Author: Anna Abner

Red Plague Bonuses

Red Plague Bonuses

Click here to discover “My Four Favorite Zombies!

Character Interview with Maya Solomon

Interviewer: This month’s Palmetto High School’s student spotlight is on Maya
Solomon, 17, recent 1st place winner in the thousand meters sprint at the state
track finals. Here are your five questions.

Q1: What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

Maya: I have a twin brother named Mason. But nobody at Palmetto has ever met
him. He doesn’t live with us anymore.


Q2: Who is your favorite teacher?

Maya: Mr. Reynolds the music teacher. He taught me a lot about songwriting and
composing.


Q3: What is one thing you can’t live without?


Maya: My iPad. It has all my recordings on it, my favorite music, and pictures and
videos of my family. I would be really upset if I lost it.

Q4: Who is the one person you can’t live without?


Maya: My dad. He’s a single parent now. Without him, I’d be an orphan.

Q5: What are your plans for after high school?

Maya: I’m going to Meredith College where my mom used to teach (before she
passed away) to study music and creative writing.

Settings and inspiration for the Red Plague series.

Like vampires, shifters, and cheap books? Join my monthly newsletter today. <3 Anna

“It all Gets Buried in the End”

“It all Gets Buried in the End”

Fan Fiction Written Sadie West

Short blurb: Set early in season three, Betty Cooper and Archie Andrews receive coded clues to find their “missing knight” from a sick griffins & gargoyles player. It begins a desperate search for Jughead Jones before time (and his limited air supply) runs out.

I’m okay.

I’m okay.

I’m okay.

Jughead Jones tried to control his breathing as he repeated the mantra over and over in puffing whispers of breath.

I’m okay.

I’m okay.

I’m okay.

#

“This doesn’t make any sense.” Betty Cooper complained as she paced Archie Andrews’ living room, her blonde ponytail dancing nervously behind her.

Archie didn’t have a good answer for her. The note left in his locker at the end of school had no signature or telling marks. Just a plain piece of notebook paper written on in ballpoint pen.

To uncover your missing knight, you must speak to the troll under the bridge.

“Is this more of that griffins and gargoyles crap?” Archie asked, lifting the page from the sofa where Betty had left it. “What’s a missing knight?”

Betty was on her phone again. “Have you talked to Jughead since school? He’s not answering me.”

Archie checked his phone. No messages. He tried calling his best friend, but the call went to voicemail, so he hung up and sent a text instead. Call Betty. She’s worried about you.

“No, sorry,” he told her. “Nothing for a while.”

“I think we should follow the clue,” Betty said. “Even if it is a griffins and gargoyles task, I feel like we should check it out. The fact that Jughead isn’t answering and the note mentions our missing knight is giving me a very bad feeling.”

“Sure.” Archie shrugged. He had nothing better to do this afternoon since Veronica was busy at work. “Do you know what the clue means?”

“I think so.” Betty grabbed her purse and headed for the door. “There’s an antique store called the Stone Bridge behind the mall. I’m going to start there.”

“Okay. I’ll drive.”

Archie had never been to the Stone Bridge before. He wasn’t much of an antiques guy unless it had to do with cars, and the shop was a cottage-looking place that had seen better days. Inside the door, a bell tinkled, and the scent of old things and dust wafted over him.

“Can I help you dearies?” called a friendly feminine voice from the counter in the back.

Betty marched across the shop with an unspoken tension in her shoulders. “Yes. Do you know the troll? Or where our lost knight is?”

The woman blinked in surprise. “I don’t think I understand,” she said, her voice losing that friendly shopkeeper’s lilt. “But you’re welcome to look through my pewter figurine collection. There are some knights and such in it.”

Betty pushed past Archie to a shelf behind the door. Rows and rows of pewter figures stood together. Fairies, dragons, castle towers, and maybe even a griffin or a gargoyle.

“This is it,” Betty called out triumphantly, plucking a troll figure from the shelf. Turning it over, she found numbers drawn on the base in black marker. “I’ll take this one,” she told the shopkeeper.

Once back in Archie’s car, Betty passed him the figure. “It’s coordinates, I think.”

“Our missing knight?” he guessed, not seeing much to get excited about. Jug was probably doing his father’s bidding and had turned his phone off. Not a reason to panic. “Do you know how to read coordinates?”

“No,” she said, tapping away on her phone, “but I can enter them in my maps app.” After a few seconds, she looked up triumphantly. “Here. They lead to a spot by Sweetwater River. Feel like a drive?”

#

Jughead kicked with all his strength at the bottom of the box. Whoever had knocked him out and sealed him up had taken his boots, but his heel was tough enough to splinter the wood. One more good kick and coarse soil trickled in.

It was as he’d feared.

Someone had buried him alive.

How long could he survive in a six-foot long coffin?

Think, he chastised himself. But all he succeeded in doing was make his head hurt worse than before. He reached up to investigate the cut on the side of his head. The flesh was torn and tender, and his fingers only caused a deeper pain inside his brain. But the bleeding had stopped. All the blood he could feel on his scalp, collar, and the wood beneath him was dry.

He checked everywhere he could reach for his phone, his fingers scrabbling over untreated wood and bits of dirt.

Had he done this before? Had he already searched for his phone? Already tried to break free? His thoughts were so scattered, they were like shards of glass after a car accident. Nothing seemed to fit or make sense anymore.

How long had he been trapped in here?

Weakly, he pushed upward on the wooden box. Bits of earth rained down into his face.

“Help!” he screamed. “Help me!” The futile effort only stole his breath and caused black dots to bubble up in front of his eyes. “Help,” he gasped, a single tear forming at the corner of his eye.

They’ll find me.

They’ll find me.

I will not die in here…

#

While Betty searched the clearing in the woods where the coordinates had led them, Archie stayed by the car, bored, though he wouldn’t admit it to her. Griffins and gargoyles had never interested him. He’d much rather play a quick scrimmage or toss a ball back and forth than pretend he was a foreign prince fighting imaginary dragons. But Betty’s full attention was on the wild goose chase set before them.

“Archie!” Betty’s panicked scream brought him upright.

“What is it?” he demanded, reaching her in three long strides.

Unable to answer, she thrust her phone at him. He scanned the message, locking one hand around Betty’s upper arm. He wasn’t satisfied yet they weren’t under attack.

Fair lady, the text began, your brave knight is losing his breath. Uncover him quickly or his grave you’ll find.

“What the hell is this?” Archie grumbled.

“It’s from Jughead’s phone,” Betty panted, “but it’s not him. Archie, you don’t think…”

Suddenly, this stupid game seemed much more important. “You start calling everyone Jughead knows and find him in case this is some kind of a sick joke. I’m going to look around.”

Betty took her phone back with trembling hands, and Archie investigated the clearing, while keeping an ear on her as she called F.P. first. Behind a tree, Archie found a pair of shovels covered in fresh clumps of dirt, and his stomach turned so violently, he thought he might double over and puke up his lunch. But he kept himself under control.

He tossed the first shovel near Betty for when she finished her calls, and he used his to test the ground, looking for a spot recently turned over.

#

Jughead lay still, too dizzy to move much. Every inhale was a labor, and every puff of breath out made the spots dance. He rapped a knuckle against the side of the wooden box just to be certain he was still trapped because if he let his mind drift, as it was likely to do, he was in Betty Cooper’s living room, lounging on her sofa, her head on his shoulder. If he closed his eyes, he could even hear the silly television show she loved to watch.

He blinked his eyes open, not sure how long he’d been dreaming.

The flashlight at his side flickered and dimmed. Was it a flashlight or his imagination? Or maybe it was his consciousness blinking out. Hard to tell.

“Juggy…” whispered Betty from his dreams. “Oh, my sweet Jughead.”

His eyes drooped closed until he was back in the fantasy—warm, happy, and with the girl he loved.

#

Archie dug into the earth, swinging another scoop of dirt to the side. Again and again, his breath coming in gasps and sweat blossoming across his skin. He moved as fast as he could—dig, swing, dig, swing.

“You haven’t seen him since this morning?” Betty repeated into her phone, pacing behind him. “Thank you. No. If you hear from him, please let me know right away.” There was a scary silence as she called the next person in her contacts list. “Veronica?” she greeted in a panicked little voice. “Has Jughead been at Pop’s today?”

Archie attacked the hole he stood in, widening it a little, stomping on the shovel blade to force it deeper into the ground. Dig, swing, dig, swing.

“Mom?” Betty was saying now. “Has Jughead come by the house today?”

Archie stomped the shovel into the bottom of his hole and hit something with a thud. “Betty,” he called. “Hurry, I need your help.”

She hung up on her mom and took up the second shovel. Together they uncovered part of a wooden box, but too much was still trapped under the ground to open.

“God damn it,” Archie swore loudly. With Betty’s help, he scraped and dug at the corners, expanding the hole, exposing most of the lid.

“Jughead?” Betty yelled, knocking once on the wood. “Are you in there? Can you hear me?” There was no answering knock. No raised voice. “We’re right here, Jug. Archie and me. We’re going to get you out.”

With the tip of his shovel, Archie finally levered the lid off. With a squeal of bending nails, the lid flipped off and disappeared into the dark around them. For a horrifying moment, he just stared into the box. Under a dusting of earth was a corpse that looked a little like his best friend.

Betty screamed, one long terrible note, and then fell to her knees. The grief-stricken sound jerked Archie back to the present. Grabbing Jughead by the front of his shirt, he hoisted him out of the box and over the side of the hole, ignoring the dead weight or the way Juggy’s arms and legs hung from his body like lifeless ropes.

While Archie climbed from the hole, Betty took Jughead’s wrists and pulled him further out, then she was all over him, checking his pulse and breathing, straightening his filthy clothing, smoothing hair off his face.

“He’s not breathing,” she said calmly. “I learned CPR the summer I was a lifeguard. I’ll do what I can.”

Archie wondered if this was what shock looked like. Betty was appallingly at ease as she tilted Juggy’s head back and pinched his nose closed.

Giving her a minute, Archie called 911 and spouted a brief summary of their problem. Then he pushed the speaker button and set the phone on the ground.

He’d never done CPR before, but he’d heard it wasn’t very effective outside of a hospital. He wouldn’t say that to Betty, but he kept the worst-case scenario spinning in his head. He touched Juggy’s hand first, just to be sure this was real, and then he laid a palm to his friend’s chest. He was warm. That was a good sign, but it didn’t tell Archie how long Jug had been in that hole. Minutes? Or all day?

Betty forced three deep breaths into Jughead’s open mouth, wiping tears from her face as she drew back. Archie leapt forward to help, finding the right spot on Juggy’s chest and compressing his ribcage in a staccato rhythm.

“A little faster,” Betty prompted.

When he glanced up, she was staring into Jughead’s face, her hand stroking through his dark curls. Looking away quickly, Archie increased his pace, focusing on his friend’s chest and trying not to think of the love and grief in Betty’s eyes as she gazed at her boyfriend’s pale, bloodied face.

Archie counted thirty compressions, and then Betty took over again. They continued the pattern over and over, well past the point Archie felt useful. But he wouldn’t stop. For Betty’s sake, if nothing else. Through her tears, she continued breathing for Jughead, and Archie was not going to be the person who told her to stop.

An ambulance finally found them, followed by the sheriff’s vehicle.

“Keep up the CPR,” the first paramedic to rush over advised. “Tell me quickly what happened to him.”

Though it seemed pretty obvious to Archie, what with the open grave and all, he said, “Someone buried him alive and sent us clues to find him. When we pulled him out of the box, he was like this.”

While Archie continued compressions, the paramedic checked Jug’s eyes, pulse, and pulled up his shirt to set up sticky pads on his bare chest. “Do you know if he was given anything or if he took anything?”

“No.”

“You’ve done a great job,” he said, “but step back now and let us help him.”

The second paramedic arrived with a case of equipment and an ambu bag. They activated the defribulator, Jug’s chest flinched once, and then nothing.

“Andrews, Cooper,” the sheriff called, forcing them further from Jughead and the gaping hole beside him. “I’ve got a question or two for you.”

“We’re just as confused as you are,” Archie assured, scrubbing tears from his face. When had he started crying? They both gave up their phones and the pewter troll to the sheriff. They were still trying to explain things when the paramedics carried Jughead away on a stretcher and shut him inside the ambulance.

“I want to go,” Betty began, lurching forward, but the vehicle was already pulling away.

“I’ll take you,” the sheriff promised. “We can talk more on the way.” He radioed for backup to secure the gravesite and then took Betty back by Archie’s house for the original paper note that had started everything, despite her teary protests. By the time they arrived at the hospital, they couldn’t see Jughead, and no one would even say whether he was alive or dead.

As time passed, more people drifted in to wait with them. F.P.. Veronica. Mrs. Cooper. Finally, a doctor appeared in the waiting room and spoke to F.P., though they could all hear the conversation in the cramped space.

“Your son suffered a concussion,” the doctor explained, “and that coupled with oxygen deprivation left him in a coma-like state for the past few hours, but we’ve been administering the best care possible, and he’s ready for visitors now.”

At those words, Archie’s heart twanged. Ready for visitors. Was that good news or bad? Was this a second chance for Juggy or a chance for them to say good-bye?

F.P. took hold of Betty and then Archie. “You’re coming, too,” he said, pulling them down the hall. “You saved his life.”

Betty wasn’t hesitant in any way. Her bouncing blonde ponytail disappeared into Jughead’s private room, F.P. following a step behind. Archie, though, paused in the doorway, processing before he entered.

Jughead had been dressed in a cotton shift, washed, and stuck full of tubes and wires. He looked pale and rail thin under the white sheet, his hair shockingly dark. Purple bruises seemed very stark under both sunken eyes. An oxygen cannula lay across his face.

Betty kissed and stroked him, tucking in a sheet here, straightening chest leads there, while F.P. hung back around the foot of the bed.

“He’s not awake yet,” F.P. commented, sounding disappointed.

Betty either didn’t catch his emotion or she ignored it. “I’m going to run over to the gift shop and get some cheery balloons or something for when he wakes up,” she announced. “So he’ll have something nice to look at. This room is depressing.” In a whirl of white shirt and yellow hair, Betty was gone.

F.P. sucked in a harsh breath and ducked his head. Horrified, Archie suspected the older man was holding back a sob.

“I need a minute,” F.P. mumbled. “Stay with him until I get back, okay Archie?” Without waiting for confirmation, the man hurried out.

Suddenly, Archie was alone with Jughead. Nothing but the sound of medical machinery between them.

Feeling stupid standing in the doorway, Archie crossed to his best friend’s bed and settled his hip on the edge of the mattress.

“I really wish you’d stop almost getting killed,” Archie remarked as he scrutinized every bruise and scratch on Juggy’s exposed flesh. “It’s wreaking havoc on my nerves, dude.”

Jug’s right hand reached out blindly. Instinctively, Archie clasped it and squeezed. “I’m here, buddy. It’s cool.”

A pair of foggy, bloodshot eyes opened in slow motion, but didn’t focus on anything in particular.

“Jughead?” Archie whispered. “You in there, pal?”

Juggy blinked once and seemed to gain a bit more clarity. “Arch?” he croaked.

“Yeah, man, it’s me.” He started brusquely rubbing his friend’s hand until he realized he should be gentler and settled for just holding his cold fingers. “How are you feeling?”

“Am I dreaming?” Juggy asked, a line appearing between his brows.

“This is real,” he promised. “You’re in the hospital, and you’re going to be fine.” He prayed he wasn’t lying.

“I’m not here,” Juggy panted. The machine next to him sped up its series of beeps and boops. “I’m in a box. I’m not here. I’m in—”

Archie sensed a full-blown panic attack coming and impulsively did what he felt would calm his friend. He lay down in the bed, snaked an arm under Jughead’s shoulders, and pulled him tight to his chest.

“Breathe, man,” Archie said, rocking him a little. “Just breathe. You’re not in the box anymore. I got you out of the box. This is the hospital.”

“In the box,” Juggy sobbed against his throat.

“Shhhh,” Archie cooed, holding him gently and letting him cry. Crying was better, in his mind, than panic.

A couple minutes of quiet sobbing and Jughead’s body began to relax and grow heavier in his arms.

“That’s it, Jug,” Archie said. “Sleep. You’re safe.”

“Archie,” he sighed, and then seemed to breathe in Archie’s scent from the crook of his neck, maybe verifying this was real. “In a box…”

“You’re out of the box, man,” Archie swore. “I got you out. I found you.”

He heard a scuffle and looked up to find F.P. and Betty standing in the doorway staring at him, at least two dozen red and blue balloons trailing into the hallway. But Archie didn’t dare move and wake up Jughead. His friend needed to sleep and heal.

“Don’t move,” F.P. whispered.

“Yeah,” Betty agreed quietly. “Don’t disturb him.”

“He was panicking,” Archie whispered back. “I was only trying to calm him down. But,” he twisted to see into Jughead’s peacefully sleeping face, “I’m not getting up until he wakes by himself.”

Betty and F.P. exchanged a glance, but they both nodded. “Yes, of course.”

As Betty and F.P. found plastic chairs to settle into and wait, Archie exhaled deeply and settled in for a long nap.

Thanks for reading!

<3 Anna & Sadie

Like vampires, shifters, and cheap books? Join my monthly newsletter today. <3 Anna

“Insomnia”

“Insomnia”

Fan Fiction Written Sadie West

Short blurb: Betty leaves for a long weekend, and Juggy spirals under the weight of his PTSD from episode 2×21. He hasn’t slept in days, causing the shakes, dizzy spells, and hallucinations. If Betty can’t convince him to sleep, he may end up hurting himself or someone else.

Jughead scaled the front steps and knocked on the door, pounding the side of his thigh with his fist in quick, sharp jabs.

Betty opened the door and flew into his arms. The clean scent of her hair and skin surrounded him in a sweet cloud of relief. For a moment, but only a moment, he felt safe again.

His face buried in her neck, he sensed her tossing exclamations and questions at him, but he didn’t register much of it. Her excited words all ran together.

With his eyes closed, he lost his balance for a sec.

“Jug?” Betty grabbed him hard by both arms, and he winced. “You ok?”

“Yeah, of course,” he assured, forcing a smile. “I’m just so happy you’re back. How was your grandma’s lake cabin?”

She didn’t answer, but her eyes trailed across his face and down his body.

Jughead knew she couldn’t see the bruises through his clothes, but did she notice the bags under his eyes? Or the stress lines around his mouth and across his brow?

“Something’s wrong,” she decided.

Jughead shrugged her off. “Nothing’s wrong. Just didn’t sleep very well.” The truth was, he hadn’t slept in two nights. And for days before that, his sleeping had been sketchy, all starts and stops.

Betty seemed to accept the excuse. She relaxed a bit, even smiled. “I missed you.”

“Me, too,” he assured.

“You wanna come in?”

It wasn’t a matter of wanting to. If he went inside, he and Betty would end up snuggled on the couch or the bed, his arm around her, her head on his shoulder. He’d be asleep within minutes.

The nightmares would attack—tiny hands around his throat, a knife under his flesh, fists falling like hailstones.

“How about we take a walk instead?” he countered, glancing up the block. “Get some fresh air?”

She seemed suspicious, but Betty eventually slipped her hand into his, and they ambled across her lawn.

“You know I didn’t want to go to the lake, right?” Betty asked. “I mean, not now. It was a required mother-daughters bonding thing—”

“I know,” Jughead said.

“Not with everything that’s been going on.”

“I know,” he repeated, though he couldn’t wonder if he’d be as screwed up as he was if Betty had been with him the last three days. Her presence alone was a salve to his wounds, both internal and external.

But she hadn’t been here, and shame at what he’d done and become in such a short amount of time kept him from opening up to her now.

They approached the first intersection, quiet and deserted.

Her hand grew clammy. “How’s Mr. Andrews been?” Betty asked. “Have you heard from Archie?”

Rather than share some of his pain, Jughead snapped, “Just peachy. Fred’s been killing himself to find a way, any way, to get his only son out of jail, and my best friend’s in juvenile detention for a crime he didn’t commit.” Jughead snatched his hand from hers and started hitting the side of his thigh, harder, relishing the spike of pain as old and new bruises complained. “So, no, Betty. Fred’s not great. Archie’s not great.”

“Jug,” Betty frowned, scrutinizing him again. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing.” He turned his back so she couldn’t see his face. “Go home, Betty. I’ll pick you up for school in the morning.” He took a right, crossed the street, and hurried out of sight before she tried to follow him.

*

Jughead left his cellphone behind and spent the night at the lake, whipping rocks across the water and stomping through the trees. Betty would be calling, but how could he explain the dreams? The self-inflicted bruises? The hallucinations?

The good news was he didn’t suffer nightmares so long as he was awake. The bad news—he couldn’t think straight as he walked through his daily life in a fog of exhaustion, his hands shaking like an old man’s. But he didn’t dare sit down out here and fall asleep.

Hours later—exhausted, unshowered, and without patience, Jughead pulled up to the curb and rolled down the passenger window because it was important to do normal things, especially when his life was crumbling around his ears.

“Morning, beautiful.”

Practically glowing, Betty bounced into the seat beside him, gave his cheek a soft kiss, and enveloped him once more in her sweet perfume. “Morning.”

Her normalcy was a huge relief. Jughead swung into the street, feeling that tricky safe feeling again. Something about Betty took away the panic.

Except panic was one of the only things keeping the exhaustion at bay.

Zooming down Main Street, sleepiness stole over him, beginning in his legs and crawling up his torso. His limbs went tingly, then numb. He yawned loudly.

That’s when he realized Betty had been talking to him this entire time, and he hadn’t even noticed.

“What?” he asked, trying to focus on the road, but his eyes were both burning and fuzzy. No matter how many times he blinked and rubbed them, he couldn’t clear his vision. Not completely.

Betty may have said something else, but he didn’t catch it. For just a second, he closed his eyes.

Her scream startled him back to consciousness. He jerked the wheel to the left and slammed on the brakes, sending the car into a one hundred eighty degree spin. Bouncing against the curb, the engine died.

“Oh, my God,” Betty exclaimed, scrambling out of the car like it might go up in flames. Jughead just sat there, his hands at ten and two.

He’d fallen asleep at the wheel. He could have hurt Betty. He could have killed her.

“Jug?” She leaned through the passenger window.

Oh, God, he’d really screwed up. Betty would never forgive him. Her mom would tell the sheriff. People would find out what a basket case he was.

Luckily, the car started right up on the first try and though the alignment was screwed and at least one tire was flat, he drove off, leaving Betty standing in the road.

*

Jughead went home to the trailer park, not even bothering with fixing his car. He started a fire in the pit in front of his trailer and stood stiffly, trying to focus on the flames and not what a monumental loser he was.

When his phone buzzed, he assumed it was Betty looking for him. It was Sweat Pea. He and a couple of the Serpents wanted to ditch school and come hang out.

Stay in school, Jughead texted back.

Too late.

Jughead considered running for it, but he didn’t think his car would make it, and his bike was parked at the Wyrm. So, he stayed, refusing to sit. He stood until his legs cramped and his eyes felt sprayed in acid.

Someone approached on his right, and he flinched, but when he darted his eyes over, no one was there. His throat began to itch, and he scrubbed angrily at the spot.

Was he still awake?

He patted his pockets for his phone, but it was gone.

When was the last time he’d had his phone? Had his conversation with Sweet Pea been real?

He finally found it on a folding chair at the same moment a car pulled up.

“Jughead?” Sweet Pea called, examining the damage on Jughead’s car as he strolled over. “Everything cool?”

“Yep.” He bobbed his head. “You?”

His serpents spread out around him, holding their hands to the fire.

“You look like crap,” Sweet Pea observed. “Need to crash for a bit? I’ll stand guard.”

No chance. He couldn’t risk the nightmares. “I’m good. I just want to hang out for a while.”

“How about some coffee then?” Sweet Pea offered.

Actually, that sounded great. It might buy him a few more hours of consciousness. “Sure, thanks.”

“I’ll make some. Milk and sugar?” Sweet Pea asked as he opened the trailer door.

“Black,” Jughead called after him.

It got real quiet outside while his friend was banging around the kitchen. No one spoke. The crackling fire was the only sound until Sweet Pea returned with two cups of coffee and handed one to Jughead.

“It’s hot,” Sweet Pea warned.

Jughead didn’t care. He slurped a long swallow of scalding and bitter brew, thankful for the double punch of pain and caffeine.

“Easy, buddy.” Sweat Pea chuckled. “Coffee’s meant to be savored, not taken like a shot.”

Jughead ignored him and scalded his palette with another drink.

“You ready to tell me what happened with the car, yet?” Sweet Pea asked.

“Nope.” He finished the coffee and swilled the remains into the fire. Stepping back from the flames, Jughead stumbled. He was damned dizzy.

A figure approached from the backside of the trailer. Jughead scrubbed his eyes clear as Betty came into focus.

“What are you doing here?” Jughead looked from Betty to Sweet Pea.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I can’t carry you by myself.”

“What?” The world began to melt, starting with the sky and then the horizon, dripping away and revealing matte gray beneath. They’d tricked him. “How could you?” The coffee cup fell from numb fingers. She’d drugged him and gotten his friends involved.

Sweet Pea took a step nearer.

“No, stop,” Jughead pleaded, his tongue swollen and tingling.

“There won’t be any nightmares, Jug,” Betty said. “I promise.”

The world faded away until Betty was the only slice of color left. And then she melted to gray as well.

Jughead stumbled back and fell.

Several pairs of strong hands caught him before he hit the ground.

*

Jughead came to consciousness like swimming through tar. Slowly, the world returned—a soft bed, a ticking clock, and warm light on his face.

With a groan, he opened his eyes and begrudgingly admitted Betty had been right. There’d been no nightmares.

A noise brought his attention to the doorway where Betty leaned, her phone in her hand.

Oh, God. This was going to hurt. His accident, her betrayal.

She spoke quietly into her cell, “He’s awake.”

What the hell? He sat up and leaned against the bedpost of Betty’s bed, realizing for the first time he wore nothing but his white undershirt and boxer shorts. They’d seen the bruises on his thighs and biceps, the pinch marks across his belly. They wouldn’t understand why, but the self-inflicted pain kept him awake.

But there were enough drugs still in his system to make standing up too difficult to contemplate. So, he just sat there like a lump as Fred Andrews stalked up the stairs and fitted himself between Betty’s dresser and the closet door.

“Mr. Andrews?” Jughead called, aghast. What was Betty up to? Didn’t she realize how humiliating it was being seen like this? Not to mention the guilt Jughead carried over Archie’s sentencing. How could she invite him here?

Before Jughead could say a word, his dad filed in, followed by Sweet Pea, Cheryl, Veronica, Toni, Mary Andrews, and a string of Serpents. They crowded around the periphery of the room.
Jughead panicked, pulling his knees up tight. What was going on?

Mr. Andrews cleared his throat and crossed the room to perch awkwardly on the edge of the bed. “Jughead?” he began. “You need to take care of yourself, son. Archie needs you. And I need you to help me find a way to get him out. You need to be strong, do you understand?”

Jughead nodded through a veil of tears.

His dad was next. As Mr. Andrews left the room, F.P. took his place on the bed. “Jug, I know what you went through with Penny. I know how hard it must have been. God, it was hard for me to see you beaten half to death.” He coughed into his fist, and Jughead wrapped his arms around his knees. “It’ll take time to get over it, and no one expects it to happen overnight. But you have to swear to me you’ll take care of yourself in the meantime.”

Jughead couldn’t speak. He nodded jerkily.

Sweet Pea punched his arm. “Hope you don’t hold the coffee thing against me. We need you, man. We all do.”

Cheryl kissed the top of his head. “I care about you, you know that, right?”

“Me, too.” Toni gave the back of his neck a gentle massage.

Mrs. Andrews looked solemnly down at him. “You’re the toughest kid I know,” she declared. “I’ve watched you grow up, and I’ve always thought so.” Her expression softened into a sad smile. “I just want to give that tough little kid a hug and say, I know you’ve been through hell.” She wrapped him in her arms. “But you can’t break now. I need you. Archie needs you.” Rustling his hair, she too left until it was just him and Betty.

“That was cruel,” he hissed. “I don’t need an intervention.”

Ignoring him, she sat on the edge of the bed. “I talked to a counselor who specializes in PTSD. This is her card.” She set a small white rectangle on the bedside table. “She has a standing appointment for you every Wednesday after school. I hope you decide to go.”

He couldn’t answer. Words were all bottled up inside. Things he couldn’t even tell Betty.

“I’m sorry I drugged you,” she said, tears in her eyes, “but you could have killed both of us. You haven’t slept in days, I checked with F.P. Sleep deprivation can, well…”

The cork in his throat popped, and bile gathered at the back of his tongue. “The nightmares won’t stop,” he told her bitterly. “I see Archie in juvenile detention. And instead of Penny’s goons beating me to a pulp, they’re doing it to Archie.” Jughead’s gaze snapped up and lit upon hers. “I was conscious when Penny took my serpent tattoo. I remember all of it. And when she was done, she climbed on my chest and choked me until I blacked out.” Jughead buried his head, too affected by the memories to be seen by anyone, even her. “I thought I was going to die. I really thought…”

“We’re going to figure a way through this, Juggy.” He felt rather than saw her climb into bed beside him. “Because you’re important, and you’re loved, and I need you.”

Jughead felt it again, that illogical sensation of safety. Her presence was keeping the demons at bay. So, though he’d slept for God knew how long, Jughead slithered down under the covers and pulled her sweet-smelling body against his, feeling tired.

“I’m just so freaking scared,” he admitted. “I can’t stop feeling scared.”

Stroking his hair from his forehead, Betty swore, “We’ll find a way. Together. Deal?”

“Together.” He liked the sound of that.

Thanks for reading!

<3 Anna & Sadie

Like vampires, shifters, and cheap books? Join my monthly newsletter today. <3 Anna

“Watch Where You’re Going”

“Watch Where You’re Going”

Fan Fiction Written Sadie West

Short blurb: While out patrolling, Peter Parker gets distracted and is impaled. The two teens who take him home and try to patch him up do a terrible job. If Peter weren’t so weak, he’d tell them to call Tony Stark. Unfortunately, Peter keeps passing out before delivering the message.

Peter Parker swung between high-rises, enjoying a beautiful fall day in New York, the sun’s heat on his skin. His new suit was in the shop for repairs, meaning Tony had commandeered it for upgrades. Peter’s old suit didn’t regulate temperature, and it was a nice sensation to actually feel the air around him.

His spider sense went wild, and Peter dodged left, a tricky maneuver in mid-air, but the paint pellet missed. He whipped his head around and caught sight of a duo of teenagers laughing and scampering behind a dumpster, bulky paint ball guns slung on their shoulders.

Kids.

Peter turned back around just as a building rose up in front of him. Distracted, he’d miscalculated his swing. He hit the stonework hard enough to rattle his teeth and make the lights blink off and on.

Damn.

He palmed the wall and took a second to breathe and assess the damage.

No Karen to give him stats on everything from his pupil reaction to oxygen levels. He was back to basics.

His belly hurt a lot more than he thought it should. He’d hoped the lightening bolts of pain in his abdomen would fade as he rested, like all the other bumps and bruises, but that single area didn’t settle down. If anything, it got worse.

Peter looked down and realized he’d swung himself directly into a bare flagpole. The metal rod had punched right through his stomach and come out the other side.

Oh, crap. This was bad.

He steadied his feet as his breathing grew ragged. He shot a web above him onto a gargoyle’s face and prepared to pull off the pole. A few deep breaths, and he clenched his jaw.

He should have watched where he was going. He should have waited for his new suit to come back from Tony before patrolling. He should know better than to swing around New York without paying attention.

Peter walked his feet up the wall, and blood ran free, dribbling off his suit in streams. He began to sweat.

If he didn’t get free and find help, he’d be in real trouble. And without Karen, there was no way to contact Tony without retracing his steps to his backpack.

Sweat beading under his suit and his arms shaking like tree branches in a storm, Peter finally released himself from the pole’s grip. For a moment, he was weightless, and then his web swung him into the building once more. Pain exploded, and he let go of the only thing holding him to the stones.

He didn’t remember hitting the pavement. He was out before he reached the ground.

*

Peter dreamed he was floating on a choppy sea, occasionally dipping below the dark waves, and sometimes rising into the gray light.

“Hold on,” pleaded an unfamiliar voice. “Please don’t die. We’re almost there.” It was a young voice. Not Tony. Not Cap. Not anyone he recognized.

Peter parted dry, chapped lips to tell whoever was on the water with him to call Tony Stark. He’d know what to do. But no words came out. Instead, a particularly strong wave knocked him back underwater.

Some time later, he lay on a wickedly hard surface, shivering in nothing but boxer shorts.

Where was his suit? He attempted to voice the question, but only managed a pathetic whine.

His stomach hurt.

“Keep him awake.”

“How?”

“I don’t know! But if I don’t stitch him up and stop the bleeding, he’ll die.”

Somebody smacked Peter hard in the face. “Stay awake!”

He blinked, offended and simultaneously sleepy. “Rhuhmm,” he managed. A terrified kid leaned into his eye line. He looked vaguely familiar. Or, his plaid shirt did anyway.

Peter forced his eyes open and found the second kid. Yep. They were the idiots who’d shot a pain pellet at him. They’d set him off course and caused all this mess.

I hate you, Peter tried to say. It sounded more like, “Unutoo.”

“That’s it,” the first kid encouraged. “I’m a big fan. I’d never forgive myself if I killed you.”

Peter ignored him and rolled his head so he could get a better view of what was going on around his belly button. The second kid was shakily stabbing a needle in and out of his torn flesh. Blood coated both his hands, Peter’s belly, the table beneath him…

“Call Tony Stark,” Peter managed.

But maybe it wasn’t as clear as he’d hoped because the second kid cut the end of his thread and motioned for his buddy to get ready.

“We’ve got to turn him over so I can sew up the exit wound.”

Oh, no. Peter tensed for pain.

The two teens grabbed him and rolled him. Peter’s strength left in a rush of blood. Call Tony Stark.

He was going to die in his underwear.

*

Someone was stroking Peter’s hair. Strong fingers ran in and out, massaging his scalp. It felt reeeeeeally good.

“Tony?” he called in a voice that hardly sounded like his own.

“No. My name’s Javier.” The fingers stilled in his hair. “Thank God you’re awake.” He leaned over Peter to see straight into his face.

Peter stared into worried blue eyes.

“Please don’t die,” Javier said.

That still felt like a very real possibility. Peter felt overheated. Spiders couldn’t regulate their temperatures, so Peter was unusually susceptible to fevers. Even a low-grade fever could put him out of commission. He carried meds in his backpack for just such an occasion. His backpack, though, was hiding somewhere in Queens.

“Hot,” Peter croaked.

“You’re running a fever,” Javier agreed. “Don’t worry, Donny’s taking care of it right now.”

The second teen burst into the room dragging bags of ice. “Help me get him in the tub.”

Oh, no. Not again.

Why couldn’t Peter wake up for the fun stuff?

Peter was sure they tried to be gentle, but every time they jostled him, blood gushed from between the stitches. Step, gush. Step, gush. He hit the cold, hard tub and hardly noticed. His head rolled loose upon the unforgiving surface.

Water ran, inching up from his feet to lap at his hips with cold, cold water. With all the water, and then the ice, it was tough to tell if he was still bleeding. But his arms became useless weights at his sides, and the bathwater turned pink. Not a great sign.

“Call Tony Stark,” Peter said through chattering teeth.

He didn’t know what was worse—dying of a fever, dying of blood loss, or dying of hypothermia.

Unable to hold himself above the growing waterline, Peter sank into the tub and closed his eyes. Maybe he’d drown instead.

A crash sounded, and the bathroom door didn’t just bang open. It smashed right off the hinges and landed on top of the toilet in two pieces.

“Oh, shit!” Javier screamed. “Iron Man.”

“We tried to help him,” Donny stammered. “We didn’t want anyone to know his identity.”

Tony, though, didn’t even spare them a glance. He went straight to Peter and stepped out of the suit so Peter could see his eyes.

“I’m getting you out of here, kid.”

“Fever,” Peter chattered.

“It’s okay. Bruce is in the med bay waiting for us.” He lifted Peter into his arms, Peter’s head snug against Tony’s shoulder, and he knew he was safe at last.

“Stabbed,” Peter chattered.

“I saw the CCTV footage.” Over his shoulder, Tony shouted, “Natasha, get these two idiots into custody and back to the Tower. And find the kid’s suit.” Turning his attention back on Peter, Tony said, “But I’m more concerned at the moment with blood loss. You’re as white as a ghost. Luckily, we’ve stockpiled cloned blood in your type.”

“Don’t hurt them,” Peter slurred, Tony’s rocking steps putting him to sleep.

“They shot at you,” Tony snapped. “I have every right to scare the living daylights out of them.”

Tony carried Peter out of the apartment and up to the roof where a SHIELD helicopter staffed with EMTs waited. His body heat warmed Peter’s abused flesh, and he decided he wanted to sleep for the next twenty years or so.

“Found me,” Peter murmured as he drifted off.

“I’ll always find you, kid,” Tony promised. “No matter what.”

Thanks for reading!

<3 Anna & Sadie

Like vampires, shifters, and cheap books? Join my monthly newsletter today. <3 Anna

“Stranded”

“Stranded”

Fan Fiction Written Sadie West

Short blurb: Driving home in a snowstorm, Archie loses control of the car, and Jughead ends up seriously concussed. Luckily, there’s a warm and snug cabin to spend the night in. Not so luckily, the conversation gets awkward when Jughead brings up the time Archie tried to kiss him.

The weather had sent the girls home hours earlier, but Archie Andrews was determined to catch a fish before he left the frozen Sweetwater River. His best friend Jughead Jones agreed to stay with him until he had a fish on the hook.

“Sun’s going down,” Archie observed, squinting out of the ice fishing hut into all that white. White river, white ice, white snow, white sky. The only way he could determine dusk was where the glow of the sun moved in the sky behind the clouds.

“You ready to call it quits?” Jughead huddled in a camp chair, everything but his face covered in a blanket. He was always complaining of the cold, but then he never had a decent winter jacket. In the old days, Archie would hand down last year’s nylon or wool coat to Jug, but it had been awhile since Jughead had appreciated the charity. Nowadays, he wouldn’t accept it.

But Juggy had no idea how many nights Archie had lain in bed fantasizing about Jughead wearing his clothes, of smelling his scent, of somehow feeling Archie through the fabrics.

“I guess it’s just not in the cards.” Archie shrugged, and something magical happened with the simple movement. It caught the eye of a passing trout, and Archie felt a jerk on his line.

“Oh, crap,” he exclaimed, gripping the pole with both hands. “I have a bite!” He grinned at Jughead who threw off his blanket and rushed to help Archie reel in the monster. Inch by inch, they pulled the fish up out of the icy water, splashing them both in the process, until it was near enough to the surface that Jug could sweep the net under it.

“He’s a beauty,” Jughead crowed. “Nice catch, Arch.”

Archie flushed with excitement and pride. He knelt beside his friend, drew a

knife, and sawed off the struggling creature’s head. This bad boy was plenty big enough to eat.

They made quick work of wrapping the dead fish in plastic bags, cleaning up their mess, and packing their gear in order to get out of the mountains as fast as possible. There was no cell service this far out due to the storm, but Betty and Veronica would be waiting anxiously for their return. And, to be honest, though Archie relished the time alone with Jughead, he was freezing his toes off out here.

“The car didn’t seem so far away when we parked it,” Jughead remarked, packing out the fish and his blanket.

Archie, carrying the fishing gear and a cooler, agreed. “It’s past the trees and down the dirt road a ways.” With the sun sinking lower and the wind picking up, it was getting damned cold. He started fantasizing about the heater in his dad’s car cranked up to high.

At the car, they tossed their stuff in the backseat, jumped in, and sat shivering while Archie turned the key and waited for the engine’s temperature to rise. The air hissing out of the vents wasn’t close to warm for a good ten minutes, but they finally got rolling down the dirt road toward the two-lane highway that led home to Riverdale.

“You want to have a cookout when we get back?” Archie asked, leaning far into the steering wheel. It had begun to snow again, and he was having trouble seeing the road through the windshield even with the high beams and wipers on.

“And grill up your blue-ribbon trout?” Jughead glanced at him from his spot hovering over the heater vent in the console. “You bet.”

Archie caught his eye and smiled slightly. A friendly smile. An average, every day, best friend kind of smile that didn’t hint of anything more than the love, admiration, and attraction any friend would feel for their platonic bestie.

That look, though, that handful of moments Archie’s eyes were off the road, changed everything. When he glanced ahead of the car, he could see nothing but white. There was no shoulder, no lines, no difference between woods and road.

He jerked the wheel in panic. Was he still on the road? Had he careened into a field? Was he driving on the river?

The back wheels slid hard to the left, Archie attempted to correct it, but lost control and went off the edge with a sickening feeling of weightlessness. For a moment, nothing happened, and then the car hit the ground at an angle and rolled.

Archie wasn’t sure how many times they rolled down the snowy embankment. It was too terrifying to take stock as he was flung one way and then the other, but he knew when they landed because the jolt rocked him hard against the wheel. The vehicle settled right-side-up with a hiss and a crunch of metal.

For a moment, Archie could do nothing more than test if he was really and truly alive. He could feel his feet, could move both arms, and could even see relatively well. He wasn’t bleeding anywhere that he could tell. The worst injury might be the raw skin on his neck from the seatbelt. God, that was lucky. He was so lucky. Things could have turned out much worse. He swiveled in his seat to laugh with relief with Jughead and say something goofy like, “I thought we were gonna die,” but the sight of his best friend froze him to the core.

Jughead slumped against the shattered passenger window while dark red blood painted the cracked glass and covered half Jug’s face. Unconscious, his arms hung limp, his hands slightly curling at his sides, and his legs at uncomfortable-looking angles.

“Oh, no,” Archie breathed, his breath a puff of white in the quiet car. “Jughead?” Afraid to touch him, he settled for laying a hand on his friend’s shoulder. It was warm and solid. “Look at me. Jug? Wake up.”

No response.

Archie needed to do something fast to help his friend. He tried his cell phone first, but still no service. He gently patted Jughead’s pockets until he found his phone in his hip pocket, but it was useless too. No service meant no 911 call, no ambulance on its way, no help coming.

They were on their own.

Archie had to think fast. The windshield was smashed, and cold air bellowed in through the jagged opening, making it too cold for them to stay in the car. He climbed slowly out of the vehicle, stiff and sore, but not complaining. All he could think about was getting his best friend to a safe place and warm so they could wait for someone to find them.

He scanned the snowbanks, squinting through the fresh flurries. At the far side of the meadow, he spotted a small cabin. It might not even be in livable shape, but on the other hand, it could be snug and warm. He had to chance it.

Rounding the destroyed car, Archie had to high step it through deep pockets of snow.

“Jug?” He called, easing open the passenger door and catching Juggy as he sagged out of the car.

Jughead moaned.

“I know, buddy.” Archie unbuckled his seat belt and maneuvered his friend over one shoulder. Standing and settling the heavy weight, Archie grabbed his pack out of the backseat and his phone just in case he found service somewhere.

Jughead cried out several times during the difficult slog from wrecked car across the meadow to the cabin in the distance. By the time Archie stumbled into the unlocked door, red-faced and out of breath, Juggy was awake.

“Easy,” Archie said, “we’re here.” He set Jughead on his booted feet, and immediately, the teen’s face paled and his knees buckled. Archie kept him from slipping to the branch-strewn wood floor only by grabbing him by the jacket lapels. “Whoa.”

Carefully, he laid Jughead down, being gentle with his friend’s damaged head, and then explored the small space for anything that could be of use.

The two-room cabin smelled like a pack of wolves had been sleeping in it and there was no food or water, but Archie had a couple granola bars, some jerky, and a canteen of water in his pack. Luckily, there was a crate of web covered firewood near the cold fireplace and a tarp wadded up in the second room.

Archie spread the tarp on the floor and then knelt at Jughead’s side.

“Jug?” he said softly, shaking his shoulder.

If it weren’t for the blood streaking the right half of Jug’s face, the smudge on

his chin, and the snowflakes in his hair, Archie thought his friend would look achingly beautiful. Deep set eyes in a pale-as-cream face made more dramatic by his pitch-black curls.

His eyes dropped to Jug’s full lips as they parted.

“Arch?” Juggy screwed up his face in pain, trying to focus on Archie with one good eye. “What the…”

“I rolled the car,” Archie explained, just watching his friend for a moment. “I’m so sorry, Jug. You hit your head, but I’m going to fix this.”

Jughead seemed to be understanding only half of the words. “My head?” “Yeah, you banged it on the window. Does it hurt much?”

“I can’t see out of my eye,” he complained, reaching clumsily for his face. “Here, sit up.” Archie helped him upright. “Maybe I can clean off some of the blood.”

With an edge of his shirt and water from his canteen, Archie dabbed at Jug’s eye, rubbing most of the drying blood from his socket and cheek. For a moment, Archie stared mesmerized at Jughead’s mouth.

Jughead noticed.

“Archie,” he sighed. There was so much unsaid in that single word. Even concussed, he remembered the one and only time Archie had kissed him.

During a moment of absolute, passionate weakness, Archie had taken Jug by the jacket and planted one on him.

Jughead had been surprised and totally cool about it, but he’d made it clear he wasn’t interested in evolving their friendship.

“It’s okay, buddy,” Archie promised, focusing on cleaning up Jug’s face instead of his soft lips. “I’m going to take care of you.” He finished scouring his face, exposing several deep scratches and an open wound above his right ear.

“When the storm passes, I should be able to get a signal on my phone.” Without Archie’s hands supporting him, Juggy slumped against Archie’s shoulder. “Worst case,” Archie said, “the girls will send a search party when we don’t show up tomorrow. Maybe sooner.”

Jug’s weight grew heavier.

“Hey, no,” Archie jostled him. “You have to stay awake. If you pass out, you might never wake up.”

“So tired,” Jug slurred. “Can’t see right.” He started to shiver.

“Okay.” Archie forced him up on his own strength. “You sit here, and I’ll start a fire.”

The wood was dry and, with some kindling scraped off the floor, it was a simple matter to start a fire. Then he pulled out every bit of clothing in the pack—a wool sweater and a knitted scarf.

“Hold up, buddy.” Archie sat down beside a groaning Jughead, wrapped the scarf softly around his neck, and then bunched the pack under his head like a pillow. “Rest here, but no sleeping.”

Jughead hugged himself and pulled his knees up a little against the chill, but the fire had caught and as Archie fed it another log, the room warmed several degrees. He double-checked that all doors were shut and windows closed or covered to hold as much heat inside as possible, and then Archie settled beside his best friend.

“Are you seeing better?” Archie asked, slipping an arm under Jug’s shoulders and drawing him in tight to his chest.

“Archie, you know how you always gave me your hand-me-down clothes?” he murmured.

“I was thinking about that too,” Archie admitted. “What about it?”

“…embarrassing.”

“You were embarrassed?” Archie curled one leg over Jug’s, trying to keep him warm with his body heat. “I never knew that. We just knew you needed them. We wanted to help.”

“I don’t need your charity,” he grumbled even as his right hand crawled across Archie’s chest.

“I wish you didn’t think of it like that.”

“You kissed me,” Jug mumbled. “You’re always trying to help me.”

As his friend’s voice trailed off, Archie shook him awake despite the anxiety brewing in his gut. “The kiss?”

Jughead whined a little, but his eyes opened. “I didn’t want you kissing me out of some stupid sense of charity.”

Wow. That had been an incredibly lucid sentence considering Juggy’s head injury.

Archie twisted to see into his face, not yet swelling thanks to the cold weather, but turning red, pink, and purple. “I didn’t kiss you because I felt sorry for you.” Somehow it was easier to say these things when they were alone and Jughead probably wouldn’t remember it anyway. “I kissed you because I’m in love with you.”

He gave Juggy a friendly squeeze. “Besides, it doesn’t matter. Nothing is going to happen between us.”

Jughead sighed. “About that…”

Archie frowned down into his best friend’s face. “What?”

Jughead closed his eyes and his head rolled against Archie’s chest. “Hey,” Archie said, shaking him. “Stay awake. You were saying something?”

“I might’ve changed my mind,” Jughead mumbled, his eyes fluttering tiredly. He parted his lips and fell asleep.

“Hell, no,” Archie complained, forcing Jughead up and into a sitting position. “You can’t say something like that and then pass out. I need more than that.”

Upright, Jughead seemed to wake up a bit. “Archie,” he said, still squinting past his injured right eye, “I haven’t stopped thinking about you since that kiss.”

“Uh.” Archie pulled Jug’s jacket a little tighter around his shoulders. “Where is this coming from? Why are you saying this now?”

Jughead quirked what may have been a smile. “I don’t want to die without telling you I think I’m in love with you, too.”

Archie froze, his fingers tight on Juggy’s jacket. “What did you just say?” “I want to kiss you again,” he added.

Archie huffed a startled laugh. “Now I know you’re concussed.”

Juggy leaned in close. “I’ve been thinking about you and thinking and thinking and…”

“Okay.” Archie lost the hope he’d felt. Juggy was out of his mind, hardly making sense. “That’s a lot of thinking.”

“Kiss me.” Jughead made a sloppy attempt at a kiss, but Archie caught him against his chest instead.

“I have a little more dignity than that,” Archie said. “Not much, but a little more. If I’m going to kiss you again, I want you to be fully conscious. I’m not into taking advantage of the weak and sick.”

“Not,” Jug mumbled against him.

“Sure, buddy,” Archie chuckled. “Rain check, though.”

“Later,” Jug agreed. “Tomorrow.”

“Yep, tomorrow.”

They spent the rest of the night holding each other against the cold, and

Archie trying and mostly failing to keep Jughead awake and talking. The first time Archie saw one dash of service on his phone, he texted Betty. Before an hour had passed, the scream of sirens was chasing him up the mountain.

#

There was no kiss “tomorrow.” Jughead needed serious recuperation. He spent nearly a week in the hospital having his head shaved and stitched together. At one point, they were going to drill a hole through his skull to drain blood, but they didn’t need to, in the end.

No one blamed Archie more for what happened to Jughead than Archie did. He’d walked away from the accident with nothing more serious than bruises and scratches. Jughead, on the other hand, hadn’t been so lucky. Aside from the serious concussion he’d suffered, his right eye was so swollen and abused the doctors weren’t sure he’d be able to see out of it. His right shoulder was dislocated, and he had a hairline fracture in his right hip that was intensely painful. Jughead lay in a daze in a hospital bed looking fragile and pale for days.

Though Archie had visited every day to check on him and talk about the subjects Jug was missing at school, there was something rough between them that Archie could feel in the air. He wasn’t sure if it was their kiss or their conversation about their kiss, but something had changed between them and Archie didn’t like it.

Archie got a text on Friday after school that Jughead was being released. Since his dad and F.P. had already decided quietly that Jughead would be more comfortable recuperating in the Andrews house for at least a few days, Archie rushed home from practice to be there for his dad and his best friend. When he pulled up to his house, F.P.’s truck was parked behind his dad’s and the front door was wide open. Archie took the front steps at a run.

“Dad?” he called.

“In here.”

The den had been transformed into a sick room complete with tub of first aid supplies and prescription bottles. His dad had put Archie’s old twin bed back together and squeezed it in between the TV and the pair of easy chairs. Jughead was already curled on it, his sweatpants and T-shirt too big for him. He wasn’t sleeping, but he had an arm over his eyes as if the lights hurt.

“Thanks again,” F.P. said, thrusting his grease-stained hand at Fred. “I really appreciate this. I owe you.”

“It’s not a problem,” Dad assured. “Jughead’s family.”

F.P. continued spouting thank you’s as he and Fred ambled out into the foyer. Archie, not wanting to annoy Jughead any further, ducked his head to leave.

“Archie?”

He turned and made eye contact with Jug who had raised up on one elbow. “You need something? You feeling okay?”

Jug quirked a tired smile. “Always the hero.”

Archie wasn’t sure how to respond. Was Jughead teasing him? “Fine. Whatever.” He tried to leave.

“Arch, wait.”

Sighing in frustration, Archie turned back a second time. “What?” he said with a definite tone.

Jughead stared, his eyes flickering over Archie’s face. “Why is it like this?”

Archie said the first thing that popped into his mind. “You’re not going to remember this, but you asked me to kiss you when we were stranded in the cabin. Ever since, things have been weird.”

“I remember,” Juggy mumbled.

Not sure if he’d heard him correctly, Archie checked over his shoulder to make sure his dad would be busy talking to F.P. on the front stoop for a while and then crept closer to Jug’s bed. “What did you say?”

Juggy slumped flat onto his back. “I remember what I said in the cabin.”

“You do?” Butterflies fluttered up from his stomach, and he sat uncertainly on the edge of the bed.

“Yeah, and I’ve been trying to get alone with you ever since,” Jughead admitted, “but there’s always someone around. My dad. A nurse. Whoever.”

Archie’s eyebrows popped skyward. “You’ve been trying to get me alone? That’s insane because it felt like you were trying to get rid of me.”

“I wasn’t.” Jughead gave him a look. “I smashed my head against glass and metal. It’s possible my signals aren’t transmitting correctly.”

Archie grinned, but it slipped away when he saw Jug’s bruises and scars again. “Why get me alone?” He gingerly touched Jughead’s injured eye, not so swollen but sort of greenish and purple, and felt the now familiar kick of guilt.

“God,” he ground out, snatching his hand away and fisting it tight. “If only I’d been paying attention. If only I’d swallowed my pride and left when the girls did. If only I’d protected you better.”

“Hey.” Juggy placed a hand on Archie’s fist. “It’s not your fault. If anything,

you helped save my life keeping me warm and awake all night. The doctors implied I could have died from a brain hemorrhage.”

Archie stared at Juggy’s hand on his, and he started to shake. He’d been in love with his best friend for so long… He didn’t dare hope his friend had any similar feelings. And yet, Juggy had confessed to thinking about him. Could it be true?

“Why did you say those things in the cabin?” Archie blurted out.

Jughead did not remove his hand, but leaned in. “Because ever since you kissed me, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. And not friendly thoughts. I mean, I’ve been thinking about your chest. About your mouth. About your hands.” He laughed huskily. “Your hands, for God’s sake. I’m obsessed with your hands, how big they are and rough.” As he spoke, he massaged Archie’s hand. “Yet gentle. The knuckles, the nails. Haven’t you caught me staring?”

“No.” Archie chuckled at the absurdity. “Not at all.”

“I think about you touching me with your big, rough hands,” Juggy said softly. “Can you do that for me?”

Archie’s mouth went dry, and he shifted. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, of course.” He resettled on the edge of Jug’s bed and took a deep breath. He brushed his knuckles softly across Jug’s left cheek. His friend’s eyes fluttered closed, and his lips parted. Archie rubbed back and forth across Jug’s freshly shaven and bristly hair, but his eyes were on Juggy’s mouth. Slowly, he trailed his hand down the side of his face and finally rubbed the pad of his thumb across his friend’s plump lower lip.

Juggy’s eyes popped open and his hand snaked out, grabbed the back of Archie’s neck, and dragged him down to his lips. The kiss was sweet and soft, a tender press. But with Jughead’s scent and skin all around him, Archie was slowly losing control. He tilted his head, and the kiss became more desperate. A nip of teeth, a nudge, and Archie licked inside Jughead’s mouth.

Surprisingly, Jughead didn’t get spooked and pull away. Rather, he raised both hands and curled them in Archie’s shirt, keeping him locked in place. One of his legs bent and the knee rested intimately against Archie’s ribs.

This may have been Jughead’s first boy kiss. Archie wanted him to enjoy it. God, he wanted him to love it

Archie took his responsibility very seriously. He shifted his weight so he could run his right hand over Juggy’s scalp and then nudge his thumb along Jug’s jaw and under his chin.

Juggy moaned appreciatively, and Archie grew so hard he feared he might come behind his zipper. He’d fantasized about this moment so many times, but never believed it would actually happen. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was. Then Juggy slid his bare foot around Archie’s thigh and locked it behind his knee, and Archie broke the kiss, panting and completely out of control.

“You okay?” he breathed.

Jughead took his face in both hands and stared at him with fathomless eyes and a kiss-swollen mouth. “Fantastic. You?”

Archie decided to be honest, but he couldn’t keep eye contact while he said it. “Uh, I’m hard. I’m afraid I’m going to come on top of you, and I don’t want to freak you out.”

“Really?” Jug’s eyebrows rose and he tried to see between them. Archie lifted his hips to give him a better look. “God,” Juggy hissed in appreciation.

Embarrassed suddenly, Archie flushed and rose to put space between them, maybe escape altogether, he wasn’t even sure. He just needed room to breathe.

But Jughead grabbed his wrist and yanked him back onto the narrow bed. He didn’t say anything, but he shoved Archie down flat and straddled him.

Archie froze, too excited and hopeful to move a single muscle and jinx it.

His gaze on Archie’s chest, Juggy slowly slid down his body until he was eye level with Archie’s throbbing cock. Jughead popped open the button of his jeans, and Archie hissed in a breath. Inexplicably lucid for a split second, Archie took Jughead’s hand and squeezed.

“You don’t have to do this. We could just kiss. Or talk. Or I could go….”

Jughead extricated his hand and pulled the zipper of Archie’s jeans down, and Archie lost all motivation to stop him. Lost all sense of honor. He stared down the length of his body, not wanting to miss a single second of Jughead between his legs.

Jughead wiggled Archie’s jeans down only enough to free his cock, and it bobbed against his belly, wet with precum. Archie fisted both hands, his toes curling.

And Juggy hadn’t even touched him yet.

When he finally did, it was with the tip of his tongue, and Archie’s hips jerked off the mattress. Chuckling low, Jughead took the crown into his warm, slick mouth and moistened it. Archie cried out quietly, a tiny slip of a whine. Jughead must have taken it as permission to inch-by-inch pull Archie’s length deep into his mouth and stroke.

Archie couldn’t hold himself back any further. The pressure in his balls was at the point of sweet pain. He jerked Jughead up by the collar and cupped his cock as ribbons of warm, white semen landed on his exposed belly.

Sleepy, spent, and happy, Archie just lay there for a second, breathing heavily, his hand loosely curled around himself. Juggy must have gotten up because he returned with a washcloth and wiped Archie’s belly clean. Archie roused himself enough to zip up his jeans, and then he made room on the bed for Juggy to join him as the little spoon.

Jughead slid into bed and settled his bottom in the curve of Archie’s body.

“I’m going to show you so many things,” Archie whispered into his ear. “So many ways to touch and love and taste. I’m going to take such good care of your body…”

He started to drift off to sleep, but he caught Jughead’s reply a moment before he fell asleep.

“Promise?”

Thanks for reading!

<3 Anna & Sadie

Like vampires, shifters, and cheap books? Join my monthly newsletter today. <3 Anna

“Say You Won’t Let Go”

“Say You Won’t Let Go”

Fan Fiction Written Sadie West

Short blurb: When Trevor stands up Ian Gallagher, Ian barges into his apartment to find out why. He discovers Trevor bleeding and fading in and out of consciousness after a brutal attack. EMT Ian to the rescue.

Three hours late. Three hours without answering a call or a text.

Ian Gallagher checked his phone one more time as he jogged up the stairs to Trevor’s apartment. Trevor would never stand him up and then go radio silent. He was too good a person for games like that.

Which made Ian think something was seriously wrong.

He pounded on the door. “Trevor?”

Ian knocked again, louder. The door opened, but the chain was on, and Trevor’s roommate Scott poked his nose into the crack.

“Where’s Trevor?” Ian demanded. “Is he in there?”

“Just go, man,” Scott pleaded. “The neighbors’ll call the cops if you don’t.”

“Trevor!” Ian shouted into the gap.

Scott put a hand on the door to steady it. A bloody hand.

“Whose blood is that?” Ian demanded, though deep down he already knew. “Why is your hand bloody?”

“Please,” Scott whined, glancing anxiously behind him. “Get out of here.”

“Where’s Trevor? Who’s bleeding?” Oh, fuck it. Ian backed up, took a breath, and shouldered the door open. The chain snapped and Scott scurried away.

“Trevor,” Ian called, heading for the man’s closed bedroom door. He didn’t wait for permission to enter, but whipped it open. For a worried moment, he catalogued the scene. That’s what his EMT training had done for him. A bloody victim meant a crime scene, and Trevor’s bedroom certainly qualified.

There were droplets of blood on the glossy hardwood floor, smears of red on the sheets and pillows, and curled in a fetal position amongst the messy bedclothes lay Trevor, looking improbably small and fragile.

“Trev?” Ian called more softly as he crossed the room in three long strides, his EMT training taking over completely. “What happened? What’s wrong?” He bent over the bed and checked for a pulse first and an airway second.

“Jesus,” Ian swore.

Trevor’s swollen and bloody face was almost unrecognizable.

It was one thing to see a stranger beat to hell and back while out on a call. It was something very different seeing the man he loved in such a state.

He needed to do something. He needed to fix this.

Trevor roused under Ian’s touch, and he woke with a jolt. He came off the bed faster than Ian expected, knocking him back a step and then throwing a wild punch.

“Get your hands off me,” Trevor screamed. “Don’t touch me!” One haymaker caught Ian on the jaw, and he stumbled into the dresser.

Ian tried once to hold Trevor by the wrists simply to keep him from hurting himself, but the moment Ian locked hands around him, Trevor went ballistic, smacking him hard.

Ian recognized what he hadn’t seen before. Angry red ligature marks circling both wrists and bruising around his throat. He’d been held down and with force.

Trevor hit Ian on every spot he could reach, but soon his pleas degenerated into desperate, “Don’t, don’t,” and his punches became little more than slaps.

“It’s me,” Ian said, blocking a half-hearted left hook. “Trevor, it’s Ian. Let me help you.”

Trevor dropped his arms like two dead weights at his sides, and then he hung his head and swayed dangerously to the right.

“Shit.” Ian caught him before he fell, capturing him against his chest.

Trevor’s head lolled over Ian’s arm, and Ian cupped the back of his skull. There was no way not to see everything they’d done to Trevor. His left side was the worst—swollen, pink, and still oozing blood—but a deep scratch bracketed his right eye as if his face had been ground into concrete. Gently, Ian lowered him to the floor.

Without even thinking about it, Ian went through his assessment protocol. He ran his hands through Trevor’s hair, sticky with blood, and then across his brow and cheekbones.

“No obvious fractures,” he murmured, briskly checking for a broken collarbone or serious injuries to the arms. He studied the bruises ringing Trevor’s wrists more closely. Definitely finger marks. Ian tilted Trevor’s chin gently one way and then the other. Finger-sized marks around his throat.

“You probably have a concussion,” Ian said, his voice husky as he attempted to remain clinical. Because if he started to think too emotionally about what Trevor had been through tonight, he’d lose it. Do something stupid. Something crazy.

“That’s why you’re disoriented and losing consciousness,” Ian remarked, shifting to continue his assessment.

The front of Trevor’s trousers had been torn open. One half of the broken zipper had been ripped free of most of its seam and the button at the top of the fly was missing. Ian brushed aside Trevor’s shirt with the excuse of checking his abdomen for signs of trauma, but he really wanted to assess fresh bruises on Trevor’s lower belly and the crest of one hipbone.

“You’re okay,” Ian panted, holding on by a thread. “Babe, you hear me?” He scowled into Trevor’s battered face. “Let’s get you back in bed.”

Crouching, Ian slid an arm under Trevor’s shoulders and knees, his boyfriend’s limbs dangling lifelessly, and carried him to the bed. He removed the only shoe Trevor still wore and covered him with a blanket.

Someone had done this. Probably someone Trevor knew. Ian bit back the rage insisting he find the perpetrators and murder them. Violently.

That was a task for a later date. Right now, Trevor needed him present, calm, and thinking clearly.

But Ian tossed those good intentions out the window as he sent the open bedroom door a hateful scowl over his shoulder before storming out of it. He grabbed a startled Scott by the shirt and slammed him against the nearest wall.

“What the fuck happened to him?”

“I don’t know!” Scott exclaimed.

“Bullshit. Tell me what happened.”

“I swear. He came in a while ago, falling and crying. I thought he was drunk. He tried to punch me!”

“When he comes home like that, you call me,” Ian ground out, driving Scott harder against the wall. “I’m an EMT, dipshit. I can help. You always call me if Trevor’s in trouble. If he has a runny nose. You call me first.”

Scott squirmed. “He made me promise not to.”

Ian tossed the mousy bastard aside and then gathered a bag of frozen veggies from the freezer and a washcloth before slipping back into Trevor’s bedroom.

He hadn’t moved an inch. Flat on his back, his face pulverized, he looked broken, and it made Ian sick inside.

Trevor was the best man Ian knew. He didn’t deserve this.

“Babe,” Ian said, bending over the bed. “I need you to wake up.” In the case of a head injury, Ian had been trained to keep a patient awake and talking as long as possible. “Wake up.” Using the moistened cloth, Ian gently rubbed dried and clotted blood from Trevor’s left eye.

Trevor woke with a start, a full-body tremor. “No,” he cried, striking out at Ian. Just as abruptly, though, Trevor curled in on himself, shielding his head with both arms and drawing his knees up until he was as small as he could make himself.

“Trevor,” Ian breathed, leaning over him while simultaneously trying not to crowd him. “It’s me. It’s Ian. Please look at me.”

After a moment, the muscles in Trevor’s arms unclenched and he turned his face toward the sound of Ian’s voice. “Ian?”

“Yeah, babe.” He deflated with relief. “It’s me. I’m right here.”

“Ian.”

Trevor reached for him, and Ian gathered him into his arms.

“They—they—” Trevor gasped, clinging to Ian’s shirt, his fingers talons. “No, they…”

“I know,” Ian said, kissing the top of his head and shifting on the bed to hold him even closer. “You don’t have to say it,” Ian assured. “I know. Trevor, I know.”

He cried then, deep, wracking sobs that shook them both. The kind of crying that scared Ian. The kind of crying that could break a person.

Ian held him through it, whispering soothing promises into his hair, massaging his back and shoulders. Slowly, Trevor’s breathing evened out.

“Hey.” Ian jostled him. “Stay awake.”

Trevor wiggled his forehead deeper into the crook of Ian’s neck. “Mmm head hurts.”

Without releasing him, Ian grabbed the bag of vegetables from the bedside table and pressed it to the side of Trevor’s face. He flinched.

“They’re not exactly frozen anymore,” Ian said, “but the cold will help with the pain and swelling.”

“Ian?” Trevor queried, as if he wasn’t sure.

“Right here, babe,” Ian assured. “I’m right here.”

Trevor relaxed into Ian’s chest, resting his full weight against him. “Don’t leave me.”

“I won’t,” Ian swore.

Trevor’s breathing deepened as his hands relaxed.

“Hey,” Ian said, pulling Trevor further into his lap. “Stay awake a little longer.”

“Tired,” Trevor groaned.

“I should call my crew,” Ian lamented. “You need to be in a hospital. You could have serious head trauma.”

“No.” Trevor sat ramrod straight, his hands grabbing at Ian’s collar. “You can’t.”

“Can’t what?” Ian asked, massaging his biceps and then his hands. He frowned into Trevor’s swollen eyes, particularly his left, and sensed Trevor wasn’t looking back. “Can you see me?” he asked.

As gently as he could, Ian opened the left eye, despite Trevor’s protests, to assess the damage. He knew what a detached cornea looked like. Or a blown pupil.

Trevor’s left eye was bloodshot, but appeared intact.

“I can see you,” Trevor exclaimed, fighting back. “It’s blurry, but I can see, you fucker.”

Trevor swatted him away and lay down again, drawing his face into his knees.

“Keep the veggie bag on your left side,” Ian told him. “It’ll help.”

Ian stood from the bed trying to figure out what to do next, how to help Trevor, how to support him. If he called the cops, they’d take Trevor to the hospital and examine him, exposing him as transgender. They’d want to complete a rape kit. They’d mis-gender him. They’d make him feel about as low and helpless as he’d ever felt as a troubled teen.

As an EMT, Ian’s first instinct was to call for help. As a boyfriend, though, his only instinct was to protect. Boyfriend Ian won out.

He kicked off his shoes and crawled into bed beside Trevor, purposefully leaving an empty gulf of rumpled sheets between them.

Trevor slid one hand away from his face, and Ian clasped it. He wouldn’t look at him, though.

“You know that DJ we like?” Ian asked softly. “She’s going to be at a club on Western in a couple weeks. I also heard she writes and performs her own stuff, too. Old-school country western songs. Can you believe that?”

Trevor’s voice emerged from under his arm small and muffled. “I thought the boots she wore were ironic.”

Ian chuckled. “Exactly. Me, too. But apparently, she’s a big fan. Though she’s the first country singer I’ve ever seen with gauges and a face tattoo.”

“I’m gonna need a tattoo,” Trevor said, “to cover up my new ground beef face.”

“Your face is gonna be fine,” Ian assured. “My brother Lip gets beat to shit at least once a month. Cold compresses and a combo of acetaminophen and ibuprofen work like a charm. You’ve seen Lip. Girls still dig him.”

“Ian, they…” Trevor’s voice wobbled.

Ian squeezed his hand. “Do you know who it was?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Good.” Ian would find them. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Lucky I’m dating an EMT, huh?”

No. Trevor had brought light and purpose into Ian’s life. Trevor made Ian want to be better. “I’m the lucky one.”

Trevor scooted across the mattress and snuggled into Ian’s arms. “You’re full of shit.”

Ian pulled him in close. “I may be full of shit, but my love for you is not.”

Exhaling and settling his cheek on Ian’s chest, he whispered, “Stay? Even if I fall asleep.”

“I’m not going anywhere, tough guy,” Ian promised. “Not now. Not ever.”

Thanks for reading!

<3 Anna & Sadie

Like vampires, shifters, and cheap books? Join my monthly newsletter today. <3 Anna

“I Only Have Two Hands”

“I Only Have Two Hands”

Fan Fiction Written Sadie West

Short blurb: Ian Gallagher is shot during a robbery at the Kash & Grab. While Mickey Milkovich tries to save his life, Ian relives important moments in their relationship. Set in the early seasons of Shameless (US).

Ian Gallagher hated the midnight to two a.m. shift at the Kash & Grab liquor store, but a lot of times his boss Kash liked it even less and so Ian often took his place. Kash didn’t care that Ian was sixteen, that he had school in the morning, or that Ian would much rather be sleeping.

Mickey Milkovich poked his head through the back door in a sleeveless, collared shirt with the word SECURITY on the breast patch. “Hey, you,” he called in his thick Chicago accent. “I’m gonna grab a smoke in the alley. Cover for me, will ya’?”

Ian shot the boy he loved a hopelessly romantic look. If it weren’t for Kash’s security cameras trained on him, he’d join Mickey in the alley. Ian shifted against the counter, tugging at his trouser front. It had been a while, and Ian wanted to sneak outside with him. Maybe, when Mickey returned, he could find the sweet spot under the counter where he was invisible to the cameras.

Deep in a graphic mental fantasy, Ian flinched when the front doors banged open and an asshole in a ski mask pointed a semi-automatic handgun at Ian’s nose.

“Open the drawer,” he demanded.

Ian stood in the bread aisle, frozen, while Kash fired a bullet into Mickey’s right thigh. Witnessing the young man he was crushing on knocked off his feet, yelling, and bleeding had no effect on Ian. Shock, he must be in shock.

Only when Kash approached Mickey, weapon still drawn, did Ian leap into motion and shield his friend.

Mickey’s thigh bled a lot, and Ian wanted to hug him so badly, to offer some kind of comfort, but Kash stood over his shoulder with the gun, and Mickey would never allow it. The fact that he let Ian touch his wounded leg was enough.

Ian began to shake. He fiddled with the buttons of the cash register, fumbling the mechanism. Ironically, the wannabe criminal on the other side of the counter was steady as a rock.

“There’s not much.” He wadded up about forty dollars—the entire contents. “Only enough for, uh, change until we close.”

Mickey better stay outside and smoke a second cigarette. If he walked in on the robbery, his temper would get him shot. Again.

The robber snatched the cash and shoved it into his pocket. “Fuck you.” He pulled the trigger.

It all seemed to happen at once—the gun popped, pain exploded across Ian’s abdomen, and he flailed into a rack of liquor bottles and cases of cigarettes.

“No,” Ian begged, a little too late.

Full, glass bottles of Crown Royale, Jack Daniels, and Grey Goose rained down upon his head.

Pain blew away as if caught in a stiff wind as darkness descended. Light dimmed. Ian blinked once, and Mickey cupped his face, his hands impossibly warm and rough against his oversensitive skin.

The air stank like alcohol.

Ian tried to ask, What are you doing here? There’s a creep with a gun. He’ll hurt you. But, “Whuyaaa?” was as far as he got.

“Shut up, dummy,” Mickey said, smiling past a sheen across both eyes. “It’ll only make you bleed out faster.”

Mickey grasped his hand, and Ian clung to him.

Though Mickey was out of juvie and Ian had seen him a couple times, they hadn’t been together yet. Ian snuck into his yard and scratched at Mickey’s bedroom window until the boy he loved slid it open.

“What the fuck do you want?” Mickey stood on the other side of the glass in nothing but boxer shorts.

Ian chipped paint off the wooden sill with his fingernail. “Did the bullet wound heal right?” he wanted to know. Then, on impulse, “Can I see it?”

“I don’t give a shit what you do.” But Mickey left the window wide open when he climbed back into bed.

Ian slid through the portal, landing gracefully on his feet. “What was juvie like?” he whispered. In the dim light, Mickey’s shape drew him like a magnet.

“Fucked up,” Mickey grunted.

Climbing into bed beside Mickey, Ian peeled the blanket off his lower body for a better look at his bare thigh.

Mickey lay real still, unnaturally still. “Yeah, you can suck me off while you’re down there, too.”

Ian couldn’t remember what the scar looked like, but Mickey tasted like clean skin and salt. It was his first time giving a blowjob, and afterwards he sprawled across Mickey’s chest, happy to doze for a few hours, but the other boy’s elbow caught him sharply in the ribs.

“Get the fuck outta here, asshole.”

Ian shivered as dark spots danced like fairies in his periphery. “Mick?” he slurred.

“I told you to shut up,” Mickey said, trying for levity but the tears in his eyes ruined the effect. “Why don’t you ever listen to me?”

Though Mickey was careful, when he lifted Ian’s upper body onto his lap, it hurt. The lights dimmed once more, and Ian may have passed out for a second because Mickey was shaking him and shouting again.

“Stop,” Ian complained. He blinked the shadows away. God, he was weak. He couldn’t feel his arms anymore, though he suspected his fingers were still locked between Mickey’s.

“The cops’ll be here any minute,” Mickey promised.

Ian gazed down his torso at the bloody wound in his belly. “…dying…” Weird, how it didn’t hurt anymore.

“You’re not fuckin’ dying,” Mickey snapped. “They’re gonna patch you right up.”

Ian blinked, and the world went dark and silent. As quick as flipping off the light switch. Mickey moved his face directly in front of Ian’s nose, jostling him. The floor tilted dangerously off balance, and Ian tumbled through a black hole.

Lights flickered as people in scrubs spoke rapid gibberish across Ian’s torso. His whole body jerked like stepping off a curb in a dream. Someone touched his arm roughly, possessively.

“Mickey?” he mumbled, searching through the haze. It had to be Mickey. No one else grabbed him the same way.

The dugout at night was a quiet, creepy place that smelled a bit like beer and urine.

“Don’t get any weird ideas,” Mickey greeted. He was always angry, always hating someone. It excited Ian, who couldn’t hold a grudge. Being with him was like being in the eye of a storm. Ian never knew, from day to day, if he’d experience Mickey’s fury or his protective side.

“Oh, yeah?” Ian shot back. “About what?”

Mickey grabbed him by the arms and forced him to sit, knees splayed, on the ancient wooden bench. “This doesn’t mean anything.”

His pants and briefs slid down and Mickey buried his face between his thighs before Ian fully appreciated the gesture. Mickey liked getting fucked. He’d never returned the favor before.

Is that all it was? A quid pro quo between fuckbuddies?

But then Mickey palmed his balls, and Ian didn’t give a shit why.

Doors and room numbers floated past, but where was Mickey?

Ian heard the words surgery, chances, and wait. Still no Mickey.

“I’m right here, Ian.” Mickey never called him Ian. He called him shithead, dummy, fucktard, and sometimes Gallagher. Never Ian.

He opened his mouth to call for him again when the walls stopped speeding past and something sharp pricked the back of his hand. He sank down through the gurney, through the floor, through the earth itself.

His age be damned, Ian loved to party. His fake ID gained him entry into every dance club on the south side. Mickey preferred a quiet beer at home. Some pot, maybe. He rarely even visited a bar.

So, between the booze and the pills, Saturday night was veering left fast. An older guy pestered Ian right out the exit door. When he stumbled out of the club and fell somewhere down the street in the literal gutter, he didn’t know what to do. If the creep followed him, he was helpless to fight him off. Ian liked fucking, but he wanted to be conscious for it.

Ian crawled out of the street and slumped against a brick wall, pulling his cellphone.

“Who the fuck is this?” Mickey answered.

“Mick,” he said, his mouth swollen and hard to control. “Come get me.”

“Gallagher?” he asked, sounding astonished. “Where the fuck are you? If this is a dumbass prank…”

“I can’t get up,” he whined. “There’s some creep…”

Mickey’s voice, when next he spoke turned serious. “Tell me where you are.”

“…street,” he breathed. “Club Smash…” His eyes drooped, and the phone must have fallen from his numb fingers because he never caught Mickey’s response.

When Mickey arrived, though, he wasn’t quiet or polite about it. He flung Ian against the sidewalk and kicked him in the ribs.

“Is this your idea of a good time?” he demanded. “Flirting with perverts and passing out on the street?”

Ian started to cry.

“You’re a fuckin’ disappointment,” Mickey swore. “Get up.”

He couldn’t.

Mickey pulled him roughly to his feet and supported him on the walk to his pickup.

“I’m sorry,” Ian whined.

“You scared the shit outta me,” Mickey replied, thrusting him into the truck. “I thought I was gonna find you stabbed and raped, you stupid bastard. Why are you out here alone?”

Ian leaned his head against the cool window glass and closed his eyes. “No one to go with.”

“Next time you wanna party, I’ll go with you,” Mickey said, starting the truck. “You need a fuckin’ chaperone. Might as well be me.”

Ian woke like rising from the depths of the community center pool. First, consciousness returned in pieces before he began to flex his limbs. Finally, his vision cleared enough to recognize the person beside him.

Across the narrow hospital bed, a sleeping Mickey balanced on the very edge, not an inch of him disturbing a single spot on Ian’s body. It looked uncomfortable.

“Mick?” His voice was raw and throaty.

The sound roused the other boy, who whipped his head up.

Their eyes met, and Mickey hovered over him, his face a mask of anxiety and grief. “Can you hear me? Are you awake?”

He nodded because his voice was trash.

Mickey hadn’t tried to touch him yet, not so much as a pat on the shoulder. Probably, he stupidly worried about hurting him.

Ian made the first move, laying his hand on Mickey’s. The touch seemed to revitalize him. Mickey’s features softened, and his chin wobbled.

“Is that really you?” Mickey asked. “Cause you’ve been opening your eyes now and then, but no one’s home.”

Just how bad was it? “It’s me, Mick,” he promised. “Am I dying?”

“No, shithead. You’re not that lucky.”

Things must be okay if Mickey was insulting him. Ian eased deeper into the thin mattress. “Did I get shot?”

“Shot, yep.” Mickey relaxed, too, curling around him. “And your head got split open.”

“The bottles?” Ian asked, sort of remembering all that liquor bombarding him when he fell into the shelf.

“Mmm-hmm.” Ian shifted positions, and Mickey laid his head on his bicep.

“Were you worried about me?” Ian teased. In truth, Mickey’s shared body heat and the weight of his arm was lulling him back to sleep.

“Hell, no,” Mickey said, one thumb rising to tenderly stroke his cheek. “I just didn’t wanna have to tell Fiona her no-good brother died.”

Ian smiled as his eyes fluttered closed. “I love you,” he murmured.

There was a sharp intake of breath and then silence. Ian withdrew his arm and lifted his head to see into Mickey’s face.

Too soon, Ian thought. He’d fucked up and said it too soon.

Mickey bit his lower lip and then shifted around as if he couldn’t get comfortable. After clearing his throat, he blurted out, “I love you, too. Now, shut up and go back to sleep. You’re supposed to be resting.” As he said it, he pulled Ian’s arm back around his ribs. “Dummy,” he breathed into his chest.

“Douche,” Ian whispered back, resting his cheek against the top of Mickey’s head. The corners of his mouth turned up, and he fell asleep.

Thanks for reading!

<3 Anna & Sadie

Like vampires, shifters, and cheap books? Join my monthly newsletter today. <3 Anna

Disneyland for New Year’s

Disneyland for New Year’s

My hubby, daughter, and I had the time of our lives at Disneyland Park this year! We hit Smuggler’s Run, all of our favorite rides (all 4 “mountains” and Pirates of the Caribbean) plus a few more just for fun (Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride!).

1st sighting–Anna and daughter with Pluto!
Anna ran into the Mad Hatter on her way “off planet.”
Anna and family entering Galaxy’s Edge
Galaxy’s Edge and Smuggler’s Run were so immersive, it felt like I was living inside one of the Star Wars movies. It was so amazing! I loved every minute.
Just so you know, blue milk is a coconut milk blended beverage more like a smoothie than plain cow milk. Yum yum!
Ponchos or not, we still got soaked!
Dinner at dusk in New Orleans Square.
We teased my 15-year-old that this counted as her first driving test. (P.S. she did great!)

<3 Anna

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https://forms.gle/mAmFQYSMiv8jGbGb8

Thanks! <3 Anna

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Enjoy this Free Red Plague Sneak Peek PDF full of excerpts and extras!

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