The little girl in front of him giggled and spun in a circle, her green eyes twinkling with mischief.
“Come on Captain Catastrophe! We have bricks and blocks to smash and a hedgehog to race! Oh, and don’t even THINK about taking Tails’ plane this time. Total cheating!”
He didn’t respond, but it didn’t matter. Every time the little girl had shown up, she had a conversation with someone who didn’t respond. It didn’t matter where Ralph was either. The image seemed to be tethered to him somehow, the tiny body skidding across the terrain behind him. Code flashing as the stream was disrupted and pulled from wherever it stemmed from.
It was strange, the way he felt whenever she talked to her partner. Captain Catastrophe, Admiral Underpants, Stinkbrain... the monikers presented him with a clutch of warmth that effused his chest. It was a tight ball that nearly hurt, and Ralph had no idea why. There were moments when something , a hint of recognition, passed through him. When he knew that he KNEW this girl. Then they passed and he was again left confused, growing more and more desperate to find out why.
For a while, he just sat and watched her as she talked. Taking in her enthusiasm and vivacity, ignoring the party that brightened the penthouse windows. For once not interested in what the Nicelanders did, or upset that he was excluded again.
She rarely stood still. Her body was tiny compared to his own, not even half his height. Dressed in candy wrappers, broken pieces of candy littered her ponytailed hair and Ralph’s hand kept wanting to pat the top of her head. She darted back and forth, arms swinging wide as she talked. Everything that came out of her mouth was excited, upbeat.
“I totally think you should come over tomorrow! Sour Bill is taking a vacation, forced of course, and I am so going to have a party!”
Without realizing it, his hands had gone to his hair and were pulling. The sharp pain distracted him, kept him from looking too long. Kept him from reaching out to see if she was real.
“I already invited Taffyta and the gang, who’re totally still blubbering over me being a princess by the way. Can you say lame? I can! L-aaaaaaaaa-me!”
Ralph was pacing. Walking back and forth in front of the dump, his bare feet slapping against the concrete. He couldn’t look at her, because every time he did that stupid fire came back into his chest.
“Not that I mind being a princess, who would, uh-doy! But still! They were all way too nice! It was just a little creepy, Ralph, I’m tellin’ ya!”
She used his name and the feeling that had been pooling in him exploded outward. He knew her. He knew her.
He just couldn’t remember her.
With each tug of his hair and slap of his feet he said it.
“Stop it. Stop it. Stop it!”
The girl didn’t listen, didn’t even seem to hear him speaking. She just chattered on, heedless of his voice pleading with her, ordering her, to stop.
“I figured you and I could sneak out for some quality time! You know, just you and me on a kart. Racing over the Powdered Sugar hills and through the Cotton Candy Caverns, I so have to show you the new upgrades I made to my kart. We’ll be going a hundred miles an hour!”
Ralph couldn’t stop her, couldn’t escape her. Every time he paced outside of her range she would flicker forward, the break causing a slight catch in her voice. It distorted it for a fraction of a second, the tinny sound echoing alongside whatever she was talking about.
The glitch made him more upset each time he heard it.
“Citrusella and Torvald already told me that they’d cover, so we’re gold! They only thing we’re gonna have to worry about is the wind in our hair!”
He wasn’t sure why he was yelling, why he was pacing. Only that the pressure that kept building inside of him had nowhere to go and he was trying desperately not to explode.
“Sticky told Adorabeezle that her hair looked terrible and OH MAN you shoulda seen the fight!”
Tears stung his eyes and his hair was tugged into a mess. He turned and scrunched his huge hands into fists, slamming them against the pavement with enough force to crack it.
“WHY CAN’T I REMEMBER YOU!”
“Y’know, I’m really glad you’re my friend, Ralph. You aren’t so bad for a Stinkbrain.”
Tears coursed down his cheeks as he looked at the little girl. She had an earnest expression adorning her face, hands stuffed into the pockets of her hoodie and a light pink dusting of a blush just under her eyes.
“I never would’ve done any of this without you.”
Felix wondered if he was going crazy some days.
A voice followed him around. Talking to him. Sometimes the one sided conversations were normal, or relatively so, and others were hot enough to scorch his cheeks permanently red. Most of his time was spent alone, it was easier to hide certain problems when no one was around to see it
It was a female, definitely a female. She would talk about mundane things like dinner, things he didn’t understand about her duty and things that made every part of him stand at attention
She talked. To him, at him. His responses didn’t seem to make much of a difference to her, and after a while he stopped responding at all. The voice just continued on.
The voice was an easy one to listen to. Felix didn’t even much care what she said. Everything sounded wonderful to his ears, beautiful. The cadence and tone varied with the topics and never failed to push his heart to pounding.
Felix wondered if being crazy was a bad thing.
Ralph startled awake, standing up so quickly that his shack shook. He could hear voices from outside, all the more startling because no one really came outside anymore.
He carefully opened his door, peering out into the simulated night. Felix and... Ralph wasn’t sure exactly what was next to the handyman, were moving away from the apartment building and closer to the forest. Felix laughed and reached out, grasping something. As his hand closed around it, Ralph watched as it went from free floating pixels to a--
“Holy Moly! That’s a hand!”
The hand held Felix’s, perfectly formed and automated. Ralph could see each finger articulated, interlocked between Felix’s.
Bits of the conversation wafted over to him.
“Cy-bug... so glad he... lope, good girl...”
The voice wasn’t Felix’s either. It wasn’t even male.
Ralph slipped out of his home and walked carefully behind Felix. He was too big to even try being stealthy, but there was no way he was getting close to that free floating hand anyway if he could help it.
It didn’t seem like Felix shared his feelings though. He kept a hold of the hand as he walked, talking back and forth with the disembodied female voice. Mentioning things that Ralph was darn sure had never happened.
“Jim-i-ney am I glad we met. Ralph may be a little clumsy now and then, but I know he’s a good guy at heart. Even if he is a bad guy, I’m glad he’s my bad guy.”
“Sure... eck-it... completely... is he.”
“Nah. Besides, if he hadn’t I would never have met you.”
The large man wasn’t sure if he wanted to gag or be more than slightly grossed out at the level of sap in Felix’s voice. Not to mention that he was really really freaking really sure that he hadn’t had an extra large hand in helping Felix meet his... whatever she was.
But Felix had stopped walking and had turned to where someone should have been attached to that hand. Lifting his free one up and cupping it around nothing, leaning in and kissing nothing.
Kissing nothing just a bit longer than Ralph thought one should kiss nothing.
Ralph shuddered and stuck his tongue out. “Blech.”
He turned and walked back to his shack, missing Felix’s first hand letting go of the hand and connecting with nothing. Pixels coalescing until a face came into view for a brief second, then winking out.
Felix blinked, lowering his hands and looking around to see the back of Ralph’s body in the distance.
“See you, Fix-it.”
Ralph no longer startled when he heard a tiny voice talk to him from behind.
The little girl never seemed to deviate from her pattern of talking to him and Ralph was amazed that she hadn’t run out of topics to talk about by now.
She knew him, or someone named Ralph anyway, and clearly there had been an Adventure involved somewhere in her meeting ‘Ralph’. Stranger still, he felt like he understood, somehow, what she was talking about.
He still didn’t remember her name though.
And really, it wasn’t that bad having her around anyway. She talked to him, something that the Nicelanders didn’t do. She didn’t seem to care that he was the coded bad guy, or really anything about his game. Most of the time when she talked it was about those vaguely familiar things she’d done with ‘Ralph’. None of which seemed to actually be in the game.
“Remember the time we snuck out to Tappers and got totally sloshed on Root Beer Floats? Oh man was Sour Bill skeeved!”
There was a tickle associated with each name.
“I snuck one of Sonic’s rings out, just for a memento, ya know?”
A small pit of warmth that pulsed in his chest, disrupting his code. The first few times had sent him into a panic, his own strands of code pulsing and visible.
Now it seemed to him that every time he felt that warmth, every time his code disassembled and reassembled, he changed.
“Those Zombies were total creepers! Not, like, that I was scared or anything...”
It wasn’t a huge change. Heck, most of the time Ralph couldn’t even feel a difference.
But he recognized things now that he KNEW he hadn’t recognized before. He had no idea who Tapper was, but he knew him. It drove him to distraction some of the time, trying to figure out who they were.
“Peach is nice and all, but she always wants to talk about how awesome Mario is. Blech-o!”
He sat on his stump with one knee pulled up, his arms folded on top of it; chin resting on his arms. With every word she spoke, the girl next to him gestured. Using her hands and arms and even her whole body as she spoke.
“I’m real glad Felix and Tammy got married, even if I did have to stand in that stuffy dress for a million years.”
These days it was a blessing to have her to listen to. It broke the stagnation that had nearly overcome Ralph. He didn’t get to go to the parties in the penthouse, not the least because he would probably have wrecked the place by accident. They didn’t want him there. The good and the bad didn’t intermingle.
And rightfully to everyone who experienced it. It was hard coded into the software. It made everything more believable for the player.
Or it was supposed to, anyway.
Ralph looked over, just watching as she chatted on. The glow of his chest never ceasing as long as she talked.
It came as almost a start when Ralph finally remembered who Tapper actually was.
He’d been walking, alone for once, when his code began to disassemble. Threads of it disconnected from each other violently, whipping back and forth inside of him. His hands became nearly translucent and he thunked to the ground, no strength left in his knees at all. It couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity to Ralph as he knelt there motionless. With incomplete code in that magnitude, motor functions were all but impossible. His core self was being severed, re-braided. He could feel the changes as each piece of code slotted back into his body, even if he wasn’t completely sure what they did. They were heavy, each a weight of stone that pressed down and wouldn’t let up.
The motherboard’s voice echoed through Ralph as he struggled to his feet.
The glitc- no, the girl. The word glitch left a horrible taste in his mouth. The girl reappeared, chatting on again.
Except this time, Ralph could follow most of what she was saying.
He knew who Tapper and Mario and Sonic and Pac Man were. The how was still fuzzy, but he knew who they were.
“Sweet Mother Hubbard.”
He was sitting at Tapper’s, a mug of root beer in one hand. The girl sat next to him on the counter, swinging her legs as she chugged down the drink.
“You comin’ back to Sugar Rush tonight? Gonna be a wicked cool party at the palace! Kinda like a clean-out-Candy party!”
“You know I’m always up for smashing stuff, kiddo.”
“Sweet! Just one more drink for me and I’m outta here. Gotta make sure all the real valuable stuff is put away, eh Ralph?”
She giggled and waved to Tapper.
“Another please, Jeeves!”
Tapper gave a laugh and snagged the empty mug, pulling the lever on one of his many kegs and refilling it perfectly. Foam spilling just a bit from the top.
“Here you go.”
The girl swiped it and buried her face in the foam.
“Best in the business, thanks Tapper!”
Tapper waved as he walked to another customer.
“No problem V------
With a yell, Ralph came out of the memory. Sprawled across the ground with no remembrance of how he’d gotten down there.
Shakily he got, again, to his feet. Running back to his stump clumsily, bouncing off the trees that seemed to get in his way. Ignoring the skipping and cracking of the little girl’s image that followed him.
Felix lay breathing heavily on the bed. He’d been taking a nap, something he was doing more and more frequently, when the update had accessed his core data and gone through it with all the subtlety of Ralph at a fancy dinner.
Not that the motherboard was any kind of subtle itself. The cabinet’s arbitrary decisions on when to do code updates always left Felix feeling out of sorts. He was sure he was glitched. Between the blond hair and blue eyes that seemed to be present whenever he slept to waking up and finding himself in strange places alone, Felix was just about done with whatever motherboard was doing.
As his code settled, he relaxed. Letting his eyes shut again and sighing, not interested in even getting out of the bed.
“Already in bed, Fix-it? Is that a hint?”
Felix opened his eyes to look at his wife. She stood at the edge of the bed with a towel around her waist, smiling at him. He gave a goofy one back and patted the bed next to him.
“Come here you.”
She laughed and sat down, swinging her legs onto the bed and nestling into the crook of his arm. They lay like that, quiet, for a long enough time that her eyes began to close. It was a dozy kind of afternoon. They didn’t have anything to do but be here with each other for another few days.
He gave a great sigh of contentment, turning to his side to curl up beside his new wife’s lean frame. The smell of her shampoo was subtle, not at all like the strong perfumed ones that some of the Nicelanders used. It encircled him, wafting into his nose and sticking there. Felix was sure that he would remember this smell forever.
The smell seemed permanently infused into his pillows. No matter how many times he washed them or traded them, the smell remained.
Felix ground his teeth. This woman, his ‘wife’... he saw her everywhere. Felt her everywhere. It seemed to him like there was no place that he could hide. She followed him, those radiant blue eyes a world of emotion all their own. He didn’t even remember when it had gone from only eyes to a person.
He wasn’t sure he hadn’t imagined it all anyway.
The woman was all curves and long limbs. Graceful, powerful and beautiful. Her face captured Felix in a way nothing else ever had. It called out to him to touch it, stroke it. When she called him ‘Fix-it’, it sounded more like a pet name than anything.
His hands tightened around the pillows. The smell was almost overpowering. It was like it had seeped into everything in his room. Drowning out any other smell that might be there, flooding him with images of that face.
Of that body.
Felix flipped over on the bed and buried his face into his arms. Trying and failing to quell the rising lust that built inside of him with each intake of scented air.
There was only one conclusion. There could be only one conclusion. Felix shifted on the bed, rock hard, spreading his legs just enough to rut against the covers.
Around him her voice swirled, tangling and weaving in and out of the scent until he was sobbing. thrusting hard into the bed, hands flying out to tangle with the blanket for a second before they clenched into fists.
Her voice cried out in completion even as he still moved, finally choking out a curse and curling up into a ball. Shielding himself against the world.