The Compromise:

Chapter 38: Blame it One Me

WARNING: Shortie McShort chapter. It gets better, though. Fanks.

"Kiss that girl, and I will shrink up.

And I will die, and I will think up

A thousand ways that I can hurt you.

And you will never touch my hand…"

"Kiss That Grrrl"

Kate Nash

Arnold woke the next morning with two immediate and gripping thoughts. The first that Helga was, at some point in the night, injured and drugged, and he and Lila managed to get her to the boarding house without any additional harm. The second; clearly the least shocking and disturbing, but a blow to the senses nonetheless, was that he kissed Lila.

Arnold decided to first focus on the former, knowing that too much thought on how the night ended would further his headache and deepen his guilt. The thought that Derek, a guy he barely trusted to begin with, went so far as to intentionally hurt Helga, in turn hurt him, and made him want to hurt Derek. At this point, Arnold was sure that if Derek wanted to see graduation, he'd have to have a remarkably good excuse for his actions, although Arnold couldn't one fathom that at all.

He was aware that attempting to explain anything resembling an explanation to Helga would be nothing short of difficult; she was too perceptive to see through any story he tried to conjur up in his mind, and too stubborn to let it rest. He decided to wait until she woke, to see how much she remembered if anything at all, and start from there.

In the recesses of his mind, he knew what happened. And he knew exactly why. But, after retreating to a vacant room in the boarding house, he tried saying it out loud and knew how transparent it sounded.

Lila jumped away from as if she were burned. She covered her mouth with both hands and he winced, noticing the distance they created between themselves and feeling the guilt wash over them, cold and bitter like the wave of an ocean.

Lila mumbled something into her hand, fueled half by frustration, and half from shame. Arnold immediately ran a hand through his hair, and stole a glance at Helga. He was already hating himself; the act itself was so incidental and momentary, but he couldn't find any way to excuse himself for it, but it was nothing compared to how much Helga would hate him. Any possibility of their forming a relationship would be shattered, and never repaired. Once someone lost Helga's trust, they never got it back.

Lila, on the other hand, looked entirely crushed. She turned to look at Helga, so sure in her mind that their chaste and seemingly innocent encounter was witnessed, that she was ready to face an irate Helga. Instead, she was almost shocked to see Helga, laying on her side, exactly as she'd been placed when they arrived. The look on her face was so peaceful and serene, that is was nearly impossible to feign, and Lila stepped closer to make sure that they were not all just dreaming. She brushed Helga's wayward bangs from her face and looked back at Arnold to assure him. Both were at least somewhat relieved that Helga didn't see anything, but the guilt was still present and heavy as fog on both of them.

"I think…" Lila began, her voice crackled, having been dormant for too long. "I'm going to stay here. To make sure she's alright by tomorrow."

Arnold mumbled something about a spare room downstairs, gathered a blanket or two from his closet and exited the room, leaving Lila with a short "Goodnight". Much was unspoken between them, and Helga as well, but it would have to be handled in the morning.

Stretching, Arnold slumped downstairs, and was immediately greeted by the smell of breakfast and the sound of dishes being moved around in the kitchen. It was a Monday morning, and surely enough, they all should have been in school, but he surmised that none of them was in a state to do so. Arnold entered, and smiled at the sight. Lila was practically juggling three pans over the stove, clad in his grandmother's apron, which read, "Happy Fourth of July!" in red, white and silver sequins. She didn't look like she really knew what she was doing, as she cracked and egg over one of the pans, and tilted her head to one side, as if confused. Arnold's chuckle from the doorway snapped her out of her reverie.

"Morning!" she said, excitedly, as if nothing out of the ordinary transpired between the two friends at all last night.

"Good morning. What…what exactly are you doing?" he asked, taking a seat at the table.

"Making breakfast…duh. I'm not sure about these eggs though." she said, absentmindedly.

Arnold smiled again, but it disappeared as soon as he was able to distract himself. "How is she?' he asked, somewhat gravely.

Lila stilled in her actions, and the only sound in the small kitchen was that of the eggs sizzling on the stove. Fine, I guess. Still just…sleeping."

"She hasn't woken up?" Arnold asked, sounding concerned.

Lila shook her head, and tried attending to the stove again, but did so, clearly distracted. Arnold took in her actions again, and noticed that although she was graceful, kind, a little silly, and undoubtedly beautiful, he failed to find himself entranced with her as he was in his youth. Nothing much had changed about her; maybe her knowledge of the world grew, but she was still Lila. She would always maintain those endearing qualities.

But she would never be Helga.

Moments later, when the two were walking up the stairs, carrying Helga's breakfast, the silence was once again broken.

"I'm really sorry about last night." Lila said, bowing her head a little.

"I should apologize too." Arnold said. "That was…last night was…"

"A mistake?"

Arnold couldn't bring himself to be offended by the statement, mostly because it was true. "It was. I'm sorry."

"It's okay. This doesn't change anything between us, but-"

"Helga." he said, wanting to rub the back of his head for the sake of habit. The situation was so tense and unreadable that it seemed neither party knew how to react. They both knew that at some point, the triangle would be truly formed, lines would be drawn, and Helga would have to know what happened, no matter how insignificant the two wanted the action itself to be. They knew not what they were going to say, but each took an audible breath before opening the door.

Upon opening it, they were too shocked to worry about what they were going to say, and were more concerned about what they would do.

Helga rolled her shoulders, discovering yet another mysterious pain. Her night was coming to her in disjointed, unorganized bits; seconds at a time, a flash of a face or room, or smell, and then disappear instantly. Focusing on them gave her a headache, and in the process she found the will to move, despite the signals her body was giving her. She first questioned how she made it to Arnold's room, but remembered that the route and room itself was nothing foreign to her. She didn't need much motivation to go there on her own, and decided to chalk that mystery up to her subconscious and maybe think about it later. She escaped the room the way that she normally came in: roof, fire escape, alley, sidewalk, and began walking to her desired location. Unless her sense of time was as warped as her train of thoughts, she knew it was Monday, but was not at all motivated to go to school. Whatever happened the night before was something she consciously pushed to the back of her head and until she wanted to address it, she would continue running (or in this case, walking) from it.

Her steps were cautious, and still held purpose. She was in a mood, triggered by what she did not know, but she knew where she needed to be to quell it.

"She was what?"

Arnold's eyebrows shot toward the ceiling. He most certainly heard Phoebe when she was incensed before, but not quite so loudly, and not with such force. Arnold held his hands out in front of him as he tried to explain. When he called Phoebe, expecting her to be in school, he was happy to find that she was fulfilling the remainder of her credit hours with tutoring. When he mentioned that he ha something important to tell her and that he required her help,. She called the session short, and agreed to meet him at her house.

"Lila said it was a mild sedative. But, yeah, she was drugged. More or less." he explained as Phoebe's eyes widened. He wanted to assure her that Helga was fine, but the truth was that he wasn't entirely sure of that himself. The last time he spoke to Helga, he trusted that she could take perfect care of herself without his help, and the result was detrimental. Another twinge of guilt ate away at him.

"Oh, he's going to get a mild sedative…" Phoebe muttered turning away from him, and sliding her old fencing sword from its sheath.

Arnold's eyes widened this time. "Phoebe….." he said, stepping back. Phoebe and Helga's bond went far back enough that they probably would kill for one another. "Before you kill him, I need your help." Phoebe seemed to calm at hearing that, and Arnold went on. "Lila and I brought her to the boarding house last night, and she was asleep until this morning. When we went to check on her, she was gone."

"Gone where?"

"We don't know. Lila's checking a few places, but she could be anywhere." he said, trying to stay optimistic. They wanted to rule out her going home, but Lila wanted to check there anyway. The school, Phoebe's house, her job, Break-The-Fast, were all options, He hadn't heard from Lila in about a half an hour, and wasn't sure where she was just yet.

Phoebe returned her sword to it's sheath and wanted it to Arnold, who took it clumsily. "Hold this." she said, walking past him. "Do you want to take my car?" she asked.

Arnold was scared to refuse her, and if Helga rubbed off on Phoebe as much as he thought, there was a better chance of their finding her if she was leading the way.

"Sure. Let's go."

Helga gripped her knees and bent her body at her waist. She couldn't figure out why she was so tired. Normally, a day at the studio would last for several hours, but after only two, she was panting, and sweating profusely. Her mind tried to drift to the night before; to piece together the events she wasn't sure even happened. From what she could understand, at some point she tried to retrieve her cell phone. She remembered seeing Derek and being confused. After that it was a flurry of voices, blurred vision, until she woke up in Arnold's room. Did something happen between herself and Derek? Between herself and Arnold? She shook her head, and stood upright, determined to get at least one of her pirouttes right. Her mind wandered to the competition coming up; it was two weeks away, and she knew she was vastly unprepared. Too many missed practices, and distractions left her bringing up the rear, and Rosso would not be happy about that.

"I should have known you'd be here."

Helga paused, and looked to the door, wondering why Lila was visiting her. The studio she normally practiced in was located in a less known part of town, and even when the school's studio was open, she still preferred this one, She never, however brought Lila with her.

Helga zeroed in on Lila's expression. It was a mix between relief, sadness and something else she couldn't detect. Her hair was slightly disheveled, and she looked tired, but still her normal, pretty self.

"Were you looking for me?" Helga asked.

"Yeah. You didn't wonder why you woke up in Arnold's bedroom this morning?" Lila asked, using a little of Helga's wit against her.

"How did you…"

"Helga, something happened last night." she said, calmly. "I took you to Arnold's house. Do you remember anything at all."

Helga furrowed her brow, trying to understand Lila and the ache that still dwelled in her head, only to intensify when she thought of the evening in question. "Of course I do." she lied. "Does it matter?" she asked, her frustration growing, but not necessarily at Lila.

"It does. You've got a headache, and probably a few other body aches. Are you hungry? You need to eat." Lila said, reaching her hand out. "I'll explain, I promise."

Helga jerked away, and Lila was visibly shocked by the action. "There's nothing to explain." Helga blinked, fighting off her headache more. Clearly something happened last night; something Lila was treading delicately on, meaning it was something bad. Helga was no longer surprised that her mind was blocking it. "I'm fine. I have to go." Helga strode past a still shocked Lila, ignoring the hurt on her face and making her way to the door.

"Helga! I need to explain!" Lila called, trying to keep up with her long strides, the task harder since Lila was so much shorter than her friend. She caught up enough to grasp her arm. Instead of pulling away, Helga whirled around, now confused, angry, tired, hungry, and exhausted. She stared at Lila until she caught her own breath and sighed.

"I…I'm sorry, okay? I just want to help." she said, pitifully.

"It's fine, Lye. I'm fine. I'll see you later." she said, trying to direct her anger away from her friend. Too much was lurking just beneath the surface of her memory. Too much to be sorted through at that moment.

"It was an accident." Lila murmured, almost to herself. She felt the beginnings of tears prick the corners of her eyes.

"It's okay." Helga said, somewhat reluctantly patting Lila's narrow back. "We'll talk, okay?"

Lila sniffed and rubbed her tiny red nose. "It was a total accident; you have to believe me. And he's just a sorry. It was…a total mistake."

Helga's brow wrinkled again. "What was?"

Lila's eyes momentarily widened. Somewhere in the conversation, she thought Helga really did remember the evening as a whole, her encounter with Arnold included. She managed to reveal something she wanted to tackle in a timely fashion with the grace of a newborn giraffe.

"I…it was an accident."

"What was?" Helga asked again, growing agitated, but keeping it under control, given Lila's obviously shaken state.

"Last night, I…we…me and Arnold, we…kissed."

And like that, Helga was flooded with flashes of the night prior, a searing pain behind her eyes and the coldest, most distinct feeling of heartbreak she could fathom.

Dear Antoinette's Laptop,

I would like to think we've had a good run. It's been…what? Two years we've been together? Good times, right? Apparently not. Laptop, you know what the drill is. It's November 15th. We update a story/stories; you know that. Don't play dumb. So, tell me, why last night, you decided to go crazy? You wanna make friends with a virus, that blocks out our Internet, Anti Spyware systems, everything. You wanna make me copy EVERYTHING I've put into you on discs so that I don't lose anything. You wanna keep me up until five in the morning, being foolish and warning me that every program on my computer is infected when it wasn't. Yeah, you and your little girlfriend Antivirus Action had lots of fun last night, didn't you?

Well, not anymore. She is banished from this house, as of right now. Yeah, you thought it'd be dandy, didn't you? Oh no. No Spyware, Not in MY house. Now, you sit on my desk for the rest of the day, and think about what a schtink birthday you've given me this year. Dumb computer.



J I didn't think I'd get this chapter out. It's not fantastic. I know that. But the next one should be. I might get around to updating something else tonight, but that's tentative.

Oh, and I wasn't lying. I'm 23. GAH. Someone open this jar or prunes for me.