AN:Threw this together instead of studying for finals. Also, cross-Nicktoon references! Forget you, Ginger, Helga's the original Nicktoon creative genius~

Stay

Arnold stood on the front step of the Pataki residence, nervously running a hand through his hair. He couldn't remember the last time he had been to Helga's house – probably to drop off homework when she was sick or something, and it made him a little sick to think that he might never get to do that again.

Helga had made the announcement the previous week in the middle of their history class, the one class in 8th grade the entire "old gang" had together. Things had definitely changed from elementary school, but Arnold and his group of friends had tried their best to remain friends and hang out as much as possible, through awkward middle school relationships and break-ups (Rhonda and Harold's two month stint in the seventh grade had almost destroyed the group dynamic, for sure), through differing class schedules (Phoebe, of course, was taking high school-level classes for the most part, but managed to stay "behind" enough in history to stay with them for at least that class), and through all the angst-y, young adolescent drama that puberty brought. It had crossed Arnold's mind that maybe not all of them would still be friends by the time they graduated high-school (Rhonda had already taken to eating every other lunch period with the "popular" girls, and Sid occasionally skipped school to hang out with some unsavory characters), but something like this had never crossed his mind.

So when Helga stood up at the end of history class, their last class of the day, and announced that she had gotten accepted to Avalanche Arts Academy and would be transferring there at the end of the semester (which was coming to a close the next week), Arnold was completely stunned. He had glanced around the classroom to judge the rest of his classmates' reactions, and was shocked by what he observed. First, not everyone seemed as surprised as he was. Phoebe had tears in her eyes, which had looked puffy, as if she had been crying quite a lot recently. If she had any other classes with them, Arnold thought he may have noticed earlier and asked her about it. Lila, too, looked misty-eyed, and Arnold guessed that she must have already known as well. Helga and Lila had become surprisingly good friends throughout middle school – things really hadchange from P.S. 118. It was Gerald whose reaction confused Arnold the most. He was shaking his head sadly, but not in a manner of one who had just heard upsetting news. More in the way of someone who had been expecting the upsetting news…Arnold guessed Phoebe must have filled him in.

But everyone else seemed to be hearing the news for the first time. Rhonda sprang from her seat and threw her arms around Helga, in a way that looked most uncomfortable for the former bully.

"Oh Helga!" She cooed, "We'll miss you TERRIBLY, of course, but congratulations. Avalanche is such a prestigious academy and you must have been awfully talented to get in! We're all so proud of you!"

The other students chimed in with similar remarks, some of them more sad than others, but all at least able to say something to her congratulatory or regretful.

Except Arnold. He sat at his desk, staring, wide-eyed, mouth slightly open until the bell rang. He snuck silently out of the room before anyone could notice.

He was unsure how he managed to avoid talking to Helga that week. They did have several classes together and ate lunch together with the group on a regular basis. But he found himself shuffling from one class to another, staring directly at the teacher during lessons, and eating lunch alone in empty classrooms. But as successful as he had been at avoiding this conversation, at dealing with this unhappy situation, the goody-two-shoes-do-the-right thing Arnold had found himself at her doorstep anyway, one day before she was scheduled to leave. She was probably finishing up packing right now.

He took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.

He heard some shuffling from the other side, the sound of footsteps running down the stairs, and the door opened to reveal Helga G. Pataki herself, long blond hair in a messy bun, wearing an old sweatshirt and dirty jeans.

"Thank GOD you guys are back, I could definitely use a few more boxes, turns out I got a lot more crap than I tho…" Her voice trailed off as she fully realized who was standing at her door. "Arnold? What are you doing here?"

He couldn't speak again. He thought it had something about the way she looked.

As if she could read his mind, her hand flew to her hair. "Ehehehe…well, all my clothes are packed, so I just threw on something random to finish cleaning and packing. And well, my hair was kinda getting in the way so…" She paused, "Wait, why am I explaining myself here, Football Head? Don't act like I haven't noticed you ignoring me all week." She glared at him. "Finally come to say goodbye? Geez, it's not like we've known each other for our ENTIRE LIFES and now I'm MOVING AWAY POSSIBLY FOREVER. You think you could show some emotion towards it. Or do you hate me that much?"

She said all of this so fast and abruptly that Arnold had barely time to register it all, but he managed to pry his mouth open at the last sentence. "I don't hate you, Helga!" He blurted out.

Helga raised an eyebrow and put a hand on her hip. "Well, that's good to know."

"Look," he said, running a hand through his hair again, the nervous feeling coming back. "I don't know why I took the news of you leaving so badly, but I'm sorry. I really wish I hadn't wasted the last week ignoring you instead of well…I don't know, making some more memories or something." He paused and drew a deep breath. "The point is, I'm sorry. And…I did come to say goodbye."

He had been staring at the floor the whole time he was speaking, and when he finished he raised his eyes to Helga. She was staring at him with a funny look her face, half smiling, but with her forehead scrunched up in slight confusion.

"Do you want to come in, Arnold?" She asked, opening the door a little wider. "I'm just finishing up packing, I could use a little extra help."

He blinked at her. He hadn't really planned on staying, just stopping by to apologize and say goodbye, but now that he was here, that really didn't seem like enough. "Uh, sure."

Helga moved aside, and he stepped in. She closed the door behind him and lead the way up the stairs.

"Bob and Miriam are out," She said, "Figures they'd leave me home alone on my last day here, but I don't really mind. They're paying for me to go to Avalanche so I don't have any right to complain. Plus I like being alone. But," she added quickly, glancing back down the stairs at Arnold, "I wouldn't mind some your company either."

She had reached the top of the stairs and headed down the hallway to her bedroom. "Honestly, I had been wondering if you were going to stop by to say goodbye ever. Or even just talk to me before I left. When school ended yesterday and you were gone, I figured you just weren't going to say anything. Didn't really count on you stopping by, way to throw me for a loop there, Football Head."

They had reached her bedroom. Helga pushed open the door and stepped inside, and Arnold followed.

The room was depressingly empty. Her bed was there, neatly made with a few stacks of clothes piled upon it. A desk was in the corner, a few papers visible in the open drawers, but otherwise cleared off. Her closet door was open and it was almost completely cleared out, a few old pink dresses he hadn't seen her wear in years were hanging in the corner. In the corner of the room, a few paintings were stacked, leaning against the wall.

It hit him at once. "You really are leaving, aren't you?" He had meant the words to come out normal, but they seemed to get stuck in his throat and managed to come out sounding choked and in a slight whisper.

"Sorry 'bout it, Football Head," Helga said gently, with a slight tease to her words, "Didn't know you cared so much."

"I didn't either," He muttered, under his breath. He walked over to the paintings. "I didn't know you painted."

Helga followed him, cutting him off before he got to them, picking a painting up and examining it. "Yeah, its actually my paintings they accepted me on."

"Really?" Arnold asked, surprised. "I thought you were more into poetry?"

She glanced up from the painting and smiled at Arnold's words. "You remember that about me?"

"Well, yeah," Arnold replied, honestly, "You're really good. Didn't you win a poetry award in the sixth grade?"

Her eyebrows rose. "Um, yes, I did. Wow, Football Head, you're really surprising me a lot tonight. Can't even talk to me for a week after I announce I'm leaving Hillwood, but you remember some obscure award I won two years ago."

Arnold winced. "I'm sorry, Helga. I'm not proud of my actions, er, um, inactions, of the past week, I just…"

"Don't worry about it, Arnold," Helga interrupted, suddenly looking away, "I mean, I know we don't have the greatest history, I didn't really expect you to really have anything to say to me. But," she paused and turned her glance back to Arnold, a shy smile on her face, "I'm glad you decided to stop by. And," she added, "For your information…I just started painting last year. It's somewhat more therapeutic than scribbling. Apparently, I have a gift."

Arnold surveyed her, the soft smile on her face and the matching slight blush across her cheeks. But there was something else there, just behind her eyes. She was sad…

"You seem…" Arnold hesitated, thinking of the right word, "A lot less defensive than usual." He realized that it sounded rude, "I mean…"

Helga laughed, "No, I get it. Not as many cheap shots and insults, right?" She put the painting down with this others and walked across the room to her bed, where she sat down. "I guess my leaving has really sunk in with me too, Arnoldo. I guess I'm not as 'defensive' as usual because…" She lingered before she moved on to the next few words, smiling across the room at him with that sad, sad smile, "…I have nothing to lose."

He frowned and walked across the room, absentmindedly sitting next to her on the bed, barely noticing the blush deepening on her face. "What do you mean?"

She laughed nervously and turned away from him. "Well, I'm leaving tomorrow. And I'll be gone for a long time. Four years. Maybe a few visits home over breaks, but I'm not likely to see anyone but Pheebs and Lila." She turned back to him, with that mysterious sad smile. "It doesn't matter what anyone thinks of me, anymore. I don't have to have my defenses up, trying to keep everyone out, because it doesn'tmatter. I won't see them anymore. It's goodbye."

Somethingsoundsoff, Arnold thought, It'stheplurality.Shekeepssaying 'anyone', 'everyone', 'them'…butitsoundslikeshe'sjusttalkingaboutoneperson.

"I mean," Helga continued, her voice getting a little softer, "No one's even asked me to stay."

Arnold started at that. "Really? I mean, Phoebe seems devastated over you leaving. Hasn't she been begging you not to?"

Helga shook her head. "No, no, she doesn't want me to give up this opportunity – she knows how big Avalanche is, and how good it would be for me. Lila, too. They say," she hesitated again, this time looking Arnold over before she continued, "They say Hillwood has nothing left to offer me. I might as well go polish my creative abilities and make something of myself."

"They just don't want you to give up your dream, Helga!" Arnold insisted, "I mean, how could they ask you to stay and give up something so important to you."

It'sfunny, Helga though, amused, Hesays 'they' butitsoundslikehejustmeansoneperson.

"I mean, they don't want to be selfish," he continued, faltering a bit, "Just because they want to keep you around a little longer…doesn't meant they can prevent you from living your dream."

Helga sighed, and that terribly sad smile haunted Arnold again. "Art isn't my dream, Arnold. It's just my way to express my dreams, because I have no other way to express them."

She could almost kiss him for the familiar dense, clueless look on his face. "What do you mean?"

She stood up slowly and turned to face him. "You know how I said I have nothing to lose, Arnold?" He nodded in response. She took a deep breath and turned to the stack of paintings in the corner. "Would you like to look at the paintings?"

He stared at her for a few seconds longer, then glanced back at the canvases in the corner, then back at her. The sad smile seemed to have taken permanent residence upon her face. Slowly he stood up and walked over to the paintings. He threw a last glance back over to Helga, then flipped the first one over.

He was staring back at himself. The painting was done entirely in blue, but it was him, no doubt. There was no mistaking the football-shaped head on the canvas, the familiar baseball cap balanced on top, a half-lidded look he wasn't even aware he had given anyone before. The next one was him as well, this one in all red. Another was two figures in the distance, one with an unmistakably shaped head. One was crosshatched, one was made up entirely of little dots which on closer inspection turned out to be small hearts, like the ones Helga would sometimes dot her "i's" with, one was abstract but still obviously him. One wasn't even a painting, but a charcoal sketch of him. All of them. Him, him, and nothing but him.

"So what do you think, Football Head? Good enough to get me into Avalanche, but is it good enough for you to ask me to…"

"Stay," Arnold interrupted, looking up suddenly from the paintings and straight into Helga's eyes, which immediately lost that lingering sadness and looked as he imagined his must have when she first announced she was leaving: pure shock.

"Please, Helga. Don't go. Stay."

xXxXx

The next day, the old gang met in Gerald's Field, at Arnold's insistence. A baseball game, he had told them all eagerly on the phone the previous night, was very much necessary.

"Oh, I'm ever-so-glad you decided to stay, Helga!" Lila beamed, standing directly behind home plate, hands clasped together, eyes brimming with tears despite a smile she couldn't seem to suppress.

"Yeah, yeah, me too, Lila, but if you keep standing there, Football Head here's gonna knock you out with that bat once he strikes out."

Arnold lowered his head and stuck his tongue at the girl playing catcher behind him. She merely scrunched up her face and did the same, but it gave way to a smile Arnold thought could knock Lila's out of the park.

"Why don't you go take a seat next to Phoebe over there?" Helga said, jabbing her thumb out to the sidelines, where Phoebe seemed to be going into hysterics in Gerald's arms.

Lila merely nodded, the tears beginning to slide down her face, and took off running towards Phoebe. Helga shook her head as she trotted off, then smiled up at Arnold, who was still staring at her, grinning madly like Lila, without the tears.

"Thank you, Football Head," She said, softly, smiling. There was no sadness in that smile now.

"Thank you, He—"

"STRIKE ONE!"

"Helga! You distracted me! That wasn't fair!"

"Come on, Hair Boy, keep your head in the game!"

"After everything I said last night you're still-"

"STRIKE TWO!"

"You're lucky I just called this game to celebrate you staying, or I'd be so—"

"STRIKE THREE! You're out!"

"Oh, shut up, Helga."

And with the kiss that followed, Helga shut up.