A/N: Greetings! I actually started to write this back in the summer, than shelved it because I got distracted with my new job as well as realizing that more details for The Jungle Movie had been released than I thought, so this doesn't quite match up. Oh well. Anyways, here's bit from what would/could have been The Jungle Movie setting (meaning the characters would be roughly 4th/5th grade-ish). Hopefully there's enough context in the actual story. If not, I'll re-edit.
Warning: this is basically pure fluff. This is my first semi-canon story, completely more for my readers rather than for my own enjoyment (which was the purpose of my other stories). This is simply a thank you to you, and a thank you to one of my favorite shows from my childhood (and still one of my favorite fictional couples).
Disclaimer: I do not own Hey Arnold! Or Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie.
He couldn't believe it. After all the years, after all the hell, he'd found them.
He'd found his parents.
There had been a lot of tears, a lot of cheers, a lot of…a lot. He couldn't believe that only two weeks ago, he learned that he had won an essay contest that brought him here, to San Lorenzo, the same place where his parents had disappeared nearly nine years ago. Like most things in his life, nothing was simple. The man who brought them here was actually La Sombra, a river pirate who was after the Green Eyes, a mysterious tribe who lived in the middle of the jungle, and their sacred relic, La Corazon. La Sombra, he learned, was also responsible for stranding his parents in the deepest, darkest depths of the jungle. He had sought the relic for years, and nearly succeeded in acquiring it, but, thanks to help from his friends, Arnold stopped him, saved the Green Eyes, and, most importantly, found his parents.
He was exhausted, but despite the long, stress-filled days and near-death experiences and one VERY long and loud celebration, sleep had yet to come. He stared at the crack of light seeping in from the tent's flap, quickly realizing that night was about change back into day. Arnold had never been so happy in his entire life. He felt that a piece of him that had been missing for years had finally been found.
Yet something was missing. Something still felt incomplete. It was bugging him, right to his core, like an itch he couldn't reach.
Suddenly, he felt like he was suffocating, as if the humid tropical air finally had become too thick to breathe. He had to get out, out of the tent, out of his head.
He glanced at Gerald, who was snoring softly beside him in their small tent. Arnold quickly untangled himself from his mosquito net and slipped outside, enjoying the feeling of the cool earth and grass under his feet.
The fire in the center of the circle of tents had almost gone; only a few embers had managed to survive the night. It provided little heat and even less light, but it was enough to give him some guidance.
He nervously walked to the tent beside his and Gerald's, swallowing hard and pausing with his hand on the flap. Relax! he commanded his body, yet his hand shook as he grasped the canvas.
He closed his eyes as he pulled it open the smallest of inches, muttering soft words of reassurance. They were both there, sleeping soundly. His mother had her arm wrapped across his father's chest, and both their lips were curved up into small smiles, mirroring the one that had just appeared on their son's face. They're real…my parents are really here with me. They're safe. They're alive.
Suddenly feeling like he was intruding, he slowly closed the flap and stepped back. They're with me now. We're a family. I'll never have to worry about them not being with me again. Everything is ok. Everything is as it should be…as it should have been.
He sighed. There was no point in being angry or frustrated. He couldn't change the past. That didn't matter. What mattered was that he had found them. They were together.
Then why did he feel like something was missing?
Arnold's head snapped in the direction of the jungle, squinting to see into the darkness. What was I thinking coming out here by myself? We're on the edge of a jungle for Pete's sake! He stood still, waiting for further sounds or signs of movement. Several moments past, yet none came.
He sighed. This place made him crazy. It could be the fact that they had just left a village where people worshipped him, or it could be the fact that he was so unfamiliar with the people, the terrain, everything. I just need to go to bed. We're continuing back toward the coast tomorrow. We'll be in the city soon, then just an airplane ride way from home. He sighed again, which then turned into a yawn. I should probably try to get some sleep. It's been a long couple of days. He turned to head back to his tent.
All right, something is here! Instinctively he grabbed whatever was nearest, preparing to defend himself against whatever horrors the jungle decided to throw at him this time. His mind jumped into overdrive, imagining every time of animal he had ever heard of, every type of person that may be ready to leap out at him, ready to end his happiness before it even began.
"You realize you look like an idiot, right?" a voice called from the darkness.
Sheer shock slowed his brain down, making it harder to process the change in events. He recognized the voice; most likely, he'd never be able to forget it. He felt his insides flip as the words echoed in his ears and the figure slowly came into the light.
Her eyebrow was raised slightly. Arnold traced her gaze up his arm and to his left hand, which was holding…
"What were you going to do, flip me over so that I'd cook more evenly?"
"I thought you were…something else," he finished lamely. "I just grabbed whatever was near."
"Well, at ease, soldier. It's just me."
He lowered his weapon, staring at her. Judging by the slight blush on her cheeks, she must have realized, as had he, that they were alone for the first time in a while. Well, alone and without the threat of eminent death. "What are you doing out here?" he asked quietly. "I could've hurt you. I thought you were something else."
She snorted. "I'd like to see what time of injury you'd inflict with a rubber spatula."
He frowned, but ignored her jab. "What are you doing out here? It's dangerous."
"I'd just as soon as you the same thing."
He could feel a slight pain developing between his eyes, which often grew when she acted like this. It's like talking to a toddler. "I couldn't sleep. I just needed some air."
He watched her walk over to an abandoned backpack and dig around. She pulled out a small bottle filled with thick, clear liquid. "Helga?"
"What?" she snapped, squeezing the bottle and rubbing its contents on her hands.
"What were you doing?"
"Nothing that you need to know, Football-Head."
"What are you doing sneaking out into the jungle at night? Do you want to get killed?" He didn't want to wake anyone up, but he was finding it hard to keep his voice down. Didn't she realize they still weren't completely safe? Didn't she realize what he had went through earlier, believing that she was going to…
"I was taking care of some private business, Arnoldo," she snapped, bringing a welcomed interruption to his thoughts.
"What business sends you out into a jungle in the middle of the night?"
An angry blush colored her cheeks. "Business." She turned the word into a dark hiss, making her sound like something that would come out of the jungle in the middle of the night.
She glared at him and reached into her pocket. She pulled out a packet of white tissues.
The reality smacked Arnold in the face. "Oh." Oh. Oops. It was his turn to blush.
"Ooo-oh!" she mocked, shoving the packet back into her pocket. "Idiot."
"Sorry. But you really shouldn't go so far into the jungle-"
"And have perverts like you watch me? Yeah, right."
"Just shut up about it, alright?"
He looked away, obeying her command and happy that she had found a way to prevent him from putting his foot further into his mouth.
"So why are you out?" she asked. "Besides being a Peeping-Tom."
"I wasn't peeping," he said through gritted teeth. She watched him, her smirk lowering slightly. He could tell that she wasn't asking to tease him, but out of genuine concern. He sighed. "I couldn't sleep."
She nodded. "I couldn't sleep either," she whispered softly. She was rubbing her arm nervously, that soft blush once again dusting her pale cheeks.
Their eyes locked, and suddenly Arnold realized what that itch was.
He looked away quickly, heat returning to his own cheeks. "I'm wondering if it would just be easier to stay up at this point, rather than trying to get some sleep." He had little experience in staying up this late, and he had never stayed awake all night.
"Maybe," she muttered.
"Do you-" He felt her gaze shift back to him. An unfamiliar shyness prevented him from meeting her piercing stare. "Do you wanna sit here with me?"
She said nothing. He managed to force himself to look at her, but she just stared at him, her face unreadable. Idiot! What are you doing? She probably just wants to sleep! She's exhausted too. He studied her face, realization hitting him hard. She had nearly died, almost being sacrificed by La Sombra. He tried not to think of those thoughts. What my friends given me…I'm lucky they're all still alive. I'm lucky she's alive.
Her movements snapped him back to reality. She had sat down in front of the fire, wordlessly accepting his invitation. His legs suddenly felt heavy, but he managed to join her, albeit somewhat clumsily.
She ignored his lack of grace, her eyes focused on the dying fire. No comment, no sneer… She was quieter than he remembered her being for a while. They had been trying to find his parents, help the Green Eyes, and stay alive for the past few days; she'd been a whirlwind of emotions (like usual), fluctuating between anger and sheer hysterics. Now she was silent, and, it seemed, a little sad.
It was unfair, really, their lots in life. Maybe that was what had drawn her to him to begin with. Now he was on the brink of a happiness, and her family life was still just as rotten as ever. He knew she was happy for him, but what else was wrong?
She looked at him from the corner of her eye, and he expected some sort of rebuff for his staring. He was surprised when she asked in a quiet and heavy voice, "Some trip, huh?"
She smiled. "Do you ever think we'll just have, like a normal Saturday or something? Just a day playing ball or something, no hair-raising adventures or life-changing epiphanies?"
He chuckled. "Probably not."
She looked back at the fire. "I'm, uh, I'm really glad you found your family, Arnold," she said in that quiet, shy voice she only used on rare occasions. He was so used to loud or hysteric Helga that he sometimes forgot even she had her quiet moments.
It was thrilling and unnerving at the same time.
"Thank you," he said softly, his eyes never leaving her face, a face he had known for years. He'd seen filled with every emotion imaginable; anger, boredom, sadness, happiness…
His mind drifted back to that day, months ago, when they saved the neighborhood. That moment on the roof that changed everything between them. She'd been so awkward since then reverting back to her angry self, though he'd hardly acted any better. They could hardly stand to be alone together, afraid of finally discussing that moment.
She loved him.
And she still did. Novice as he was to such matters, he could see flashes of it in her eyes sometimes. Looking back, he had seen it before, many, many times before, not just in the days or weeks preceding that day, but years. She had loved him for years, so many that he couldn't pinpoint when it started.
Her feelings had never been the problem. They'd caused problems, more than he could count as he looked back at their odd adolescence. Many questions he had had about her and their adventures had been answered when he stepped away from the rubble of that day and really thought about her words. No, his feelings were the problem. He had been shocked when she told him she loved him. She had hated him, teased him, bullied him, belittled him, embarrassed him. But she had also believed in him, helped him, stood by him and been a friend when he needed one.
He wasn't ready for it. For Pete's sake, he was nine!
He'd spent every quiet moment going over her words, trying to figure out his own feelings. He cared about her, he knew; he cared about all his friends. But love?
It seemed so complicated, but really, it was so simple. He had worked out his feelings a while back, but he could never find the words to tell her. Or the right moment. He just wasn't ready. Were you ever?
"Do you think you'll stay here?" she asked.
He snapped back to reality. She had to repeat herself. "I don't know. I know Mom and Dad want to go back home and see Grandma and Grandpa, but after that…I don't know what will happen." He smiled. "After all that's happened, though, I'm sure I'll be able to handle it."
She nodded, still staring at the fire.
What is she getting at? Oh. He felt a little sick. She thought he wouldn't be coming home, at least not for long. He might be leaving her. That thought made him sicker.
"Anyways, you deserve it, Football Head," she said, squirming slightly under his gaze. He watched as she started to push herself off the ground.
He grabbed her hand. "Helga, wait."
She stared down at their hands. He could feel her whole body tense. "Ar-arnold?"
"I need to thank you. You made this happen. Thank you."
She looked like he had sprouted another head. "What?" Her eyes narrowed. "You didn't eat any of Curly's cooking, did you? He was having a little too much fun with the local mushrooms."
"Helga, I'm serious." He tugged lightly on her arm, motioning her to join him again. She allowed him to pull her down, the same incredulous look frozen on her face. "None of this would have happened without you."
"You found my essay—"
"Because I thought it would embarrass you…"
"And switched it with the real one I turned into Simmons—"
"Because I figured that idiot would read them all and then read it to the class, embarrassing you like the all was does m—"
Arnold raised an eyebrow.
"Does that one person who's stuff he always reads in class," she finished quickly. "I wasn't doing it to be nice."
"You knew it would catch the attention of the judges at that magazine. You knew they would help."
She gave a short, harsh laugh. "Yeah, fat lot of good that did. They where partnered with that psycho who tried to kill us and the Green Eyes."
"But he didn't, because you were there to help—"
"Yeah, me and about thirty other people you know."
"You found out what he was up to—"
"Yeah, and nearly killed everyone in the process—"
"You were nearly killed because of me. Because I yelled at you, you ran off and—"
"I would have run off anyways. I don't do things because of you, Arnoldo. That creep had to be stopped—"
"Would you let me apologize?" he yelled, finally silencing her. "Helga, he tried to sacrifice you. Do you have any idea how scared I was that you were going to—" his words trailed off into nothingness. Even now, even when it was over, even when they were safe, he couldn't think it. It hurt too much.
"I'm fine," she whispered.
Several moments passed. A thin band of pink now wrapped the horizon. "I'm sorry." He paused, waiting for another outburst. None came. "I didn't mean it."
"It's ok, really."
"No, it's not."
She laughed. It wasn't harsh; it wasn't her usual bark. It was sad, almost enough to break his heart. "You're right. I was being a pain."
She glared at him.
"Fine! You were being a pain, but I still shouldn't have said what I said." The dark words crept into his head despite his efforts to forget them. "Helga, stop getting in the way! You are such a pain in the neck! You ruin everything! I'm so sick of you. Go away, for Pete's sake! Haven't you messed things up enough?"
"I'm sorry," she licked her lips, trying to find her words. She looked up into the morning sky, as if it would hold all the answers to their problem. "I know I can be a pain. I know I mess up things. I don't mean to, at least not all the time, but I get…scared…and that's how I express myself. My fear turns into anger, and I say stupid things and do stupid things."
She looked back at him.
He shrugged. "I've known you a long time, Helga. I know that you really aren't that mean. I know that you don't mean half the things you do or say. I know why you act the way you do, what you are really trying to cover up. That's why I'm apologizing."
They stared at each other for a moment. "Helga, really, thank you. I couldn't have done this without you."
"Because I meddled—"
"No! Well, yes, but also…" he swallowed hard, preparing himself. "But because, I'm better with you. I'm stronger. I can think more clearly. I dunno…with you around, I feel like anything is possible, because you are there to help me, even if that is just telling me I'm acting like a stupid Football Head. I'm better with you around. I'm happier with you around." He smiled. "No matter how much you drive me crazy."
She watched him, her dark blue eyes wide. The last of the fire finally went out just as the day finally broke free of the night, the sun's first rays hitting her face.
He was finally ready.
"Helga, I love you."
It wasn't as beautiful (or crazy, come to think of it), but it was simple and honest, which, at his core, was all he was.
She stared at him in shock, her eyes widening to the size of saucers. He waited for her response. He expected something, anything. Hugging him, slapping him, laughing, tackling him (again). She just stared.
Then she started hyperventilating.
"Helga, Helga! Breathe!" He dove for the bag she had used earlier, digging around. He pulled out a zip-lock bag full of band-aids. Quickly discarding the contents, he handed the bag to the girl, gently rubbing her back while she breathed.
She finally caught her breath and pulled the bag away from her face, tightly clinching it in her fist. "If you are joking, I swear to the Sewer King I will beat the tar out of you."
"That's nice, Helga." His face changed from annoyance to fear as she continued to glare at him. "You don't believe me, do you?"
"I—you—" she sighed. "My head hurts."
"Join the club." He removed his hand from her back and slid away a bit.
"When? How?" she asked.
"This can't be that much of a shock, is it?" he asked. Even he could hear the slight tremor of fear in his voice. "I mean, I know our friendship hasn't been the smoothest, and sometimes you annoy the daylights out of me—" he swallowed hard as he could see the anger build up in her. "But you're always there for me. You understand me more than anyone else does. More than anyone else could. And you...Helga, I wish you could see how amazing you really are. Every time I think I have you figured out, you do something else to surprise me," He smiled slightly. "I'm honestly not surprised the Green Eyes were so enamored of you. You really are something, Helga."
"I'm something alright," she muttered, looking off in the distance.
He sighed, but let her think for a bit. "Helga, I know life hasn't been fair to you either. I know things are bad. But you… I wouldn't have wanted any one else here, fighting beside me but you."
She finally looked back at him. "You are serious, aren't you? You're not just saying things?"
He shook his head. Silence filled the air, leaving him feeling uncomfortable. Why isn't she saying anything? Normally she doesn't shut up. I could barely understand her when she told me, she was talking so fast. "Helga, are you ok?"
"Yeah, I'm just shocked. I thought, you know, someday maybe you'd realize we were meant for each other." He smiled in spite of himself as his bully spoke so romantically. "But I figured it would take you a while. Years, really."
"You aren't exactly genius material, Football Head. I figured it would take a while for you to sort out things."
"Always with the name calling," he said, punching her softly in the shoulder. She lost her balance, but Arnold caught her hands quickly. He kept them in his own, even as she righted herself.
Blue eyes stared into green as the new sun continued its journey into the sky. "You really mean it?"
He nodded, not trusting his voice. She kept her gaze study on him. He could see her emotions swirling in her eyes, all mirroring his own. He breathed in deeply, figuring he would have to struggle to find courage, yet when he was with her, he often felt fearless. He leaned in, his eyes locked with hers, never breaking their gaze until she was so close he could count her eyelashes. He never realized she had so many…
His moment of happiness burst. They jumped a part, but Arnold could still feel the pressure on his lips.
"What are you doing, Arnold?"
Arnold looked from Helga to Gerald, his face heating up from more than the morning sun, which was growing stronger by the minute. He could feel both his friends' eyes boring into him.
His eyes flickered to his parents' tent. He thought he had heard a giggle, and, sure enough, the flap was moving ever so slightly. A strange feeling filled him. So this is what it feels like to be embarrassed by your parents. It felt very similar to being embarrassed by your grandparents, but it also came with a lingering feeling of happiness that made you almost feel like your chest would burst from all of it.
He turned his attention back to the girl in front of him. Or maybe this is where that chest-bursting-feeling is coming from. Her eyes had never left his face; anxiety was written all over hers. She was clearly fearful of how he would act in front of Gerald, afraid of her pride and her heart being hurt.
"Uh, Gerald, can you leave us alone, please?"
"Are you serious, Arnold?"
A strange noise came from Helga. He looked at her and grinned. "Yeah, I am."
Gerald gave a slight shrug, as if saying, If you must…
Arnold turned back to Helga. "So…you wanna try again?"
She smiled, leaping towards him and tackling him to the ground. He laughed, knowing things with Helga would never be nice and simple, or boring. He kissed her again and smiled, and for the first time, Arnold truly felt at home.
A/N: Later days