stillthekey: ([ha!] i don't have all the answers)
[personal profile] stillthekey
Title: Trying
Fandom/Universe: Hey Arnold!
Character(s): Helga, Arnold
Rating: Teen
Chapters: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7




He doesn’t want to start at the beginning.

It’s too far back. Too tied up in roots and vines and faces he can’t remember. Let’s just leave it at - his parents left and didn’t come back. He grew up.

(he went to find them once. twice. third time’s the charm.)

He stopped being happy somewhere around age ten. Something stinking of failure and blood began beating in his chest and he stopped breathing right. Every thing came out wrong. He hadn’t found anything in the jungle. Nothing but mud and stone and a growing sense of loneliness.

(there was a little bit of light. soft hand in his. blue eyes. but it wasn’t what he’d been looking for. and it wasn't enough.)

He left San Lorenzo empty-handed (save for the warm hand in his. a paradox, see?) and tried to force down the despair rising up and down in his stomach. He went home and didn’t cry. Didn’t dream.

---

Yet the next year was nothing but dreams. Blue eyes was always at his side and sometimes Gerald would grip his shoulders too tight and shake, but Arnold never woke up.

“Where are you, man?” His once best-friend had asked.

Arnold had only laughed.

---

Fifteen and he was sitting at the table. His grandparents stared at him sadly.

“Arnold….”

“I’m done.” He wouldn’t look at them. “Everything here’s got a part of them in it. Every day I look at the door and think maybe they’ll be back. They aren’t coming back. Are they?”

His grandfather laid his hand a top Arnold’s.

“No. I don’t think they are, Short-man.” So sad. So worried.

“I can’t stay here anymore.” He told them again. “I can’t. The hope keeps eating away at me and it never works. I went looking for them. I found nothing. As far as I know I was born an orphan. They never existed at all.” He looked up. “I’m done searching for ghosts. I’m fifteen.”

A month later they had moved far from Hillwood.

(blue eyes never came to say good-bye. he didn’t notice.)


---*---*---



Arnold lets out a long breath and begins leading Helga down a path in the woods. He’s not sure where it goes, but he really doesn’t care.

“I’m not really how to start this.” He admits.

“The beginning?” She offers.

“Too far back. It began when my parents disappeared. But you already knew that, right? You were there in the jungle with me the first time.”

“First time? You went back?” She asks. He nods. She sighs. “How about starting with after you moved. I haven’t heard from you since we were fifteen.” Her shoes slide forward on the stone path and she watches as a bunch of small rocks go skittering off ahead of them. She tries to see where each one of them lands, but there’s too many.

“Not much to tell.” He says. He’s staring upwards at the cloudy sky, peeking out from underneath the umbrella. He wonders if the rain will be letting up anytime soon. “We moved south. It was really dry, really flat. I went through high school. Got okay grades, dated a few pretty girls and just… moved on? I don’t know. It wasn’t a spectacular life, but I was content. When I was there I stopped thinking about my parents as much. It helped, I think.”

“You don’t regret it at all?” She wonders and he immediately shakes his head.

“Hillwood was killing me.”

“I can understand that.” She agrees, thinking about her own life. Twenty-five and going nowhere. Twenty-five and miserable. “But we’re still not getting anywhere, Hair Boy. How did you get here?” She gestures to the woods around them. “And what’s with the whole being chased by faceless villains thing?”

He stops.

“I told you. It’s hard to know where to begin.” The small ball of cloth is clutched tightly against his chest and he lays his head down on it. The bundle against his cheek is warm. A nice contrast to the cool air and the rain that still manages to catch on his arms from time to time.

“Ugh.” She responds, turning from him to cross her arms over her chest. “You’re being so difficult.” The sudden jerk of her arm causes a few droplets of water to hit against her face and then he remembers.

“The rain.”

“Huh?” Arnold lifts his head and stares upwards again.

“I think I know where to start.” He says finally. She rolls her eyes at him, but doesn’t move. She’s ready to hear it.

“It started when my grandpa died….”


---*---*---



It doesn’t rain.

The ceremony goes by in a blur. Far less people come to the funeral than he’d have thought. Then again, he hadn’t told very many people. No one from Hillwood knew yet or at least they hadn’t heard it from him.

Grandma died a little over a year ago. That had stung, but this….

This is so much worse.

With his grandfather’s death comes the unrelenting truth to pound once again at all the sore places in his mind.

Arnold Shortman is an orphan.

Its like someone has taken almost seven years of his heart’s healing and ripped it to shreds. He’d been doing so well! He was about to finish up college, get a real job and maybe even move in with Marci like he had said he would. He’d left his parents and Hillwood and terrible jungles behind him. He was fine.

It’s funny how quickly everything can be turned on its head.

The old ache rises up in him. The dream, the painfully miserable hope claws at his insides as the sun rises higher in the sky. Goddamit, where is the rain? How can the universe smile on this day? Where is the thunder and the lightning and the delicate strands of his own sadness made real?

He is an orphan.

And worse than that.

He is alone.

Arnold leaves then. He doesn’t look back.

---

The plane isn’t meant to fly in these conditions, but Arnold doesn’t care.

A flash of lightning brightens the sky over the jungles of San Lorenzo as the rain pounds against the front of the plane. Arnold is blinded for just a second, but it’s enough. He hits the top of a tree and the plane shakes under his grip.

He goes down.

---

He crawls out of the wreckage.

---

The plane burns well into the next morning.

---

They call him Phil. He wonders what becomes of Arnold. He decides that he doesn’t care.

Work is scarce here. When he’s offered a job lifting crates, he takes it without even a single question about the contents of said crates. Better that he doesn’t know, he figures.

---

Years tick by. Phil makes friends. He buys a small hut. He doesn’t need much to get by anyway. It’s just him.

A few girls look his way, but he doesn’t really pay attention. He heads to work and lifts crate after crate after crate. He survives.

He doesn’t live.

---

There’s a very small bar in town. He goes down with some of the guys every Tuesday. He laughs and drinks and drinks and laughs and stares at his reflection in the bottom of his glass and wonders.

Where did Arnold go?

A smelly man stumbles into the bar one night. His hair is sticking up in awkward places, a few patches are missing completely. He smells like urine and vomit.

A few of the men start taunting him. Telling him to get lost. That he’s disgusting and a waste of space. Phil watches, but doesn’t say anything. He takes another shot and stares down into the dark, murky depths of his alcohol soaked mirror self again.

Where did Arnold go?

One of the larger men suddenly stands up and kicks the stinky guy in the ribcage. He lets out of grunt of pain and curls into a ball on the floor.

The boy in the bottom of his glass won’t stop staring at Phil.

The large man is about to land another kick, when Phil suddenly stands up. He turns around, walks over to the crumpled man and then leans down beside him. Slowly, Phil helps him up. The large guy watches all of this in silence for a moment.

“He’s a waste, Phil. Just toss ‘im out and then come back, ya?”

Phil shakes his head.

“Fuck off, Buzz.”

The broken man leans on Phil for support as they leave the bar. Outside, the sun is setting on the tiny town.

“Where do you live?” Phil asks. The other man says nothing. Phil grunts. “Hey, I said where do you live?”

“…I’m Ward.” Is the response he gets.

“That's nice, but not very helpful.” Phil complains, struggling under Ward’s weight.

“T-thank you. For helping me.” Ward says. “I don’t have a home.”

Phil laughs.

“Guess I shouldn’t be surprised at that, huh? That sort of complicates things though. I don’t really have the room for you.” Or the want for him, Phil thinks to himself. God, he smells.

“Who are you?”

“Phil.” He answers a little too quickly. Scared of what might have come out instead. Helping this man means nothing. He’s not Arnold anymore. He’s not. Arnold’s gone and dead and dead and gone and… and….

“Thank you Phil. If you could just help me to the river, I’ll sleep beside it tonight.” Ward says and Phil nods.

“Maybe you could bathe in it too?” Phil offers, which ‘causes Ward to laugh. They walk in silence all the way down to the side of the river. After that, Phil gently helps lower Ward to the ground.

“Thank you. Guess I won’t be attempting to get into a bar again soon, eh?”

“They aren’t bad guys, just… unruly. And you sort of stink pretty bad and look pretty ugly at the moment. It kind of upsets the stomach.” Phil tells him.

“Haha, can’t argue with that.” Ward laughs as he leans back against the trunk of a tree. “Guess I’ll have to find some other way to entertain myself.”

Phil smiles and sits down beside him.

“You could always try watching the clouds.” He says, looking up.

“Clouds?” Ward raises an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Phil says, pointing up. “Like that one right there. Doesn’t it look like a sailboat - a schooner? No, a clipper!” He says with a laugh. Phil turns to look at Ward, but the other man’s eyes have gone wide. Not exactly fearful, but still shook up. “Ward? You okay?”

Ward’s hand darts out and he wraps his fingers firmly around Phil’s forearm, pulling him closer.

“Miles? No… Arnold?” Phil’s eyes widen as Ward’s grip tightens.

“How do you know who I am - who my dad was?!” He demands.

Unexpectedly, Ward pulls back his arm fast and then jumps up. Next thing Phil knows, the older man is tearing through the trees, running fast away from the village - away from Phil. Phil is paralyzed for a second, before jumping up and racing after the other man, but by then it’s too late.

Ward has disappeared.

---

Phil stays beside the river well into the night. The moon lights up the water and his reflection doesn’t look away no matter how badly he wishes it would.

Arnold stares at him from the water below and Phil wonders if maybe Arnold drowned. Perhaps he had managed to somehow crawl out of the wreckage of the burning plane and his lonely past just in time to let the water carry him down, down, down forever.

Phil wonders.

Where did Arnold go?

He wants to find out.

He takes a breath.

And jumps.

DOWN.

down.





down…

---

A shadow pulls him back to the surface and Arnold opens his eyes. The night sky stares back at him.

He yells for his father and his mother and his grandparents and himself. He can’t remember who’s alive and who’s dead anymore.

The shadow helps him back to his hut before disappearing. Arnold never thinks to ask for the shadow’s name.

---

He wakes up in the middle of the night. Ward is standing over him, a small bundle of cloth wrapped tightly in his arms. He holds it as gently as one would a baby.

“La Corazon.” He whispers as silent as the dark. “Don’t look at it.” He tells Arnold as he hands the bundle over. Arnold takes the gift and wraps his fingers around it, holding it close to his chest.

“I don’t understand.” Arnold says, eyes pleading. Ward smiles and Arnold recoils at the broken, yellow teeth in the old man’s mouth.

“I think this might help too.” Ward says, thrusting a newspaper clipping into Arnold’s hands. Arnold’s eyes cross as he tries to read it in the dark. He rubs the palm of his hand against his tired eyes and blinks a couple times, before refocusing on the article. “Dr. Wash… collector of… green eyes?... daughter’s debutante ball on the 30th?” He looks up to find Ward looking at him closely. “I’m confused, Ward. What is all of this?”

“There isn’t much time, Arnold. You have to go home. The Green Eyes are counting on you.” He places his hands on Arnold’s shoulders and looks him straight in the eye. “Your parent’s are counting on you. I can’t keep La Corazon any longer. It’s yours.” His eyes dart to the side as something rumbles outside. “Get back here as soon as you can. I’ll be waiting at the temple.” With that, Ward turns and ducks out of the door. Before he leaves he shoots Arnold one last look. “You must leave quickly, Arnold. La Sombra has eyes everywhere.” And then he’s gone.

There’s a small sound beating against the roof of his hut and it’s then Arnold realizes that it’s raining.

He hugs the small bundle close to him and buries his face in it.

He cries for the first time in sixteen years.

---

Nothing happens until after his plane touches down. He’s stopped at a corner store, looking at the soft drinks when a cold hand wraps around the back of the neck.

“I think you have something that doesn’t belong to you.”

His grip on La Corazon tightens.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He says softly before whirling around and kicking the man square in the stomach. The large man flies back into an aisle of candy bars. Arnold runs.

---

And he doesn’t stop running.

---

But they keep finding him.

---

Wolfgang frowns at him as Arnold rakes a hand through his unwashed hair.

“Dude, you need a bath.”

The large Mack Truck is slowly making its way back towards Hillwood. Arnold tries to focus on his plan, but the thing is… he doesn’t really have one. Get to Hillwood seems to be good enough for now. It was his hometown and the map of San Lorenzo was supposedly still sitting pretty in his old bedroom. If he could get that and then somehow get to the Wash guy’s house and then go back to San Lorenzo with La Corazon, maybe… somehow….

Something had to happen, right?

Running into Wolfgang had been a surprisingly lucky coincidence. The old bully had grown up. The guy was still mostly an asshole, but also oddly helpful. He’d been quick to offer Arnold a ride, which Arnold took. He still wasn’t sure if Wolfgang knew who he was though.

“Yeah…” Is his eloquent response.

Wolfgang watches him out of the corner of his eye as they enter the city limits. Arnold lifts his head to stare outside, suddenly overcome with memories.

“Welcome back, you fourth grade loser.” Wolfgang says.

Arnold smiles.

“Thanks, you big fifth grade jerk.”

---

Gunshots. The streets are empty and something is chasing him.

He’s managed to hide La Corazon for the time being. He hopes that he can get back to it before recess lets out. If any of the kids find it….

He’s slowing down. Three weeks of running on empty will do that to a person. He can’t remember the last time he ate. Two days ago maybe? And he hasn't had a full night’s sleep in who knows how long.

They’re going to get to him and they’re going to kill him and take La Corazon and he’s fighting for nothing. His parents are dead and he needs to get over it. He needs to move on.

He turns down an alley and runs straight to the other side. Turns left to another street. Everything starts to blur together.

The shots seemed to have stopped. He ducks down on someone’s stoop for a moment. Breathing hard. He stands up, rests his forehead against the door. Just for a second. Just long enough to catch his breath before he runs for it again.

The door opens.

Blue eyes.

“Helga.”

And then the world goes black.


---*---*---



The rain has stopped.

Arnold stands a little bit in front of her, fingers still tugging at the fabric covering La Corazon. Or what a crazed man claimed to be La Corazon. She doesn’t really understand what it even is exactly, only that Arnold seems to imagine that it’s a key of some sort. The key to his parents.

“It sounds… crazy.” She says. “We all thought you died in that plane crash three years ago. And you just… changed your name and blended in?”

“I wasn’t the only one there with a murky past.” He whispers. “There were a lot of people working with me who just wanted to… start over, I guess.” It’s not raining anymore, but his cheeks are wet. Helga shuts the umbrella and takes a step towards him.

“So you’re going to save your parents.” It’s not a question. “One more jungle adventure, huh?”

“I think so. But there’s still one more thing that I need.” He pulls a slightly damp, crumpled news clipping from his pocket and hands it to her. “The Green Eyes’ Book of Healing. At least that’s what Ward implied I needed.”

She looked over the paper quickly.

“None of this explains why you’re a target now. Are you sure you didn’t piss off anyone important?”

“La Corazon is supposed to be a really rare, really sacred stone. I can only imagine how much it’s worth. And… well according to Grandpa there’s at least one person who has been trying to get his hands on it since before I was even born.”

“Oh yeah, who’s that?” She asks as they start heading back the way they came. The sun is beginning to set and she wants to gets out of here as soon as possible. She has the weirdest inkling that they’re being watched.

“La Sombra.” Arnold whispers, following her. “A river pirate.”

“Yeah, well. We’re pretty far from any rivers, bucko. Let’s just get back to the car and - Oh no.” She stops suddenly, causing Arnold to run into her back.

“What’s wrong?” He asks and then he looks up.

Two police cars are sitting beside their stolen vehicle. There’s a cop searching the car and two others standing just inside the doorway talking to, what looks to be, their waitress.

“Oh no.” Arnold echoes.

“Well if it isn’t you again. This just doesn't seem to be a good day for me, huh?” Comes a voice from behind them. They both turn back to find Wolfgang coming up the path behind them, zipping up the fly of his pants. “Just made a little pit stop.” He says as he winks at Helga. “How you doin’ Blondie? I haven’t talked to you since you sucker punched me in the tenth grade.” He says while Helga just scowls, but Arnold looks relieved.

“Could I ask you to do me another favor?” He asks, Wolfgang looks him up and down.

“You bathed since I saw you this morning?”

“No.”

Wolfgang shakes his head.

“Then no can do. You stank up the whole front of my truck.” He says as he pushes past them, but Helga grabs a hold of his arm. “C’mon Blondie, I’m flattered, but you really aren’t my type.”

“Ugh, asshole.” She complains as she shoves her fist in front of his face. “Listen up, unless you want a black eye to match the one I gave you back in ninth grade you’d better let us tag along with you. I’m not playing, Wolfgang.” She threatens.

He laughs.

“You’re pretty hot when you get all riled up.” Helga goes to lunge at him, but Arnold holds her back.

“Helga, stop!”

Wolfgang smirks at the two of them.

“All right, you can tag along for a little bit. I’m headed up around Pleasantville. We should get there in about three hours.”

“No need.” Helga says through clenched teeth. “Our stop is only about thirty minutes up the road.” She elbows Arnold off of her and starts towards the truck, ducking behind it once she gets there. “And can we hurry?”

Wolfgang looks at him.

“I’m not even gonna ask what’s going on with you two freaks. I already know it’s nothing good. Oh yeah, and you're gonna have to chill in the back of the truck this time. I wasn't lying about you stinking up my front seats before.” And then he starts towards his truck.

Arnold stands still for a moment, breathing in the lingering scent of rain on the trees. His journey is starting up again. His reprieve is at an end.

Arnold steps forward.




a/n: Those like first three mini flashbacks? Yeah, he doesn't tell her those - they're just his own vague thoughts as he tries to pull the story together. I don't think I made that all too clear.

LOL, did you like my little Strangetown reference? An asshole named Buzz. It's not a super obvious connection or anything, but I needed a name for the guy and that's what sprang to mind.

Haha, got questions? ASK AWAY. I know the flashback stuff was a little bit vague in some parts. I can't promise I'll answer everything, but don't be afraid to ask anyway!

Also, WOLFGANG! I have a really weird affection for him. And if you're worried that he's being too nice here - don't worry! He's still kind of a dick. You'll see. XD
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stillthekey: (Default)
Alyssa Marie

April 2012

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