Thanks lovely @sweaters-and-crowns <3 (sorry this is super angsty?? oops)
40. exes meeting again after not speaking for years au
The ceremony had been beautiful, but of course, Veronica Lodge was the bride after all. And even though Jugheads tie felt like it had been strangling him the whole damn ceremony, he had kept it on and behaved like the perfect Best Man. He didn’t even bring up in his speech that Archie got so drunk on his Stag night, that all he did was sit and cry about how much he missed Ronnie. But, he did tell them about how many girlfriends he had in High school, a new love of his life every week, it seemed. Until Veronica had shown up from New York and ruined any chance another girl may have had.
The newly weds had smiled at him in gratitude as he spoke about their youth, about the four musketeers. As Jughead looked out to the crowd of people for the fourth, he found her down the back, a small smile on her face. The one that moved clear across the country, leaving them all behind. Or so it had felt to him at the time. He knew better now, he understood. But if he let himself think on it too long, he could feel the pain flare up again. He cleared his throat.
“To Mr and Mrs Andrews, proving to us all that true love really does exist,” he raised his glass in a toast before downing the contents, hoping to swallow back the heavy feeling in his chest. What a load of bullshit.
He sat back to let the groom speak. Jughead hadn’t seen Betty during the ceremony, not that he had been looking. At least that’s what he told himself. He waited patiently as Archie spoke, clapping and laughing in all the right places. Joining in the cheers as he finished. He even managed to sit still as they danced their first dance. He noticed Betty slip out of the ballroom half way through, so instead of following tradition and asking the maid of honor to dance, he managed to sneak outside.
Betty was sat on the stairs, alone. In fact there was no one out here except the cold. He walked quietly down the stairs behind her, stopping as he got to the one where she was sat.
“And they say first loves don’t last, right?” He joked, trying to break the tension. He realised the stupidity of the words a moment too late. But still, Betty looked up at him and smiled. That smile, the one he pulled from his memories when he was having a bad day. Or when he was sad. When he missed her. Which, was always.
He hadn’t seen the smile, or the girl attached to it, in years. 5, to be exact. But who was counting? He was.
“Hey, Juggie,” the old nickname was a knife in his heart, but he smiled back and sat next to her anyway. “Your speech was great, you were the ideal Best Man, Veronica will be proud,” she joked, nudging his shoulder with her own.
“Thanks, Betty. I’m glad you came.” He stared out into the night, the only noise he could hear was her breathing. He could feel all the unsaid words between them, just hanging heavy in the air.
“I wouldn’t have missed it,” she replied, her voice low. Jughead figured it must be an odd feeling, watching the best friends of your youth all together and being the one left out. Whenever Jugehad had thought of this day, he just presumed Betty would have been at the main table with the rest of them. As the maid of honor. As his.
But things had changed and even though Betty was still friends with Archie and Veronica, it was a shadow of what it used to be.
“Listen, Betty -”
“This is fucking weird, right?”
They both spoke at once, laughing as they looked at each other. Jughead gestured for her to carry on with his hand. She sighed, wringing her hands in her lap.
“I can’t shake this feeling, I haven’t been able to since I got on the damn plane. I don’t know what it is. Nostalgia? Jealousy?” She wasn’t looking at Jughead, but he was watching her face.
“Jealousy?” He asked in surprise, “why would it be jealousy?” Betty shot him a look that told him enough, but she spoke anyway.
“Because this, this could have been me,” her voice dropped so low he almost missed it, “could have been us.”
“It should have been.” She was whispering into the night now, but he could still hear every word as if she was yelling at the top of her lungs. It was as though she was speaking his own thoughts, stealing his words from him. But he found himself feeling angry, it crept up slowly, and then hit him all at once. She was the one that left.
“You’re the one that left,” he told her as much. She squeezed her eyes tight, willing herself not to cry. She didn’t open them again before she spoke.
“I know, Juggie. Believe me, I fucking know,” she sounded broken, it crippled Jughead.
“You think I haven’t been having these thoughts too? Fuck, Betty,” he sighed in frustration, roughly running his hands through his hair. “You can’t, you can’t do this. Not here, not now. It’s been 5 years.”
“Please don’t do this to me,” his voice broke. She looked at him then, a thousand apologies in her green eyes.
“I have spent those last 5 years missing you, Jughead. And hating myself.” She reached for his hands, grasping them desperately between her own. She squeezed so hard it hurt, but Jughead welcomed the pain.
“Then why didn’t you come back?” He knew he should be shutting her down, telling her to stop being foolish. Whatever they had, it was in the past. But he hung to her every word, aching for them. This was going to fuck him up all over again, he knew it. It was too much. But he had dreamed of hearing these words, of just seeing her again, so he wouldn’t stop her. He couldn’t pull away.
“Because I figured the damage was done. That was my punishment. Losing you.” She was crying now, there were mascara tracks down her cheeks.
“I haven’t been able to even look at anyone else, Jug. And being here, seeing Archie and Veronica get that happy ending that belonged to us, too,” she paused to let out a heavy breath, “Seeing you. It made me realise how tired I am of fighting it. You might think this is rushed, but it’s not. I promise. I’ve been thinking this for a long time, ever since I got the damn invitation and knew you would be here. I don’t want to waste anymore time,”
“Fighting what?” He was too far gone. He couldn’t deny it anymore, He was weak, look at how quickly he gave in to her, he scolded himself.
“I’m sorry, and I know I should have come back a long time ago. But I am here now, and I still love you, Juggie.” The words hung in the air between them as Jughead held his breath. His heart was beating so loud in his chest he would have sworn she could hear it. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, a voice called out from the top of the stairs.
His eyes snapped in the direction the voice had come from, and in his realisation of who it was, he yanked his hands from Betty’s.
“What are you doing out here, babe?” She called out. “Who’s your friend?”
His gaze flicked back to Betty, her eyes were brimming with tears and Jughead felt his own heart break in his chest. This time, irreparable. Betty began to nod slowly, biting down on her bottom lip to stop the tears from falling.
“I’m too late, aren’t i,” she whispered low enough for only Jughead to hear. It wasn’t a question, either, but a statement. So she shook her head lightly, quickly wiped at her eyes, and stood to introduce herself to Jugheads girlfriend.
He sat on the stairs a moment longer, trying to gather his thoughts and the broken pieces of his heart from the floor.