Disclaimer/ A/N: All characters belong to Craig Bartlett / Viacom / etc.
My first Hey Arnold fanfic. Please, do enjoy! Teen for situations and language.
Arnold has always been fond of Helga's soft side, but it seemed as though he has been the only one to have ever seen it —save for when she acts on stage. Within each theatrical production, lead or not, even with another's mask on, Arnold seemed to know her personal one would be off. Under the stage lights, she can be sweet and coy, gentle and bright, and to everyone else, she would be who she's supposed to be on stage —but to Arnold, she was whom she could be. And ever so slowly, sometimes working alongside; sometimes opposite her, he found himself in love. Or like-like. He wasn't very sure yet.
She was no longer a schoolyard bully, though; but still rough around the edges, (nicknames never die) growing into a woman whose creative self shown through now more than ever. With each English literature class they shared over the years, and each play or musical they've been in —he watched her blossom, still holding onto the secret she spilled on that tower, how ever many years ago.
It was a shy sort of love he found himself in. A love which didn't necessarily appear while he was in her presence, with her semi-constant prodding; ("Whatever you say, Helga," he'd respond;) but it made itself sorely apparent when he thought of her. From her hidden passion in the writing she shared, to her blatant passion when pushing herself in sports 'with the boys', he managed to finally see all the fire that is Helga G. Pataki. Although he has yet to understand it, she was the one constant mystery he wanted to solve.
It was their senior class's first play of the year. A fairytale written by their old fourth grade teacher, Mr. Simmons, as a farewell present to his very first class at Hillwood. It was a rich girl-poor boy four-act play, with original musical compositions, and a social justice twist integrated into the plot —in just a way that no one other than Simmons, could.
"Still a throw-pillow," Helga said under her breath, as she skimmed the script, and then sighed in approval, "but a well-composed one, at that."
After a long prologue of characters whirl-winding about the stage, supposedly representing the passage of time, the spotlight shown only upon the girl, and the boy. "Paint me a palace," she ordered.
Arnold's nimble fingers slid over the worn instrument, as Gerald entered stage left, accompanied by his own spotlight. He started narrating, adding in wide gestures, akin to those he used during his playground urban-legend days. The violin in Arnold's hands emitted a soft melody.
He painted love and longing; a princess in a ballroom, places long ago and a kingdom far, far away. He sketched the raging seas (for water can never truly be emulated;) the frantic cries, and the ship that sank, far below the waves; and the princess—left without parents, shoved into a position of power.
The music quickened frightfully, undertones of tragedy.
His fingers were withered from these countless stories; arts he worked so ceaselessly on, and given little thanks for, yet he showed no discontent in his features. This was his duty, his life. Day in and day out, he was summoned by the daughter of his master to entertain her, to inspire her. And so it was done.
Slow and wistful, the strings sang. Arnold kept his eyes on Helga, brows furrowed, concentrating on his playing.
This princess within the story then grew; his hands molding her metamorphosis —from a child of weak resolve, to a woman of fortitude. This woman, although strong and wise, looked back at her stolen childhood and wished, wished so very hard for it to be given back to her. She reminisced upon lazy summer days in the courtyard, and childhood crushes on the princes that her family visited.
His hands may have shown age, through all their hard work, but he was still very young. Not two years older than his audience, he sometimes have wondered what life would have been like if he weren't assigned to this fate. But he had no qualms; for he was mute, and such a distinguished employment as this was pure luck for him.
Gerald exited the stage, as Phoebe entered on the opposite end, continuing the narration; Arnold still playing the violin, and Helga sitting upon the set bed, swaying, looking at the audience with only a dreamy expression, trying hard not to look at the violinist.
Born of a poor family, this mute boy had a gift of story telling. Though he had no voice to work with, the medium he used was music, one that most people within his circle would have usually looked past. But with his skill and passion, crowds of people gathered around him as a young lad, thus gaining the attention of a wealthier gentleman; one of the highest noble blood.
"Stop, that's enough. You should rest for the day," she smiled, as her empty eyes glided toward his direction, blond hair moving slightly with the turn of her head. For a half-second, her eyes met his, and electricity shot through both. He packed up his instrument and noiselessly walked out the chamber door. Her character sighed.
Always the same story she asks for, slight variations from each, but always a princess and always a prince.
A love, a loss, a war, a ball.
She exited, and Rhonda entered where Gerald had came in earlier.
When will she be able to experience these events herself? Maybe not so tragically, but at least life itself. Her father kept her within the confines of their estate ever since she could walk. Always chaperoned or within a coach... she hardly knew the world outside her boundaries.
She wasn't a princess, but she wasn't a pauper, either. Well to do, with a long established family lineage; it was only luck that kept her between luxury and exile. Simply put, she was blind, and in any other circumstance, they would have gotten rid of her. But, because fate was so generous, her family loved her —with or without sight.
The lights all dimmed as Act I of their first dress rehearsal ended. The stage looked empty as the normal lights came on for now, and a lone slow-clap greeted the students. "Oh you guys have always been so wonderful! I'm so happy all of you agreed to star in this play of mine, even though you've all changed in your own special ways! Four more days till showtime after today!" Everyone passing through the stage, and on the wings, replied with soft "You too"s and smiles toward the man.
Just as he was about to open his mouth to start up directing again, Eugene bounded onto the stage, eager to introduce his character in the next act, pirouetting in such an angle that of course got him tangled in Helga's empty bed sheets, creating a human burrito on the stage floor. A hand shot up through the cloth, accompanied with a muffled "I'm okay".
Simmons, seeing the irony of what he said to what happened, reiterated in a quieter tone, "Or should I have said, 'even though some of you changed in your own special ways'?" Eliciting a laugh from his right-hand stage-woman, Sheena.
"Since it's obvious that some of you forgot, I'm reminding you! To make it easier on you guys, only one act per day until the night of the premier! Then on the day before, we're running it through completely! That'll be our longest day; we'll start early in the morning and keep going until we've gotten a hang of it! Got it?"
A collective jumble of "mhmm"s and "uh-huh"s reached his ears.
Since the stage lights dimmed, Phoebe couldn't find Helga, and likewise for Gerald to Arnold, so the two lost cohorts joined forces in an attempt to find their other halves. Meanwhile, Curly (who now goes by Thad), stood at the catwalk above the stage, with Sid, surveying everyone.
"Is...is that Helga?"
The two boys peered over to the star of the story, mid-moment, currently sitting at a corner, right behind the curtain. She was hunched over, her shoulders moving slightly as if she were laughing. Even Thad found this a bit unnerving, elbowing Sid to make sure he was seeing this. The stringy haired boy replied, "Man, I've seen this before. But you know those artsy types —they teeter on the wacko side and eventually plunge into the deep end." Thad knew a little too well what he meant, thinking nothing of it as he performed a graceful grand jeté past Sid, the two boys proceeding to get down from their posts.
Helga giggled to herself. "See? You're getting closer, old girl. There's no way he couldn't have felt that! Plus, he practically bore holes into the side of your face! And it's the same feeling that happened yesterday in class! Clumsy me, dropping a pencil, while my flaxen-haired angel decided on his own accord to help me, at the same time I reached as well! Our fingers —shooting the same electric bolts which our eyes just shared!" She swooned, hugging the reduced-size locket and updated picture. Hearing tall-hair boy and her best friend nearing, she quickly hid the offending necklace and waited until they passed her.
"Pheebs!" she straightened up, going rigid as she heard the sound of wheezing behind her. Her jaw clenched, and her hands fisted, but all she did was spin on her heel and jab a finger to Brainy's nose. She hasn't punched the lanky kid for a good while, (after her sessions with Dr. Bliss,) and she wasn't planning on breaking that streak anytime soon.
"One day, bucko; you really need to stop," she growled, marching off in a huff toward her best friend.
Arnold was peeking through the dark, behind the stage, amongst the props. He could have sworn he saw Helga slink back there right after Act I finished. He sighed to himself, chuckling a bit. To think, he, long-time tormented, was purposefully looking for his long-time tormentor, in hopes of a pleasant conversation. He began to second think the fleeting moment his eyes had with hers on stage. Seeing a familiar stack of hair (although cut shorter than his childhood days), behind a couple of cut-outs, he called out to his best friend and walked quickly toward him.
Right at the moment Helga rounded a corner around the theater props, so did Arnold, and they collided in a heap in front of their two slightly amused, yet worried friends.
"Ugh, watch where you're going, football head," she complained, taking Arnold's outstretched hand.
Arnold smirked, "Sorry Helga," thinking to himself, some things never change. "I was actually looking for you."
She finally was upright again, her hand still within his as he said it, her head upturned to look at him. But before she could reply, Gerald interrupted.
"Yeah, well, we were both looking for you two," he said, thumb pointing to the petite half-Asian (who looked as though she was stifling a giggle,) next to him. Helga pulled her hand away gently, but quickly, leaving Arnold's own hand to retreat slowly in response. He grinned sheepishly at Gerald, and the two pairs of friends started walking toward separate dressing rooms. But before either pair got to their destination, Arnold spun around, effectively walking backwards for a bit.
"Pataki, Phoebe, wanna join Gerald and I to some burgers after we get changed?"
Helga stiffened for a bit, leaving Phoebe to answer, raising her arm up as she too spun around. "Yes, we'd be delighted to join you two!"
Getting to the dressing room, the two boys wiggled their thumbs in a handshake, though Arnold wasn't really sure why. Gerald pulled his shirt above his head, saying, "Thanks Arnold. I was really debating on whether I should ask Phoebe out, but we were so busy looking for you and Helga, it just slipped my mind."
"Or the more realistic excuse; you chickened out," Arnold retorted, a smirk crossing his features.
"Gerald Johanson is scared of no female."
"Except for Phoebe Hyerdahl."
Gerald's shoulders slumped. "Can you blame me? Sure, we've been dancing around each other for years, but man; she deserves someone so much better." He sighed, tying his sneakers.
Arnold placed a hand on Gerald's shoulder. "I could think of no man more suited for a girl like her."
Stinky emerged from the back, holding a pile of costumes and various accessories, evidently helping reorganize the closet. He was sniffling slightly, and as he walked past the two best friends, he wailed, "That was the most gosh-darned touching sentiment I've ever heard."
The sound of his nose blowing soon echoed from down the hall.
Helga furrowed her eyebrows (ah yes, we'll get to that later) at the odd sound, making her way between the bustling teens, pushing the outer door of the theater for Phoebe and her. She pointed her free thumb toward the noise and offhandedly commented, "Geez, I wonder what Stinko's blubbering on about this time." She smirked and looked down at her companion.
The top of Phoebe's head seemed more contemplative than usual, and just as Helga was about to ask, Phoebe's tiny voice started, "Do... do you think Gerald genuinely likes me? Uhm, I mean, I know that sounds pretty harsh, but the guy is known to be quite the smooth talker and—" Helga's hand on her shoulder stopped her at mid-sentence.
"Pheebs. I've no doubt about it. As smooth as you think Geraldo is, he's obviously had trouble maintaining that façade around you in the past, and regards you highly as a person."
Pheobe smiled up at her friend. Just at five feet, Helga had a good five and a half inches on her. "Thanks Helga."
"No problem, Phoebe. Now, speaking of which, where is that chuckle-head and his trusty side-kick."
"We're right here, Helga."
Her voice caught in her throat, but she quickly recovered, "Good. Let's blow this pop-stand." The two boys caught up with the two girls, and they started making their way to a nearby burger joint, easing into conversation along the way.
It was nice, Arnold thought, the Helga she shows when it's just the four of them —or just the two of them. Of course she was still sarcastic, but her wit was aimed at no one in particular, and she actually made them all laugh, quite frequently. They talked about the nearing graduation, the new teachers —Mr. Simmons and his "cornball" attitude, and everything in between. When they finally got to the restaurant, they were in a heated debate about the newest installment of the "Evil Twin" series which was resurrected from their childhood.
"Mmm. Mmm. Mm. They're trying too hard! What are they expecting, both the old audiences from before, and these new kids will embrace the movie?" Gerald shook his head, letting Phoebe into the booth seat first. Helga stopped listening, noticing how now she had to sit with a certain football-headed boy. She wordlessly slipped into the other side of the booth, as the conversation was picked up by Phoebe.
"I agree. Who knows what market this new generation of kids would prefer. They might change up the entire equation of the movie just to satisfy them! I just know though, that even if I didn't necessarily like those movies as a child, I'll still watch this new one —just for nostalgia's sake."
All four of them started reading the menu, with Arnold speaking up. "What? You didn't like any of those movies?" Then he remembered, seeing Helga once or twice, alone watching the films. "Helga, you've seen them, I remember. What do you think?"
Her response was interrupted by the waiter, finally taking their orders. "I—I propose a movie marathon sometime before it comes out."
She surprised herself with her straightforwardness, turning her statement over in her head as the rest of them nodded in agreement to her idea. Conversation died down while they ate, but it was a pleasant silence which broke with laughter, only when someone made an unflattering face while taking a bite.
Arnold stole a sidelong glance at the blue-eyed girl next to him. She's changed, he mused, but was still the same. She got rid of any adornments on her head, having spent her freshman to junior years wearing a beanie and stubbornly keeping her pigtails, finally opting this year for a simple ponytail, sans-bow. He always wondered whether that pink accessory was underneath the beanie she once wore, but never got the chance to ask.
He remembered when she came back from winter break of sophomore year, with two sculpted eyebrows. The entire class noticed. He noticed, and she noticed him noticing; of course snapping, "Take a picture! It'll last longer." Before folding her arms and slumping into a seat, mumbling something about 'stupid Olga' and 'stupid makeovers'. He smirked at the memory, turning his eyes toward his food once more.
Gerald on the other hand, though initially set on getting Phoebe's attention, couldn't help but watch Shortman ...swooning? That was the only word he could think of, and shook his head. This kid is in too deep, realizing the entire burger date wasn't just for him to finally talk to Phoebe.
Helga was absentmindedly looking out the window, finishing up her fries and occasionally dipping them in Phoebe's milkshake. (Which of course, the friend didn't mind.) She felt a strange tickle at the back of her head, but shrugged it off, opting to glance at Phoebe, who seemed quite content with the situation they were in. A soft smile played at both Phoebe and Helga's lips.
The four walked out of the restaurant, each boy/girl pair headed toward opposite directions. Helga hugged Phoebe goodbye, as the two boys did their trademark handshake; the four of them agreeing to hash out the marathon plans some other time. As the two couples spun away from one another, the remaining three noticed at the corner of their eye, Gerald, sticking his elbow out as an offering for Phoebe to loop through. The sight was pretty cute, and at six feet, he was just the right height for her small self to link onto.
Helga semi-rolled her eyes. Criminy, she thought, how sickeningly sweet. This will definitely be Phoebe's day.
Arnold and her walked for about a minute, before he nervously rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand, and stuck out his own left elbow. Helga's head snapped at his direction, eyes wide looking up at the five-eleven boy. She felt a blush creep from the tips of her ears to her cheeks, turning her attention straight ahead, huffing in faux-annoyance. "I'll humor you this time, Arnoldo, but don't get any weird ideas." She hesitantly slipped her own wrist through, letting out a shaky sigh, as both teenagers' gazes were directed on everything else but each other.
"Whatever you say, Helga."
Once they were relatively comfortable again, Arnold cleared his throat. "You're a great actress, you know." He felt her tense up, knowing it may have meant something else for her, and he clarified, "O-on stage; I haven't gotten to tell you that. You get lost quite easily in the character."
"W-well, it's not that hard. You're not bad yourself..." she trailed off, finally looking up at him. He met her gaze with a thankful smile. She turned her head forward again; voice, softer than earlier. "Why were you looking for me after the first act?"
He smiled wider, quite enjoying this moment with her. "No real reason. Just wanted to talk. Maybe mention what I just said." He looked ahead, feeling her nod in reply.
She regained her composure again, changing the subject. Helga shoved him with her hip, in mock-irritation. "Since when did you pick up the violin, football-head? I don't ever remember you playing it, or ever mentioning it for that matter. Everyone was so sure Lorenzo was going to get the lead."
"I could ask the same of you, Helga," Arnold retorted, falling back into step with her, without un-linking.
"—What d'ya mean by that, bucko?" she snapped.
He shrugged, "C'mon, rich girl, princess-like? Rhonda ranted about it for days when Mr. Simmons first approached everyone. It must've taken an amazing audition to get her kicked off that spot."
"Yeah, well. Maybe I'm just an amazing person."
Both their eyes darted to their surroundings once again, hearing the familiar line.
A silence descended upon them, but Arnold was determined not to let it stay. "...I read the script and really liked the character. I knew Gerald played, so I ask—"
"—Tall hair boy plays the violin too? Criminy! Our class should just be presented as the Philharmonic Orchestra!"
Mid-laugh, Arnold kept going, "—so I asked him to teach me the sheet music. He wasn't as interested in the role as I was, considering he wouldn't have been able to talk, and well yeah."
"Yeah." She subconsciously leaned onto his arm, as they approached her street.
He noticed, but decided against mentioning it. "Well, here's the Pataki residence."
"Yeah." She loosened herself up while letting go, the same way she would before entering the stage. Crossing her arms, she smirked. "Well, football-head, that's enough of my generous company for today," she rubbed her hands together, "be grateful for it." She turned, walking up her stoop.
Under Arnold's breath, she heard, "I am." And with that, her face contorted into confusion. She twisted herself, about to yell at him, (post-swoon, mind you); but he was already down the street.
"What... what could he have possibly meant by that?"
"What... what could I have possibly meant by that?" he wondered aloud. It was true though. He was always grateful for their nice, quiet moments. They showed a Helga who was never as bad as she led on. Good thing he high-tailed it out of there, though. He was sure she heard, and he wasn't about to explain that slip of the tongue to her.
He turned the knob to the boarding house just as his phone started vibrating in his pocket. A smile appeared when he found out who was calling.
A/N: Hm... I wonder who could it be?
I'm thinking this will be my first relatively-rapidly updated multi-chapter story. I don't know; the characters are just so easy to write! Hopefully I stayed true to them. Oh, and if you were wondering, the play was an old story I scrapped a while ago. I guess it will now be revived (and added onto)! —Please, review!