TJM spoiler warning!
I do not own Hey Arnold! or The Jungle Movie.
Chapter 1 - The Guide
The children's faces blushed a matching shade of fiery red. They had been caught, by Arnold's best friend and parents of all people, sharing a moment that Helga had been dreaming of for over seven years. She cursed herself for being careless, but then again, being interrupted during her most romantic moments was hardly anything new for her. At least this was a change of pace from Brainy's heavy breathing and blank, awkward stare. That being said, Helga cringed as she wondered which was worse; the smug, condescending grin on Gerald's face as he shook his head, or the amused cooing of Arnold's parents, as they gazed at each other knowingly.
"Ok, now I've seen everything!"
Hearing Gerald speak, Helga was trapped in a moment of internal conflict. On the one hand, she was furious at the sudden intrusion into an unguarded moment, not to mention hugely embarrassed. Her fists were begging to be put to use in wiping the smile from his face. Granted, she didn't feel it would be wise to give Arnold's parents the same treatment, but part of maintaining a reputation was leaving some witnesses alive to spread the word... On the other hand, her entire body coursed with electricity. Arnold had kissed her. KISSED! HER! A completely unscripted kiss that he initiated, no less! And if they hadn't been so rudely interrupted, who knows how long the kiss might have continued. Helga's heart was soaring in the unbelievable realisation that, after seven years of sneaking, spying, plotting and above all longing, one of her plans to have Arnold return her affections had finally, finally worked! And to think, all it took was thousands of miles of international travel, saving his life a couple of times, physically fighting an insane, bloodthirsty river pirate, waking his parents up from a nine-year sort-of-coma, and rescuing an entire dying civilisation! Had their current situation been different, her body probably would have occupied itself by singing and dancing for a few days while her mind worked on a few thousand new poems. But as it stood, all the girl could do was glance desperately in Arnold's direction in the hopes of some kind of escape from this awkward moment.
Arnold, of course, was going through his own panic, although he lacked Helga's gut reaction towards physical violence. He knew that it had hardly been the moment for an important, private talk – he was in a city filled with people who worshipped him as a god, plus his parents, after all – but he had never shared Helga's skill when it came to not acting on his feelings. And these feelings, whatever they were, were very strong. Being amazed by Helga, and being unbelievably grateful to Helga, neither of these were new; there were so many times that she had acted selflessly on his behalf, and just as many when he had glimpsed the impressive girl he knew she could be shining through (no matter how hard she tried to hide). He had spent a long, confusing year sorting through those particular thoughts. But the fear had been new. There had been too many times in the last day that Arnold had been faced with the reality of losing Helga forever, the most recent occurring as they clung to a ruined bridge for dear life (or in Helga's case, Gerald's back), and each instance had terrified him for reasons he was only just coming to understand. With all of this already bearing down on him, for her to then present her heart in a moment of utter vulnerability and return his parents to him, Arnold had simply been swept away. He wished that he had the words to express everything that the trip had meant to him, and that she apparently meant to him, but the kiss was to be a start. What had surprised him, when he stood holding Helga's hands and heart in his own, was that he wasn't nervous. As he leaned up and closed his eyes, he had realised that, somehow, he trusted her absolutely. The feeling of her soft, warm lips on his own seemed to set off a firework in his chest, sending warmth flooding throughout his body – that had been surprising too, in a very welcome if slightly overwhelming way. They seemed to fit together perfectly, their hands and their lips, leaving him to dimly wonder whether all kisses felt so perfect; he had nothing to compare it to, and he suspected that he didn't want to. He had planned on saying more once the kiss had ended, but the sudden interruption had temporarily robbed him of his ability to speak.
"Hey, Gerald. Hey... Mom and Dad," the words still seemed unfamiliar on his tongue, when he finally spoke, though he looked forward to getting used to them, "Helga and I were just, uh..."
"Getting caught in the heat of the moment!" Helga suddenly, loudly interjected, her choice of words making Arnold give a small cringe. "Yep, he was grateful that I basically saved his parents' lives, I was grateful that I made it through the last 24 hours without dying, both of us are more than a little dehydrated! I really wouldn't bother looking any further into it, Geraldo." The look she shot Gerald then was a strange combination of menacing threat and desperate pleading.
"Mmhm." Gerald simply regarded them with crossed arms and a thoroughly unconvinced expression on his face. He had seen entirely too much of the secret weirdness of Helga Pataki since this all began to believe such a flimsy excuse.
"Well in any case," Stella quickly came to the rescue, smiling sympathetically at the scrambling children, "you shouldn't wander off just now. There's going to be a celebration feast, and three guesses who's going to be the guest of honour." Arnold's blush refreshed itself at his mother's joking wink in his direction; he was still neither thrilled nor comfortable with being thought of as a deity.
"And apparently we've been force-fed mushed up fruit and roots for the last nine years, so a solid meal sounds just great to me!" Miles chimed in, a hand going to his stomach. It was a strange mercy of the sleeping sickness that the bodies of sufferers degraded so slowly, and that they and the Green Eyes could move at all after such a long slumber, but the illness had still left them all feeble. He was eager to rebuild his strength.
"What about the rest of our class? Don't we need to get back to them?" Arnold was concerned, still gnawed by guilt at placing his friends in their predicament. He had been relieved beyond words when Eduardo received word from his people, confirming that Lasombra's camp and his class had been secured.
"Your friends are being taken back to the city as we speak. I still can't believe you guys came here on a field trip!" Miles shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck, revealing the origins of Arnold's own nervous tic. "But it wouldn't be safe for us to travel back there at night. Eduardo can escort us all back by boat tomorrow." He withheld the additional reason; that Stella and himself needed time to recuperate before walking more than a short distance. How ironic that years of sleep could leave them feeling so exhausted.
With murmurs of agreement, the group began heading back in the direction of the crowd, Arnold and Helga nervously avoiding eye contact with one another. Helga was desperately trying to fight off the spiralling thoughts telling her that her excuse had been right on the mark; that Arnold was simply grateful for his parents and nothing more. But she held more hope for the two of them than ever before, and the lingering feeling of the kiss still made her feel as though she could fly. Arnold, meanwhile, was fighting his own frustrations; he was eager to continue their talk while he still had the courage, but knew they were unlikely to find a private moment for the rest of the night. Before long, though, both were swept into the celebration, enjoying a colossal feast of exotic fruits, vegetables and roasted pig (Arnold was grateful that Abner was nowhere around). The night air was filled with music, and the delighted hollering of children as they danced and clambered around their newly-returned parents' shoulders. Fires, which had been lit in enormous stone braziers throughout the city, bathed the festivities in a warm orange glow. Arnold, to his continued discomfort, was seated in a large, elaborate throne, the head of which was carved into his own likeness – he was quick to make Gerald promise that the entire 'Arnold worship' aspect of their adventure would never be spoken of again. Helga, of course, made a point of laughing derisively every time a nervous Green Eye approached to reverently lay some new offering at his feet, usually while chanting his name. Her private thoughts, though, were different as always, and it wasn't long before the girl was overcome by her long-standing need to monologue. She slipped quietly away, making sure this time not to be seen by Arnold, and secluded herself at the base of a enormous, moss-covered staircase of carved stone. On instinct, her locket quickly found its way into her clasped hands, to be held tightly to her chest.
"Ohh, Arnold. How many times have I thought of you as my football-headed love god? How many nights have I stood vigil, worshipping you in the secrecy of my own shrine? Of course it comes as no surprise to me, my love, that these people see you as I always have! And now, by your own lips, you have blessed me with hope that you may finally return my feelings of adoration, after so many years of pining in the shadows! You truly are divine, my darling." Her grin then widened at a fresh thought. "Plus, when we get married, I'll officially be a goddess – chew on THAT, Olga!"
Helga was snapped out of these happy thoughts as the crowd above suddenly became quiet, save for a few gasps and quickly-shushed mutters. Peeking back over the stairs, she quickly understood why; approaching Arnold was an ancient figure. His dark skin was pocked with liver spots, and carved deeply with a network of wrinkles, and his head was bald save for a few long, sparse strands of pure white hair. He advanced slowly, his gnarled hand holding a thick, ornate staff that thudded softly on the cobbled ground as he used it to support his weight. His green clothing, feathered collar and lush red cape identified him as nobility, of some sort, given the similar attires worn by the king and queen, but each item hung loosely from his wizened body. Despite all this, his grin was a mile wide as his sharp, shining green eyes remained locked onto Arnold. The boy looked to his parents in confusion, only to find that they, like the rest of the crowd had gently bowed their heads in quiet respect. All three children were mystified as the grinning man approached, fixated on the boy in the throne. As they looked on, the man painstakingly lowered himself on one knee, himself bowing at Arnold's feet.
"Ar-nold! I am honoured to be in your presence. Thank you – thank you for everything you have done for us!" The man spoke slowly and carefully, his accent thick, but Arnold was still stunned on hearing his own language.
"You... you can speak English? Please get up..." Arnold was more than a little relieved that he could at least understand the strange man, but hated the sight of the old figure on his knees.
"Yes. Miles and Stella taught me some of your language before the sickness took us all, just as I taught them some of our own. It is good to see you well, my friends." The last comment was directed at Arnold's parents, who approached him with a gentle embrace once the old man had risen to his feet.
"It's wonderful to see you too." Stella turned to her son. "Arnold, this is Tiukwí, the spiritual guide of the Green-Eyed People. He's been waiting to meet you for a very long time."
"Waiting is far easier when you are asleep!" Tiukwí joked with a youthful laugh. "But yes, I am very grateful to have the chance. I was already an old man when I felt the sickness begin to take me. I never thought I would wake again. But it seems I have been fortunate." Arnold flushed as the old man lowered his head in another bow, fortunately staying on his feet this time.
"I'm really flattered sir, and it's nice to meet you, but you don't need to bow to me – I'm just a kid!" Arnold prayed that he wouldn't cause offence, but seeing his likeness carved into the walls and being worn as headgear was more than unsettling; he had no desire to pretend to be something he wasn't. To his surprise, Tiukwí laughed.
"You are much more than you think, Arnold. I was there when you came into this world. After lighting the smoke that led Miles and Stella to our temple, I watched the jungle become consumed by chaos and fire. I saw your first cries bring peace to everything. All of nature was still. Even the volcano, the land itself, was calmed by your voice. Can you truly say that was normal?"
"Well no, of course not, but I figure it was just a coincidence..." Arnold persisted in his denial.
"Your parents said the same thing," Tiukwí was undeterred, "but they cannot see what I see. That is my gift; to see the energy that flows within and around us. Yours is a unique spirit, Arnold, and a powerful one. When I first saw you, as your parents brought you out of the temple, your spirit shone like the sun! It still shines now. Whether you believe it or not, your coming saved many lives then, just as it has done today."
The entire conversation was making Arnold feel queasy; he looked down, half expecting to see some kind of brilliant light shining from within, but all he saw was himself; thin arms and dirt-covered hands, skinny, scraped legs in a pair of plaid shorts. A child. He was just Arnold; a tired Arnold in desperate need of a shower, no less. He became aware that the rest of the Green Eyes were still watching the exchange with reverence, though he suspected none could understand what was being said. Feeling their gazes on him made his skin burn.
"So what, are you saying my man is some kind of superhero?" Arnold's eyes shot to Gerald when he spoke. Grateful as he was for the interjection, he disliked the eager gleam in his best friend's eyes – he could practically hear Gerald's storytelling mind composing a new legend for kid generations to come.
"Gerald!" He gave the boy a pleading look.
"What? It's cool! You can team up with Monkeyman!"
Tiukwí, meanwhile, looked slightly confused. "What is a 'superhero'?" He listened while a chuckling Miles did his best to translate, laughing heartily along with him once he finally understood. "You body is human Arnold, like the rest of us, but your spirit is one of..." he struggled to find the word, for a moment, "harmony. Far stronger than most. It is your calling to bring peace and unity; it is the core of your very being."
"Yeah, that's Arnold alright..." Gerald, who had been quietly nodding as he heard this, interjected once again. He shrugged at Arnold's dry glare. "Sorry man, but the dude's kind of got you in a box here! You know you always gotta fix everybody's problems."
"Because its the right thing to do!" Arnold was becoming desperate, not to mention frustrated. "It doesn't make me a god because I enjoy helping my friends out!" He calmed slightly when his father placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"What we might call a 'god' isn't the same for the Green Eyes, son. They don't expect you to control the weather or fly, or anything crazy like that." Arnold tried to ignore Gerald's dejected 'aww' on hearing this. "It's more that you're revered as a hero; their saviour. They believe that, when you came into this world, your spirit righted an imbalance that would have destroyed them."
Tiukwí's smile had taken on a sympathetic edge, finally acknowledging the boy's discomfort. "I do not mean to upset you, but it is important that you understand what you are. And your father is right; you are more of a hero to us now than ever before."
"But it wasn't just me!" Arnold insisted. "Gerald helped too, and the cure was really all thanks to Helga! Wait... where is Helga?" Distracted as he had been by the bizarre conversation, Arnold only now realised her absence, and he quickly starting to scan the crowd in confusion.
Helga herself had been equally rapt, her jaw having hung open throughout the exchange as she peeked over the steps. The notion of a hidden civilisation worshipping Arnold was one thing; far-fetched and incredible, but evidently true. But the idea of Arnold truly being some kind of 'god' or 'super-spirit', or whatever Tiukwí was trying to explain, was staggering. Somehow, hearing all of this had sent her into 'eavesdropping mode', and she now faced the awkward task of making her presence known. Trying to avoid seeming flustered, she scrambled towards the group.
"HERE! Uh, right here. Just stepped aside for some... fresh air?" She tried to ignore her friends' raised eyebrows at her weak excuse, and did her best to look nonchalant, her hands in her pockets. "So, what'd I miss?"
The sharp sound, followed by the rattling of wood against stone, drew every eye back to Tiukwí. The sudden noise had come from his staff, as it fell to the ground from his trembling hand. He was looking at Helga with an expression of utter, blank shock, his old eyes as wide as saucers and his mouth hanging open. He slowly began to take small, unsteady steps towards her, his legs stumbling and weak without his cane, his hand slightly outstretched in her direction. Helga instinctively took a nervous step back, finding herself to the side of Arnold's ornate throne. The rest of the group, along with the remaining Green Eyes, watched the scene unfold with concern, Stella quickly coming to Tiukwí's side to offer support.
"Crimeny, was it something I said? Back off, bucko!" Helga was disturbed by the man's behaviour. She desperately wished that he would say something, or at least blink!
Tiukwí stopped and rapidly babbled something in what the children recognised as the language of the Green-Eyed People, before shaking his head and taking a shuddering breath. "What. Is. Your name?"
"Helga. Helga G. Pataki. What's it to you? You got some kind of problem with me?" Unsettled as she was, Helga's suspicious and defensive instincts quickly kicked in. She was relieved, at least, that the man had ceased advancing in her direction. She was not, however, prepared for Tiukwí to drop once more to his knees. He spoke loudly, again in his own language, causing an outburst of gasps and murmurs from the crowd. Miles, Stella and Eduardo, those who understood what was being said, shared their own looks of astonishment, leaving only the children to share glances of lost confusion.
"HEL-GA!" Tiukwí suddenly called out her name, his tone filled with reverence that, before now, had been reserved for Arnold. The crowd quickly followed suit, chanting as they had done when Arnold first came to the city. "Hel-ga! Hel-ga! Hel-ga!"
All three of their jaws seemed to hit the floor, Arnold and Gerald now staring at an increasingly flushed and panicky Helga. She was the first to speak, the outlandish attention making her seethe.
"Arnoldo, what the heck just happened?!"
A/N I assumed for this fic that Miles and Stella spent some time with the Green Eyes before falling ill.
Hope you enjoyed - feedback is appreciated!