If asked he’d have to say this wasn’t a relationship. There was no love lost here. No, this was more like a mutual parasitism so they didn’t have to feel so alone.
He supposed it was a relationship in the barest sense of the word. They were connected, sure. But it wasn’t as if either of them sought the other out, nor did they actively like one another.
Perhaps that was better in the end. If he’d learned anything about real relationships it was that they never ended on a good note, if they ever ended at all. This wasn’t the Ninth Circle of Hell his own parents had created with their cold war, an on-going fight as to who could pretend their spouse didn’t exist the longest. Nor was it the war torn field Veronica’s parents reveled in that more often than not ended in murder, verbal sparring, turf wards, and an explosive reconciliation.
No. This was some sort of purgatory. A holding place of sorts, for both of them. It wasn’t a relationship; it never would be. If he had to categorize it as anything it was just business as usual, like all their other encounters.
They had nothing in common. He read classic literature and pulp fictions; she read off of the NY Measures Book List and biographies. She listened to the latest drivel on the Top 40 lists; he stuck to the oldies. And then there were their views on everything else in the world.
The only thing that did tie them together was her father’s crime syndicate. Jughead’s father had worked for hers just as his father and his father before him. And when he’d come of age, Jughead worked for Veronica. It was how things had always worked with the Jones and the Lodges.
Somehow they’d taken their working relationship this far though.
“Why are we doing this?” he asked one early Sunday morning when she had other obligations and he wasn’t supposed to be in her bed.
She hummed a questioning noise, not even bothering to look over at him from her seat at the vanity.
“Why shouldn’t we?”
He stared at the white tin ceiling he knew cost more than what most people made in a year, his eyes tracing well worn patterns. Any answer he could give her - he worked for her, she hated his taste in just about everything, they didn’t even like each other most of the time - none of those reasons felt right.
They were free to do as they pleased. As long as they were discreet, they were two consenting adults with no ties to be broken on either side.
“We have nothing in common.”
Veronica titled her head and looked right through him as she plastered on a thick layer of makeup.
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” she said after a few moments. “The movie. We both liked it.”
He sat up on his elbows to look at her. She cut a striking figure outlined against the large bay window, her ever present pearls gleaming in the early morning light. If it had been anyone else, her remembrance would have been tender. Touching, even. That she had remembered a movie they’d watched when they were young, a moment so small and insignificant.
But this was Veronica Lodge, the self-proclaimed queen of ice, and he knew it was nothing more than a memory. Because it wasn’t for him. Her actions, her presence, her memories were always for someone else.
Jughead lay back down and shut his eyes to grab another ten minutes of sleep before he be kicked out of the apartment and back into the real world.
Years later, he finds himself head first in a toilet, the remnants of everything he’d wanted out of life flushed to live with the alligators and rats. The same place all his dreams ended up. After all, he hadn’t done much with his life before.
He’d tried to go straight for her, and it all came crashing down. Jughead had left it all behind for the green eyed, blonde beauty that had captured his heart at the bar. He’d left behind his family, left behind the only people who gave a rat’s ass about him, and for what?
For a blonde that in a Hitchcockian twist had turned out to be an FBI plant.
All he wanted to do was spend his life with her, to be better for her, to lay his sins at her feet and beg for forgiveness and she’d repaid him with heartbreak.
They’d moved in together. He’d bought a ring with legitimate money. And then her cover was blown. The world knew who she was and, more dangerously, so did Hiram Lodge.
All she’d left behind was an empty apartment and a two word note.
Jughead had no choice but to come back to the Wyrm, his tail tucked between his legs. He knew it was suicide to go back. He didn’t think he cared.
The bar was silent when he’d walked in. He’d offered no apologies and no one asked him for one. Veronica stepped out of her office and with one gesture, Jughead would be dead. She appraised him, a long searching look. It wasn’t until she gave a nod of approval that he was accepted back into the fold.
The same people he’d turned his back on now welcomed him home with open arms and open bottles. They had questions, but those were saved for another time. Now they only wanted to celebrate the return of the prodigal son.
Jughead didn’t remember much of last night outside of snippets of conversations and flashes of people. They meant nothing without context. He didn’t want context.
He did remember this black and white bathroom and Veronica’s instructions to finish the entire mug of coffee that sat steaming on the counter. While she didn’t usually dirty her hands - that was left for Sweet Pea and Fangs - it occurred to Jughead that she might be planning on killing himself for the traitorous year and a half he’d stolen for himself.
Jughead reached for the mug and gagged down the strange taste that mixed with the bitter brew, poisoned or not.
Death would be a fitting end to a heartbreak like this.
It felt like hours later before Veronica came to check on him, still dressed in her nightgown. Her face was clean of makeup, a strangely vulnerable sight.
His head lolled to one side to get a better look at her. The movement caused him to gag and he was clinging to the porcelain once more.
“I’d ask what happened, but Adams already gave me a copy of your file,” Veronica said without any pity or concern.
Jughead groaned and flushed the toilet.
Of course Veronica had already gotten the file that detailed every move, every action, every word of his ill-begotten relationship. Betty was overly-meticulous and the Lodge information network ran deep. Which meant Veronica and her father knew, beat for beat, every embarrassing moment of his life over the past year from the first caress to the last kiss.
Veronica let him stew in the misery of his own making a few moments longer.
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s is on. I’ll have Smithers make you some toast.”
Her perfume lingered, an expensive, musky scent. One more reminder that even when she wasn’t with him, Veronica Lodge held large parts of his life between her manicured fingers.
Jughead retched up the last of the coffee and dragged himself into the tub.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at home with dear hubby?” he greeted as his breath fogs up the air around him. It dissipated just as quickly and he reached into his pocket for another stick of gum he knows won’t do anything to curb his need for a smoke.
Veronica leaned up against the wall next to him and pulled her furs tighter against the wet chill. The light of the Wyte Wyrm’s sign cast a strange halo around her, the neon glow an aposematic signal that should warn away any potential suitors. Instead it only drew their attention towards her and Jughead scowled at anyone who tried to move closer.
“If I was I’d have to make a statement to the police tonight and you know how I hate doing paperwork during the holidays,” she said blithely.
He chuckled, half amused, half indifferent. Leave it to the Lodge’s to ring in the New Year with one more corpse to add to the mountain they’ve staked their fortune on.
“Pity. His overbearing love of football and beer was starting to grow on me,” he deadpanned. Fuck it, he thought as he pulled a clove cigarette out of his pocket and lit it in honor of Veronica’s latest husband. Edgy, or Chevy. Whoever he was Jughead didn’t care enough to learn his name. “Is this one going to be a speed bump or a curb?”
Veronica let out a noise too delicate to be a snicker. His shoulders relaxed despite the press of people around them. She hasn’t laughed like that since that ring was put around her finger.
“I left that up to Malachi’s imagination. A late Christmas present of sorts from the ghost of Christmas Future.”
“Hate to see your version of Marley’s ghost,” he muttered.
The late night crowd, rowdy and drunk, swarmed past them on the busy city streets. This close to midnight people were making their way towards the square to see the ball drop and he crowded closer to Veronica. It’s his job, after all, to keep anyone from getting this close.
“The Bijou’s playing Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” she said casually. She reached for his cigarette and obligingly he handed it over.
“It wasn’t on the marquee this afternoon.”
The movie is a peace offering, he knew, but it didn't lessen the sting of knowing that she thought it was this easy to worm her way back into his life. What’s worse is knowing she’s right. This tenuous relationship they’d built over their years together was flimsy and insubstantial and odd. And yet it was still theirs.
He stubbed out his cigarette on the brick behind him.
“If I recall, we both kind of liked it.”
It’s a small olive branch, but it’s enough.
Veronica blended into the crowd with the ease of a native of the city, slipping through the people even as she moves up the current. Jughead shoved his way in, following a few feet behind, her shadow always.