Author Warning: This is a sad, depressing, tragic fic that I am writing because... I'm just in one of those moods. *Sighs* It's a 'What If' story, though, so please, don't freak out or anything. If you're going to read this, go all the way through, and I'll reward you for your bravery, trust me. Because no matter what, I just can't write a story with a purely sad ending. What's the point of writing something if it's just going to make people miserable or depressed? I even read one story where it paired up Arnold and Helga, and it was really long-winded and dramatic and so romantic... and then in the end, Helga woke up from her coma to find out that Arnold was dead. I cried for like an hour. It was such a well written story, it looked professionally written, so it had me hanging off every word... so when it said that Arnold was dead... I just wanted to die, right there. Why would anyone write anything like that? Why don't you just hand someone their favorite kind of cake, and let them get a BIG whiff of it, and then even let them get a little on their finger to taste... and then throw it out the window. What kind of a person does that? Well, I don't like making people sad like that, so this fic will have a more meaningful, dramatic ending with a well thought out moral behind it. Because this is what happens when I get depressed. So deal with it, and... and... *Sighs heavily* Just read.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything, okay?

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Too Little, Too Late

One-Shot

It had taken him so long to figure out...

So many hours of soul searching, of thinking so hard he thought his head would burst, of trying so hard to focus on feelings that he wasn't even completely sure he HAD...

But after about four months, twenty-two days, and eleven hours...

Arnold Shortman finally realized something he'd never thought he'd even think about in the first place... at least not this early on, anyway...

He was in love...

with...

Helga.

G.

Pataki.

It explained everything - The constant searching for the good in her, the dreams, the sweaty palms, how easily she was able to infuriate him, how easily she was able to make him feel so warm and happy, how everything about her just made him feel so... different.

It was different. How else was he supposed to explain it? His heart didn't just flutter when she was near - It pounded so hard in his ears he was afraid it would explode. His stomach didn't just fill up with butterflies - It felt so light, and tingly that he was sure all the butterflies in his stomach would cause him to actually float a few feet off the ground. He didn't just want to hold her hand - He wanted to actually kiss her... not on the hand... not on the cheek... But on the LIPS. That was probably the most new feeling of it all.

But all together - The sweaty palms, the heart fluttering and pounding, the butterflies trying to escape up through his throat, the sudden impulses to be overly affectionate with her...

He was in love.

He hated how corny that sounded, but no matter how cliche', he had no other way to put it... Well, if he wanted to be creative...

He was smitten. He was head over heels. He was over the moon. He was loopty-loop. He was madly in love. He was passionately, crazy in love with Helga Pataki!

Wow. That was even more painful than just saying he was in love.

But no matter how he wanted to put it, he was in love. Of course, when he first came across this discovery, he'd been completely shocked. Of all the girls to fall in love with... it just HAD to be Helga Pataki. Of all the girls... And it didn't make sense.

What happened to liking pretty girls? ...Well, Helga WAS pretty, beautiful, in fact, what with the blonde hair and the sapphire eyes and the pink and it was all just so...

A-Anyway, what happened to-to... being shallow? Yeah, that worked. He was shallow. When did he ever actually LIKE a girl genuinely for her personality? Lila - Well, he'd admit he did like some of the parts of her personality. But, though he didn't want to admit it, after a while... he'd just started conversations with her and asked her questions to keep her talking so he could stare at her. But he didn't actually listen. He supposed what she was saying interested him on some level, but somewhere down the line she'd just become pretty plain Jane. But she WAS pretty...

Wow. He really was shallow...

He'd never really thought about it, but he supposed he really was pretty shallow...

But it was different this time. Helga's looks wasn't what caught his eye. From the beginning, Helga had always been... charming. Very charming.

So she was a little rough around the edges. So what? He was too. Everyone had their flaws, right? Of course. And Helga was no different. She just made sure you didn't have to look hard at ALL to see them.

But from the start, he'd seen straight past it. Helga had always seemed so fake, artificial, plastic. Everything about her always screamed of dishonesty. Nothing she did was ever genuine. And no one ever really cared enough to notice, he guessed, because he often felt alone when it came to matters of Helga. No one ever quite saw what he saw.

No. Everyone else always saw a girl with a pair of overly used fists. A jerk. A first class, no good, self-centered bully.

But what he saw was someone who was... insecure, unsure, maybe even a bit afraid. She was just... scared, of something. Though he was never sure what of. But overall, she was just a frightened, defensive, insecure girl with a good heart. If anyone ever looked as hard as he did, maybe they'd see where he was coming from. Of course, he was never quite sure WHY he was so fascinated about his bully. He did always feel a bit possessive of her, in a different kind of way. Ownership. She was HIS bully. He was HER victim. There was a bond there, no matter what anyone said. A bond that you had to really squint your eyes to see, but it was there, nonetheless. He always cared about her on some level, and he knew she ultimately cared about him, in her own twisted sort of way. Though he'd never expected her to go beyond that.

Love.

There was a shocker. Helga Pataki... Self-proclaimed ruler of the Fourth Grade... Heck, of all PS118... was in love with him. HIM. Arnold. Of all the people for a person like HELGA to like, he was the apple of her eye. Though he would NEVER (And he did mean NEVER) admit it, he was a bit proud of that. He felt special. Helga Pataki had feelings for HIM. So unexpected, but so very flattering.

But he couldn't think like that.

No, instead he had to spend a few hundred sleepless nights to finally figure out WHY he was so freakin' obsessed with his bully.

He was in love.

Completely smitten. Head over heels. Over the moon. Loopty-loop. Madly, passionately, crazy in love.

Yup, still painful.

But still, the words rang true.

And he was really happy. Once he'd gotten past the denial, shock, more denial, even more shock, disbelief, intense fear, and ending with that big explosion of love sickness that came out once seven years of adoration finally got to the surface of his subconscious, he found himself feeling really, really happy. He could only imagine how Helga was going to react when he told her he loved her back. She was going to be ecstatic, probably. He was just sad he didn't realize it sooner. That was a full seven years down the toilet along with quite a few mini heart-breaks along the way. To think of all that they could have avoided sickened him. But he really didn't want to think about that. He was far too happy.

After all, he was in love.

Love, love, love, love, love.

Geez, he practically felt like skipping through some daisies or something. Gerald was going to be pretty horrified, but that was the least of Arnold's worries at the moment. The only thing he was worried about was...

Why wasn't Helga in school yet?

He'd shown up at school with a grin so wide it spread nearly full across his football shaped head. That hadn't happened in a LONG time, too. Arnold couldn't help it. He'd never had any luck with girls... ever! And now here he was, in love with someone he knew for a FACT loved him too and would never break his already tender little heart. He couldn't wait to actually SEE Helga now. He'd already figured the first thing he'd do when he saw her was pull her as far away from the rest of the student body as possible, pour his heart out, she'd swoon, and then he'd kiss her... nothing too dramatic, though. Just a tender, sweet little kiss that could start their relationship out strong for sure... Of course, a big, wet, passionate one probably wouldn't hurt too. The thought made the color rise in his cheeks yet again. It seemed almost every thought he had of Helga now caused him to blush.

But still, where was she? The bell would be ringing any minute.

And where was Mr. Simmons, too? He was supposed to be here BEFORE the students arrived. But neither were here.

Then again, he supposed he should be more concerned about Mr. Simmons' whereabouts than Helga's. Helga was almost always tardy. So that wasn't that big of a deal. But still, he was anxious to see her sweet, scowling (Soon to be smiling) face. He'd figured everything out over the weekend, so he hadn't gotten to see her since last Friday. So now on Monday, who could blame him for being excited to see her? He'd just figured out he loved the girl, for Heaven's sake.

The sight of a beautiful raven haired woman entering the classroom interrupted his thoughts, and he blinked, wondering who this strange woman was. Blinded by a very unintentionally restricted love, he didn't even notice that she was immensely attractive, and all the cat calls in the back row (All coming from Curly) only confused him more.

"Hello, class." The woman began with a hesitant smile. "It would seem that Mr. Simmons is out today. He had some important business to attend to. But that's okay, because I'm sure we'll have lots of fun!" The woman exclaimed spiritedly, the slight nervousness in her smile vanishing. She turned around, beginning to write her name on the board as she spoke, "And my name is Mrs. Idleberry, but you may all call me Mrs. Berry for short, if you wish." She turned around then, giving the class a stunning smile before turning to some papers on the desk. She looked through them a moment, before coming to one in particular with a smile. "Okay," She began, lifting the paper up so she could read loud and clear. "some announcements for today. Uh, yes, yes... Mmm hm. Okay, uh, it says here that today the cafeteria will be serving cat fish... Yeah, and mixed veggies and milk, of course. Also, according to the weather report, we may have to stay inside for recess today." Some groans were heard coming from around the class, but the teacher simply continued after patiently waiting for the groaning to calm down, "And it would seem that one student won't be making it to school today. It would seem she's gotten herself in some sort of accident and was put into the hospital just last night..." A touch of a frown touched the young educator's lips.

Arnold stiffened instantly, his half-lidded, bored eyes instantly shooting open. His hand was up in a mere instant.

Mrs. Berry looked up from the paper to see Arnold sitting there, an anxious look on his face and his arm as high as he could get it. "Yes, young man?" She questioned politely.

Arnold put his arm down, beginning to fidget with his fingers, his eyes shooting everywhere but the dark haired woman's face. "Yes, uh-um... Does it happen to say who?" He asked meekly, fearing her answer.

The woman blinked, concern showing on her soft features for a moment as she scanned over the information in her hand again. "Well, it says here that it's a female, fourth grade (Of course), ten-years-old, name: Helga Pata-"

Arnold was out the door before she could even finish.

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Arnold waited anxiously outside the waiting room, his grandparents on the way. He'd shown up an exhausted, sweaty, stammering mess, and the nurse had told him she couldn't let him in without a parental guardian. Which led him to where he was now.

Arnold twisted his clammy hands over and over, his feet twitching anxiously and his eyes focusing solely on the floor before him. The tile was a depressing, almost terrifying white, perfectly sterilized and straight. He didn't know if he liked that. It was too clean for a place where people died almost regularly. Too eerily perfect. No, it needed more colors! It-It needed more than just whites! It needed greens and blues and purples and pinks and-

Arnold gulped, his pulse increasing even more than before, which he didn't really think was possible until now.

What had happened exactly? What KIND of accident did she go through? Were they talking 'wetting the bed' accident or a car accident or perhaps a house fire or thunder strike or hurricane or a tree just randomly falling on top of her?

As more and more possibilities popped into his head, his throat was tightening more and more to the point that he was glad he was sitting in a hospital. If he just keeled over right now, it wouldn't exactly be a BAD thing, considering the location.

Oh, he just wanted her to be alright. He needed to see her. He needed to know what was wrong. He needed-

Loud, squeaky sobs broke into his reverie, and he jolted a bit in his chair at the suddenty of it all. Out of nowhere, Olga Pataki was sitting a few chairs away from him, her face buried in her hands and her feet nearly perched up on the chair with her. His eyes widened at the sight of her, the watery, squeaky words of 'baby sister' and 'why' and 'good people' being the only words he could make out. His eyes widened even more at that, his usually bright green eyes turning almost gray in horror. He sat up a bit straighter, leaning over towards her with wide, anxious eyes. "Ol-Olga?" He asked hesitantly, his own voice cracking a bit.

Her head snapped up, and he could see the dark, smudged mascara trails running down her cheeks, along with the tears still rushing down like waterfalls. She looked at him, sniffling loudly. "Y-Y-Ye-eeeees?" She asked, so squeaky and high-pitched, he had to wince, feeling too weak at the moment to mask it. Luckily, her vision was too clouded over with blankets of salty, gushes of tears for her to notice.

He swallowed, gripping his hands tighter. "Um, I'm a friend of Hel-Helga's," He began, cracking over her name. "And I heard she was here. Could you please, please tell me what's going on?"

Olga turned to him, with a frown so great he was afraid it was going to cut straight through the ends of her face and fall off completely. She sniffled, some unattractive squeaks coming out for a few moments before she was finally able to form a coherent (Enough) sentence. "Hel-Hel-Hel-" She hiccuped, continuing on, though, despite it, "Mum-Mummy and Dad-addy got into a fi-fight, so they didn't notice when Helg-g-ga went outside. She was all alone on the str-str-streeeeeeeeeets!" She almost whined out the ending, an entirely new set of tears already underway. "And there was this nasty mug-mugger, and he beat her up-up, and when she tried to get home on her own, she-she couldn't do it! She was trying to cross the street, but she stumbled, and she-she f-fell, and then there was a car coming, and-and, she just couldn't do it! She got hit, and now-now-now she's-she's... she's..." She couldn't take it, she burst into violent sobs, burying her face into her hands again and shaking erratically.

Arnold's face had become paler and paler as she'd gone on, and by the end of her story his normally slightly tanned face (Due to so much time being spent outdoors) was nearly ash white. His breathing had become even more irregular, and his hands were shaking slightly. This was a nightmare. A true nightmare. He tried to gulp, but he'd found that his mouth had gone dry. So he just took as deep a breath as his lungs would allow, and asked, "She's what, Olga?"

Olga squeaked in response, over and over, trying to get it out in actual English. After several squeaks later, her answer finally came out, "She's dying. Th-The doctor's said they can't do anything. She's really gonna d-d-d-d-d-d-d-" Her emotions got the best of her, and before the word could leave her lips, more squeaks and sobs erupted from her mouth simultaneously.

Arnold froze in his actions completely, his hands no longer rubbing over the other, his legs no longer twitching in anxiousness, his eyes no longer moving about, as if searching for Helga coming around the corner to announce to him it was all one big joke. He was completely frozen, heart beat, lungs and all. He suddenly felt numb, completely numb to the world. He couldn't handle it.

He stood from his seat, trying his best not to simply freak out right then and there, and asked Olga if he could see her, which after a few minutes of squeaks, he finally managed to get her to show him to her room.

And that was where he saw her.

Battered up, bruised, stitches, casts, and all for not. It looked like her spine might even be broken by the way she was slouching in that bed. Big Bob and Miriam had gone home to get Helga some things at her request, so he had a few minutes with her.

He sat at her bed side, feeling sick to his stomach. She looked so lifeless. Her eyes were open, and every now and then she would blink, but other than that, all she did was lay there, unmoving. Her skin was pale and cold looking, her hair a bit frizzy but overall still golden and beautiful, her eyes half-lidded as she looked at him with those blue, emotionless eyes. She formed a weak smile, though it only flashed across her face for a second. "Arnold..." She muttered, staring at him with a small hint of confusion.

He regarded her with a sad smile, feeling his heart crumble at the sight of her looking so broken.

She nodded her head slightly in recognition, her eyes a little more open now. "I was trying to go to your house to talk to you..." She muttered faintly, just loud enough for him to hear.

He looked up at her face, seeing she was serious. He blinked. "You were? When?"

Helga's eyes clouded over for a moment, before clearing back up and looking him in the eye. "That night... My parents wouldn't shut up... and I was sick of it... So I tried to go to your house to talk or something..." She shrugged weakly, wincing visibly in slight pain of the simple action.

Arnold frowned a bit, his eyes going downcast and a few tears beginning to catch in his eye lids. "You shouldn't have done that... You should have stayed at home where it was safe. It's not right for a nice girl like you to go wandering the streets so late."

Helga laughed faintly, shaking her head gently. "I really didn't care at the time... I just wanted to get out of there." She rasped.

Arnold frowned, her voice sounding a bit forced. Maybe he really shouldn't be talking to her like this. He licked his lips, scooting his chair closer so he could lean in on her bed a bit to look at her face. She stared back, looking lightly surprised by his actions. He just smiled. "I..." He began softly, running his fingertips along her own softly, his emerald eyes intent on the simple action. "I was just wondering..." He laced his fingers with her own, now looking her in the eyes again, as they seemed to be the only part of her body that didn't sustain damage. "about FTi..."

Helga's expression seemed to stiffen slightly, and the hand in his tensed. He gave her a gentle, reassuring smile and held her hand a bit closer to his heart unconsciously. "It's okay, Helga. If you don't want to talk about it, it's... it's fine."

Helga stared at him, he stared back, eyes boring into the others, until finally Helga seemed to gulp. "I..." She sighed, figuring her time was limited. She wasn't an idiot. "I may not exactly HATE you, let's put it that way." She said, still faint, and growing fainter. Her eyes flickered a moment, though he didn't seem to notice the change in her demeanor.

Arnold couldn't help a small, conserved chuckle escape him. "That's what I figured." He looked back down to her hand, memorizing it's soft, smooth feel with his thumb. "And I... Well, I've been thinking..." A small smile couldn't help but creep it's way onto his face, playing with her fingers and his eyes focused intently on the task. "I might not exactly, HATE you all that much either... in fact, I-" He looked up, his breath hitching in his throat when he saw her face, now even paler, seeming to have lost it's glow completely, her eyes closed, and that's when he realized the hand he was holding was now considerably colder and... He looked back down at it, feeling at the now completely limp fingers. He felt his eyes widen, his breathing suddenly quicken, and feeling the beginnings of some pretty violent sobs just beginning to rise up in his chest. His heart heavy, his head fell into her soft hair, beside her own head, and in smelling it's familiar, and yet so foreign unique scent of passion fruit and vanilla, his sobs only seemed to get louder, and the faint sound of the heart monitor going off in the background.

And to think he was only moments away from finally revealing his secret...

The one about how he was in love with her.

...And now she'd never know...

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Arnold bolted upright in his bed, his heart rate through the roof and his entire body feeling cold and clammy. His breaths coming out quick, and his frantic emerald eyes darting all over his room. Once mentally confirming his whereabouts, his eyes snapped to the clock next to his bed, seeing that it was only around 5:00 AM. He fell back onto his bed, silent tears just beginning to make their way down his face.

He wept silently in his bed for he didn't know how long, small gasps for breath being the only interruptions. Finally, his thoughts began to wander beyond just that everything had been a dream. His eyes snapped to the phone beside his flip out couch, as he inwardly debated whether or not to call her.

He got up from his bed, hesitantly sauntering over to the phone, his arms held up slightly and a glint of fear in his normally calm eyes. What if it actually hadn't been a dream? What if those were just memories? What if-if-if-if she was hurt or lost or scared or-or what if she just had a horribly terrifying dream and needed comfort badly? He couldn't bear the thought of her just laying in her room, trying to cry herself back to sleep and hoping that she wouldn't end up offing herself in the night.

His eyes bolted open even wider just at the idea, and he took a step back from the telephone.

This wouldn't work. No.

He had to see her.

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Arnold soon found himself a top a tree limb, his shaky hands frantically attempting to get the window open. After several minutes of failed attempts, he let out an aggravated snarl, before beginning to just tap against the window repeatedly in hopes of waking her up.

After a few minutes of this, the faint light of her lamp suddenly clicked on, revealing a very drowsy and bewildered looking Helga Pataki, dressed in nothing but a pale pink nightgown. She raised one side of her eyebrow at him, clearly not fully awake just yet to process what was going on exactly, and then fumbled with the lock on the window a few seconds before he was finally able to pull the window open and tumble his way into her lap. She just stared down at him with wide eyes, as he stared back up with his own, green horror-stricken ones, looking very pained. Helga frowned, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "Criminy, Football Head. What in the name of creation are you doing in my room at-" She looked to the little pink alarm clock on her beside table. "Almost 6:00 AM!" She looked back to him, before a light smirk came to her lips. "And in your famous teddy bear pajamas, no less." She couldn't help the slight giggle that escaped her lips.

But soon, her lips were participating in a very random, passionate frenzy of pecks and kisses from Arnold, now gripping at her arms gently as possible and sitting on his knees before her. Helga's eyes went wide instantly, about the size of dinner plates, as all he did was continue in his kissing rampage. Finally, Arnold pulled back slightly from the embrace, but only enough to bore into her wide, shocked, blue eyes with his own pained, relieved, and lovesick green ones. "Oh, Helga! I was so afraid I would never get to hear your wonderful sarcasm again!" He proclaimed, pulling her in for one last kiss before pulling her into a full hug, his head resting past her head.

Helga gawked into his cornflower locks, smelling very nice next to her nose. What was going on? Was she dreaming? "A-Arnold?"

Arnold simply embraced her tighter in response.

Before Helga could talk again, though, he pulled back and looked into her eyes again. "Helga, please be truthful on this, were you telling the truth on FTi?"

Helga's eyes widened considerably, and Arnold chuckled. "I'll take that as a yes." Arnold began a bit playfully, before his face took on that serious look again. "But that's good, because I feel the same."

Helga's eyes bugged out.

Arnold chuckled merrily, feeling so grateful she was still alive. "Oh, you're just so cute!"

Helga's eyes went even wider, if possible, and her hand reached up from behind her to try and pinch herself, but Arnold's hand caught her wrist before she could. He smiled in amusement at her. "And you're not dreaming, Helga. I really do... love you." He finished, feeling a bit awkward now. But he really didn't care. Helga knew of his feelings, they were out there, she was alive, and everything was just peachy.

He kissed her again, and before long she was kissing back, her arms wrapping around his shoulders. He felt his once heavy heart suddenly feel lighter than air, and his stomach explode with a burst of butterflies, his arms wrapping firmer around her. She melted into him, and he was in Heaven.

And to think he'd waited seven years for this...

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A/N: Fear, uncertainty, and life can hold you back.

Life is short.

Hope you liked it.

~SuprSingr