Disclaimer: Hey Arnold! is created by Craig Bartlett.
Synopsis: Arnold was never sure what it was exactly that made him fall for Helga. As he retraced every possible memory of her, he couldn't choose only one reason.
Somewhere Along the Way
There were often times when he looked at Helga and wondered how in the world he ended up with her.
Throughout his childhood, he was under the everlasting impression that she hated his very being. That was, until the day Helga did a one-eighty and blurted out her undying love for him, leaving Arnold confused, utterly terrified and dumbfounded enough to sputter, "I'm confused," instead of something more profound.
Years wisped by in a blur of memories and before he really knew it, he was sitting in the living room at Sunset Arms with Helga resting her head on his shoulder. Arnold had his arm wrapped around her waist and his eyes idly fixated on the television but his mind was elsewhere in the past.
When and how did he ever fall for Helga G. Pataki?
He often believed it was the first time the two of them engaged in a heated argument that knocked over the first barrier resulting in them releasing brewing tempers they had been hiding for too long.
It happened during middle school when they were partnered up for another science project. Time had faded the details leading up to the matter into a sort of haze but Arnold could still remember the two of them working in his room and the way Helga was grumbling nonstop at him to write the report her way.
"We just need the most important details of the experiment!" she said, louder than necessary.
"But we also have to follow the format," Arnold argued back.
"I am following the format, Football Head. But we don't need all the little details. It'll just make it repetitive."
"You know what's really repetitive, Helga?" Arnold grumbled without thinking, his irritation reaching its peak. "Your awful attitude. You haven't changed at all since grade school. You're still just the angry, pushy girl you've always been!"
"Well I can say the same for you Mr. By-the-Book!" Helga shot back. "You always have to be the goody two-shoes. Can't you ever just live a little?"
"You're telling me to live a little when you live every day annoyed at absolutely everything?"
Arnold was raising his voice now too, turning away from the report and pivoting his chair towards Helga.
"Not everything annoys me, Football Head," Helga spat. "Just you."
"Why?" Arnold trained his eyes directly on hers. That appeared to have stopped her cold. "Why is it only me?"
Helga became silent altogether and she sprung up from the desk chair and walked away, plopping herself down onto the pullout sofa. She crossed her arms, turned her head and pressed her lips together which only infuriated him even more.
"Helga," he said firmly.
"If you really love me like you said then—"
"I thought we agreed to never bring that up again," she said dangerously, glaring daggers at him.
"Well, I want to talk about it."
"Well, I don't."
Arnold breathed out a heavy sigh. "It's just you and me, Helga."
The silence dragged on with her persistence until he eventually shook his head in defeat. He wanted some sort of resolution to all of this now that he had dug up the old dusty bones from their elementary school days. But they still had a report to finish and it wasn't going to get written with both of them refusing to communicate.
"I just wanted to know," Arnold said softly. He was still fuming inside but he had enough control to lower his voice. "Why you still act mean when I know you're not like that at all. If you really love me, you have a funny way of showing it."
Their eyes locked, and Helga held his gaze for a few moments before Arnold had to turn away and try desperately to focus on the paper.
That was the only word he could used to describe her eyes at that time. What's more, it was her whisper of a response that broke his heart.
He figured it might have been the first time that she genuinely smiled at him when he didn't take offense to one of her crude remarks towards him.
It happened during a winter trip incident with their usual group of friends. Curly and Eugene had gotten on each other's nerves, he remembered, and that little fiasco ended with Eugene taking a plunge into the icy lake with a bad ankle. The incarnation of bad luck himself was flailing about in the freezing water until Arnold dived in without thinking or hearing his friends' cries.
Body temperature dropping fast, Arnold willed himself to swim faster and grabbed Eugene by the wrist. Once he felt land, multiples hands shot out and grabbed at the two frozen bodies, yanking them onto snowy shore.
"Arnold!" Gerald called out in concern. "We were already going to get the rangers, Man!"
"N-no t-t-time," Arnold shivered.
He remembered feeling hands strip him quickly of his freezing, wet clothes, leaving his skin to come in contact with the equally cold air.
"Honestly, Football Head, you really are a freak of nature," Helga said from somewhere in the crowd of teens.
If he had been a few years younger, he would have furrowed his eyebrows at her. Instead, he laughed, hardly paying attention to the blankets and spare jackets being wrapped around him. All of his focus was trained on Helga, who stood back from the commotion, hands on her hips, with the usual scowl on her face.
He was so familiarized with her insults that—as crazy as it sounded—they almost felt endearing. No one else ever had the privilege of having Helga call them names with her own special flavor. Of course she still insulted almost everyone, but towards Arnold, "Football Head" was probably Helga's screwed up idea of an endearment term.
Or was the lack of heat that made him feel light headed and border-line insane?
He saw her anger deepen at first at his strange response but when he quieted his chuckles to smile at her, surprisingly she smiled back. Well, she stepped forward through their ring of friends around him, landed a hard punch on his shoulder, took off her scarf and wrapped it around his neck.
Then she smiled.
Arnold saw the way her expression softened with the bright grin on her lips and he had to admit that Helga was beautiful. His attention on her took away from the biting chill.
He thought that it could have been the first time he saw Helga cry, the first time that her jagged exterior was shattered, and the first time she showed him the softer side of her that he knew was there all along.
All the senior students gathered in the theatre that evening with their families and friends to celebrate their many achievements throughout their years in high school.
Helga was called up to receive the top award for her outstanding performances in the language arts classes. Arnold smile and clapped for her, knowing that she deserved the recognition. She had no tears of joys in her eyes when the golden medal was placed around her neck. The tears came long after the ceremony ended, on the curb of the school's parking lot.
"Shortman," Grandpa Phil said somberly, unlike his usual energetic voice.
"What is it, Grandpa?" Arnold asked, slightly worried whenever he heard the smallest hint of seriousness in the old man's tone.
"Does your little friend want a ride home?"
Confused, Arnold looked out the front window of the car in the direction his grandparents were peering. The headlights barely reached her but Arnold could make Helga's sitting figure on the edge of the concert path. Without a second thought, he climbed out of the car and went to her side.
Upon his arrival, he saw her hastily rub her eyes and heard her suck in a jagged breath.
"Get lost, Football Head."
"Helga, what happened?" he asked, settling down next to her.
An exasperated sigh was the only answer he received but Arnold decided to wait quietly. It hardly took long before Helga spoke; though, the response was not exactly what he was hoping for.
"Why aren't you gone yet?" she growled at him.
"I'm not going to leave you crying here by yourself," Arnold said.
"I wasn't crying, Arnold."
"Helga." He tone was rigid, almost strict as if reprimanding a child.
There was that usual scowl accompanied with a low grumble of annoyance before she began to speak.
"My parents didn't come."
Arnold vaguely remembered the rest of their brief conversation but the memory he held onto always took him back to the warm embrace they shared. He was holding a tearful, strangely fragile Helga in his arms.
There she was. The lonely and unloved girl he suspected was buried deep beneath that unbelievably vicious facade. She was still trembling in tears when they were back in his grandpa's Packard. He tightened his arm around her shoulder protectively and whispered the only words he could deem appropriate and truthful.
"I'm always here for you."
Perhaps it was when Helga finally allowed him to hold her hand in public without fear of embarrassment.
Somehow, their entire group of friends managed to all find themselves at the carnival the day it came to the city. Arnold and Helga were laughing with the crew as they wobbled their way from their most recent roller coaster ride.
Arnold's head felt like it was spinning in all directions and Helga must have felt the same, considering the unsteady steps she took. His hand quickly shot out and grabbed hers to right her stance before she could take a plummet towards the asphalt.
"I'm fine, Arnold," Helga said with a wave of her other hand.
He felt eyes on him then. Arnold quickly released Helga's hand before she could turned bright red, or push him aside. They continue to follow the noisy group of teenagers towards a line for another heart-pounding thrill ride through the air.
That was when he felt a hand looping fingers through his. Shocked, he turned to Helga and found her wearing a rather nonchalant expression even though her gaze was upwards at the speeding metal cars. A question lingered silently on the tip of his tongue, but Arnold decided against opening his mouth. He had been waiting for that moment and Helga... Helga just never ceased to surprise him.
When they arrived at the line, astonished whispers erupted amongst their friends.
His favorite had to have been Gerald's.
"Mmh-mmh. It's about time."
Or maybe it was the first time their lips met with meaning and desire.
There was the chilly evening, saturated in salty ocean air, the cooled sand grains tickling between his toes, the swirling smoke from the fire, and Helga's warm fingers intertwined between his.
Helga gave one of her adorable content sighs and Arnold turned to her, chuckling and smiling. Words never came because their lips spoke so much more.
It was warm and soft and even a little sloppy, causing them to laugh at themselves when they pulled away slightly.
For a change, they weren't acting and it wasn't a dream.
It was how Arnold imagined his first kiss would be like but he never took their previous ones for granted.
He was almost sure it was when she told him she loved him for the second time.
Because then, he had the chance to sincerely say: "I love you too."
Against his shoulder, he felt Helga stir and smirked at how she always slept during the commercials. He tightened his hold on her, bringing her closer and nuzzling his cheek into her soft blonde hair.
It was difficult to choose the exact moment he realized his feelings. But as he gazed down at Helga's sleeping form, he thought to hell with it.
He was contented with the idea that he might have just fallen for her without realizing it, that everything she had done along the way only made him love her even more.
I always get carried away when writing Arnold/Helga stuff. I haven't intended for it to be this long (considering the ending). Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed it! Please let me know~