Title: Jungle Taketh, Jungle Giveth
Length: One-shot; 1,002 words
Prompt: livejournal ha-prompts: Set Six; Prompt C.) empty-handed
Disclaimer: Hey Arnold belongs to Craig Bartlett. I don't get paid for this, I only get a sense of accomplishment.
Summary: It's been nearly two years since they've heard from Arnold, but they aren't about to leave San Lorenzo empty-handed.
A/N: I won't lie, I'm kind of unsure about this one. Part of me doesn't even want to post it. I have to let it go, though, so I can focus on new stories. Big thanks to Elphie7 for the beta!
Jungle Taketh, Jungle Giveth
by Blonde Cecile
"And they sing the same old song
Though it's been so very long
They sing, raindrops keep falling on my head
But that doesn't mean that I am dead."
- Raindrops, Regina Spektor
Gerald finds strange comfort in the engine's steady hum. The ride is rough and bumpy (Helga clutches the seat so as not to knock sideways into him) and foliage smacks the side of the jeep in merciless welcome.
This is it. They're finally doing it. He peers into the jungle as if expecting to see Arnold healthy and whole and happy to see them, but all Gerald sees are leaves bending beneath the weight of rainwater.
Their guide Ricardo drives them into a small clearing, where the sprinkling rain reaches the ground faster. He stops the vehicle.
"Why are we stopping?" Helga demands.
"Road ends," Ricardo says, stepping out of the jeep and slamming the door behind him. "We walk now."
The air is hot and heavy but Gerald isn't dragging his feet yet. He watches Helga four steps ahead of him and wonders (not for the first time) how he ended up here with her of all people. He shakes his head and smirks, also not for the first time.
Amidst the jungle noises, there is a particularly loud racket from above them in the trees. They all pause to look up -- some movement suddenly causes a torrent of water to come gushing down.
It soaks her already damp head and shoulders and Gerald's smile becomes full-on laughter.
"Such things happen," Ricardo says blandly and keeps walking. Gerald moves after him, past Helga. He barely has time to let the smile slip from his face when a handful of mud meets the back of his head.
"Whose laughing now?" Helga mocks in triumph, stomping past as the mud trickles down his neck.
"You guys don't have rats here, do you?" Helga asks, keeping her flashlight aimed at the ground around her.
"Of course," Ricardo replies, and Gerald sees Helga's shoulders scrunch up as she shudders. He's about to sneak up on her and make squeaky rat sounds but is distracted when the passage they're walking down opens up into a large cavern. Light streams down from a breach in the ceiling and reveals primitive markings on the walls. And skeletons.
Human skeletons. Maybe four or five bodies worth, littered in curled-up positions, with only vague traces of clothes left hanging on them.
Helga turns away from them and locks gaze with Gerald. That determined look in her eyes makes him regret allowing her to come here in the first place, to be subjected to this; at the same time, he's thankful to be here with someone he knows. Her lips push together thinly and she moves to walk past him, away from the bones, but he grabs her shoulder.
"It has been over two years, Helga."
"He's not here. These are... Green-Eyed people. Arnold's alive."
But something hard in Gerald's gut makes him fear otherwise.
"You've got to be kidding."
The inside of the hut is cramped -- mostly because the solitary bed is occupying the majority of the space.
"I think it's the only spare hut they have," says Gerald. All the previous villages have had more extra space than this, but it seems the further they get into the jungle, the smaller the villages.
"Well, one thing's for certain," Helga says, dropping her duffle on the bed and pinning Gerald with a hard look, "We aren't sharing a bed."
"What do you want me to do -- go ask the chick with the giant nose ring if I can bunk with her? 'Cause it ain't gonna happen. Maybe you should find another place to sleep. I'm sure that bald guy in the grass skirt would like some company."
Helga scowls and rolls her eyes. Then, to Gerald's surprise, her face erupts with a grin. "Or how about the guy with the inch-thick eyeliner? Maybe he'll share some of whatever the heck he's been smoking."
Before they know it, they're making jokes and laughing too hard to care who sleeps where.
Later on, when Helga is frowning in her sleep a few feet away, Gerald watches her breathe.
Helga's hair clings to her face in the rain. "Arnold!" she calls out into the jungle. The jungle does not reply.
Gerald steps in ankle-deep mud and understands why the guide had dared not to venture further today. The forest is growing denser and Gerald isn't sure if there is even a path to follow anymore.
"Helga, we should go back," says Gerald as he yanks his foot free from the mud yet again.
"ARNOLD!" she screams again, louder, as though the louder she screams his name, the more likely he is to walk out of the forest unharmed. The rain has been falling progressively harder since morning and Gerald knows it's only going to get worse.
"Helga, c'mon!" he hurries to catch up with her, afraid of losing sight of her between the vines and leaves and rain. "Damn it, it's no use!"
He feels as though her desperation is making him just as desperate, only he's desperate to save her, not Arnold. He grabs her arm and holds tight (enough to bruise) because he can't lose her, not like this, not here. He buries his face in the wet hollow of her neck, unwilling to let the jungle have her. Slowly, her arms encompass him.
It's only when he feels her breath panting across his cheek that he realizes how close her lips are to his.
Gerald finds strange comfort in the engine's steady hum. He watches San Lorenzo shrink away through the plane's window, feeling higher than he thought he would.
Helga is quiet beside him with a magazine in her lap, looking at it but not reading what it says. She slowly realizes he's watching her.
"I... I told myself I wasn't going to go home empty-handed," she tells him softly, her eyes so blue he can almost see clouds in them.
All he can think to do is place his hand in hers and say, "Me too."
. t h e . e n d .
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