalk.
just for a moment.
he tried to rationalize it; just an urge, just a thought, not even a full second and it was gone. people have those all the time, fleeting thoughts that never come to fruition, that never implicate them, never lead to anything, never worthy of guilt because nothing actually happened.
he has them a lot. ever since his best friend's dad shot his in a diner on a chilly friday morning.
what ifs. flashes of an image, a twitch in his mind to satisfy some disjointed wonder, what if, what if, and he feels sick after most of them.
what if his dad survived a shot to the chest just to die in a car accident on his way to work?
what if the reason Betty won't answer his texts is because she's been mugged, attacked, kidnapped by a ghoulie in retaliation for her association with Jughead— Jughead, what if he's been beaten to death for real this time while Archie's comfy cozy in his own bed, ready to drift off to sleep while his friend bleeds internally in some back alley somewhere? what if one of Hiram's many enemies finally succeeded at the unthinkable, stormed straight into his home and shot his wife and daughter clear through their skulls, no pain, no suffering, just gone, while Archie's staying after hours to practice a song he wrote the other night?
( oblivious, helpless, useless )
what if he pulls out of the garage and doesn't see Vegas in time to hit the brakes, runs straight over him, snaps his spine and grinds his bones while his blood leaks all over the cement before they can get to the vet in time? what if his nightmares make him sleepwalk, down the hall to his dad's room only to mistake him for the masked man haunting his dreams, burned into his retinas, and he wakes to his father's blood on his hands once more except this time it's his fault, it was his fault, what if, what if it was his fault, what if it is his fault, it is -
it could be anything from the thought that all it takes is a jerk of the steering wheel in his hands to kill him, kill his dad too when he's riding shotgun, or simply a flash of an image of him jumping over the stair-rail to get downstairs only to accidentally land right on Vegas's skull.
his stomach rolls, his chest tightens, and he does his best to banish the what ifs from his mind before it latches onto them like a starving animal, obsessive and spiraling until he has to smuggle a few of his dad's beers from the fridge up to his bedroom just to forget.
maybe he's just fucking sick. he feels sick. sick in the head, especially when he wonders if a part of him wants to pull the trigger, kill the serpent kid in the street, jerk the steering wheel in his hands until all he can see is shattered glass and his own blood spattered on the dashboard. he's fucking scared, scared of the voice in his head, the snake coiled in his ribcage, poison dripping, dripping, more venom than blood.
he's so scared one day he'll turn thought into action and get someone killed.
( maybe he'll get himself killed )
maybe he didn't kill anyone.
maybe he didn't kill anyone in the woods with a single ball of lead to the brain.
but he deserves what he's got, where he is, two years in a detention center with hard-knuckled rage digging into his skin until he resembles a gloomy watercolor piece every time he dares to indulge in something that makes him feel lighter than he's felt since a music teacher pulled alongside his walk home and offered him a ride.
everyone puts him up on this sort of pedestal. like he's some sort of saint. incapable of doing any wrong, of hurting someone, of getting blood on his hands.
he doesn't understand it, but it never fails to make him feel like he's drowning.
all their trust, all their faith, warm smiles and warmer eyes, hands on his shoulder, hands holding his own, love and care and hope and he swallows it whole just to spat it back in their faces, dark and thick and bleeding into the very fingerprints they use to placate him as if he can't see the sullied stains on their faces.
he thinks of all the times he failed them whenever something deep and aching longs to see his friends in the visiting room. all the times they walked away from him because he fucked something else up, their righteous anger, betrayal, that he somehow longed to undo at the time even though it was the furthest from what he deserved.
Jughead and Betty haven't visited him yet.
Veronica visits the most, but even his dad's visits are getting fewer and farther between. Archie's not sure why, but each and every time his dad apologizes and tells him how hectic and crazy things have been, how he doesn't want to worry Archie with any of it.
he's not that worried about whatever new hell's come to visit Riverdale this time. he's more worried they'll spend their time looking for a way to cut his sentence short when they could be moving on with their lives while he gets the hand that was dealt to him. he thinks it's rather simple, justice, karma, tit for fucking tat. this isolation is cold but understood, almost secure now that he's resigned to the reality of its balance. a punishment for a crime he didn't commit, but would otherwise go unpunished if he didn't stand in that courtroom and accept it.
a part of him wants Veronica to take a note from the other half of their friend group and stop coming.
another part of him grinds tooth and joint together until he's breathing heavy on the floor of his room with his face held harshly in his hands, the image of all his friends sitting together at a table with bright smiles as he walks into the dull room to visit, to milk visiting hours for all their worth until he feels just that much lighter.
( he misses them )
he discovers Mad Dog either sleeps feather-light or deep as a canyon, breath-y snores steady long into his midnight episodes, almost lulling him out of them and back to sleep afterward. there's hardly an inbetween, but often when he wakes to blood on the back of his eyelids and sweat drenching his clothes, he finds a shaded gaze staring at the ceiling, as if to give him a false sense of privacy while he tries to put the shattered pieces of himself back together again while likewise providing the comfort of company.
( he misses them so fucking much )
Mad Dog will have to do.
for he's got the power to crush this land
oh hear, hear him cry, boy