AN: In response to the challenge posted at the hey_arnold community at livejournal. This is a one-shot inspired by the Taylor Swift song "The Story of Us." It's not quite the short fluffy dialogue intense one-shots I usually specialize in, but I tried my best, because gosh darn it, I love this song. :) However, I don't think this piece has the upbeat feel the song does, but it was inspired by the lyrics and meaning behind the song.

Armor Down

The school gym was decorated with crepe paper and flashy lights, music blared from the DJ's speakers, and most of the middle school population was having a grand old time at the End-of-the-Year Dance, but Helga Pataki sat on the bleachers, feeling instantaneously depressed, full of rage, and more like a loser than she had ever felt in her whole life. For a fleeting instant, she had everything she had ever wanted right in front of her, but like the screw-up she knew she was, she had destroyed it in record time.

For Helga Pataki was supposed to be at this dance with Arnold, her one true love, her lifetime obsession, her Football Headed Love God. But here she was, alone on the bleachers, feeling awkward as hell in a flirty party dress, watching the boy she loved – and simultaneously hated – dancing with another girl.

Their relationship started a few months ago and was never well-defined. After years of torturing the poor boy while hiding her true feelings, and one "heat-of-the-moment" confession, things with Arnold were finally going in the right direction. Their teen years were upon them, and the childish era of spitballs and name-calling gave way to an actual, honest to God friendship. Joking together in class and eating lunch together civilly with their friends led to long nights working on class projects in his room and double dates with Gerald and Phoebe which led to a very romantic and, most importantly, Arnold-initiated kiss on the pier at sunset. Since then…well, they had never really had the "Boyfriend-Girlfriend Talk," but they held hands under tables and in the dark of the movie theater, found themselves making out whenever they were alone, and were a little too inseparable for all their friends not to notice that something was finally going on with Arnold and Helga.

It was a dream come true for Helga; Arnold was returning her feelings! She didn't have to lie anymore, didn't have to be so aggressive and angry all the time, didn't have to hide how she really felt. But, like most things, this was easier said than done. Not far into their "relationship," Helga realized something. Arnold liked her…but she loved him. She had always loved him.

And suddenly, all the insecurities, all the anger, the old Helga – everything came flooding back. Boys didn't like when girls were too into them. Every romantic comedy Helga had ever seen (not that she'd admit to seeing any) had told her that much. The word "love" sent the male sex running. Hadn't she already seen this once with Arnold, on the roof of FTi? Hadn't he been so overwhelmed he chose to pretend the whole thing never happened? Helga was determined not to let that happen again; Arnold must never know how deep her feelings were until he was willing to return them at the same intensity.

So whenever she felt those feelings rising in her – the urge to wax poetic and compose improvised odes to him on the spot – she would become snappy instead. She was argumentative and quick to pick a fight. The name-calling and spitballs returned. The phrase "Football Head" abandoned its new post as a term of endearment and returned to being an insult. Anything to throw Arnold off her track.

At first, Arnold would only laugh. He would pull her in for a hug and kiss her forehead. "Oh, Helga," He would say, laughing it off as if it were nothing. And to tell the truth, that was probably the response Helga needed most. She would feel stupid immediately, so dumb for trying to be cruel to the wonderful boy who was treating her so nicely. She would drop the act immediately and swear off being mean for eternity.

But soon the fear would creep back in and before she knew it, she was yelling at him again. And then the cycle intensified. She soon began to resent Arnold for making her feel stupid. It didn't make sense, but feelings don't have to make sense, Helga reasoned. You can't control your feelings, you just feel them. And when Arnold would ignore whichever pointless fight she was trying to start, the "Oh, Helga"'s began to seem condescending and Helga would just get angrier. She would shout and scream until finally Arnold would cave and apologize. But he would look so hurt and confused in the end, that Helga couldn't help but apologize too, and they would kiss and make-up and pretend it had never happened, until the next time.

And then, something strange happened. Things would be going great – too great for Helga's taste, so she'd pick the fight. But instead of "Oh, Helga"-ing or apologizing, Arnold began to fight back. At first she was shocked: her Arnold, her peace-loving, let's-all-get-along-Arnold was yelling at her.

"Why do you always do this, Helga?" He would shout, frustrated. "Why do you always have to pick a fight? We're not little kids anymore, Helga! Grow up!"

But unwilling to reveal her ulterior motives, she would ignore his accusations and steer the fight in a different direction. Soon he didn't even bother with questioning the deeper reasons behind her attacks and gave into fighting at her level. They would fight about everything and anything: where they went on dates, who they hung out with at school to even the most ridiculous things like why he wore that shirt to school today and why couldn't she sit with Stinky at lunch if she wanted to. The fights grew more frequent and more intense.

And that's how she ended up here, sitting embarrassed and alone while her date danced with another girl, scowling at her from the dance floor. Truthfully, she couldn't even remember what this fight had been about, but as she sat there staring at Arnold with his arms around someone else, she realized she wasn't even mad anymore – she was just sad. She just wanted the fight to be over.

She was a little worried that things had gone on this long. They had always made up from their fights, even if they went days without speaking. Usually one of them would slip up in class and laugh at a joke the other one had made. They would awkwardly catch eyes and then smile at each other, and everything was instantly forgotten. They never spoke about any of their fights, never apologized. It was easier this way. But this…this was lasting a little too long for Helga's taste. The catching-of-eyes and awkward smile moment hadn't happened, and she was beginning to worry.

She briefly wondered if it was insincere to apologize for something she didn't remember doing.

You know you would never do that, a voice inside her head said, You're too proud. Even if you got the nerve to go all the way over there and apologize, the second you got near Arnold with another girl, you would lose it, and start screaming all over again.

Across the dance floor, Arnold had left the girl, but was now talking to Gerald animatedly. It was clear from the intense way he spoke and his angry arm motions towards the bleachers that he was talking about her. She glumly stared at the floor. He was really mad.

It's time to face the facts, Helga, old girl. You really messed up this time. It's over.

Tears were beginning to form in her eyes, and she silently cursed herself. Oh, don't cry, you big baby. It's okay. You only destroyed everything you ever wanted. No big deal. She dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands in desperate attempt to stop the tears, but the pain only brought more. It's no big deal…It's just Arnold…

"Helga?"

She snapped her head up quickly at the familiar voice. "Ar-Arnold?" She stuttered, blinking away the tears. "Wh-wha…" She sniffed and caught herself before she let her weakness show, "What do you want, Football Head?" Damn it, she thought. She could still hear her voice shaking. Commit to an emotion! She told herself, angrily.

But Arnold surprised her. "Cut the act, Pataki. We need to talk."

She winced. We need to talk. Of all the words in the English language, those four together formed the most heart-stopping sentence in the history of sentences. Here it comes, she told herself, lowering her eyes again, You had a good run, Pataki. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be. It's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all and all that bull-

"I'm sorry!"

well that was unexpected.

He sighed, and sat down next to her. "Listen, I've never had, you know, a real relationship before. I mean, I've dated some girls, but nothing like this. And honestly, it's a little hard to figure out," He smiled at her, "Especially with you. But I talked to Gerald and he says fights are normal and we just have to work through them, and…and I don't know." He sheepishly put a hand behind his head. "I guess I'm just not ready to give up on you yet."

Her heart had slowly fluttered back to life with each word he spoke, and now it was beating against her chest. She opened her mouth, but words couldn't come out. All she could do was reach up and brush away the tears that for some reason were still forming in her eyes. He makes me feel like such a pansy, she thought, smiling weakly.

"Helga…I'm going to tell you something, and I," He paused for a second, and Helga realized he was beginning to look nervous. "I just hope it doesn't scare you away." He grabbed her hands and looked into her eyes earnestly. "I think the reason we fight like this – so intense, so…passionate…" Helga felt the familiar thump-thumping in her heart and unintentionally squeezed Arnold's hands. "…is because we feel so intensely and so passionately – about each other. Well," He laughed a little, and squeezed her hands in return, "At least I do. Helga…I love you."

Her body froze. Her mind froze. She was at once confused and elated. But elated didn't even begin to cover it: she was overjoyed, ecstatic, over the moon! He said it, he finally said it! Arnold loved her. Arnold, her Arnold, lovedher. She couldn't move; all she could do was stare at him, while inside it felt as if her heart was desperately trying to fly out of her chest.

"Helga?" He asked, nervously. Her mind began to thaw and she realized that Arnold had interpreted this paralysis as what she had been afraid of this entire time: rejection.

She laughed, and looked towards the ground shyly. "No, Arnold, that doesn't scare me away at all." She returned her eyes to his, and smiled.

Arnold looked concerned, and quickly pulled a hand away from hers to raise it to her cheek. "You're crying…" He whispered, "Hey, I'm sorry, it's okay, I didn—"

"Don't," Helga said, pressing a finger against his lips. "Don't say you didn't mean it. We've had enough of that I think." He still looked confused, so she stood up and grabbed his hand again. "Can we just dance, finally?"

She led him out onto the dance floor, where a slow song was conveniently playing. Turning, she slid her arms over his shoulders, and smiled as he put his hands on her hips and pulled her in close. She leaned into him, placing her cheek next to his. Maybe she wasn't quite ready to do this face to face, but this would have to do.

"I love you too," She whispered.