When Ralph saw Felix next, he knew that something was off.
The handyman was sluggish, not as responsive as he normally was. His eyes were clouded, hazy.
“Hey Felix, whatcha up to?”
Felix shook himself, looking over to Ralph. He didn’t answer, just stared for a moment before turning back and walking off again.
Ralph trotted after him, catching the smaller shoulder with enough force to stop him.
“Seriously Felix, you okay?”
The high pitched giggle that came out said no. “I’m just dandy, Ralph.”
“You sure?” Ralph scrubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. “Cuz, I’ve been watching you and I’m pretty sure that you’re not okay.”
It wasn’t exactly true, but lately the only times Ralph had seen Felix it had been during ‘not okay’ moments. Like making out with air, or holding severed hands.
There was silence for a moment.
“You ever wonder if game characters can go crazy?”
Ralph had more than wondered.
“‘Course. We’ve been in here long enough for anyone to go crazy.”
Felix shook his head.
“No, I mean like corrupted data crazy. Glitch crazy.”
“I’m pretty sure that the player out there has us well enough maintained for that not to happen.”
There was silence again. Ralph shifted uneasily beside Felix. This was definitely not his forte.
“I don’t know what to do Ralph. I can’t get her out of my head. I see her everywhere, smell her in my room. I don’t understand what’s going on. I know this woman, she calls me husband and for the life of me I can’t remember her name.”
He broke from Ralph’s hand to pace back and forth. His hammer was pulled out of its slot, spun, then put back in repeatedly.
“She was just eyes, I’m sure she was just eyes, you know? Then suddenly, I can’t remember when she was just eyes. Now she’s a real person, Ralph, I swear to you she is!”
“Hey, yeah. I understand what you’re going through Felix... I do.”
Felix whirled on him. “She calls to me each night. Each night she lays with me on my bed. Each night I have sex with someone who I can’t remember the name of!”
Ralph put his hands out in front of him.
“Whoa whoa buddy! That’s just a little more tmi than I wanted.”
“And I want to. Have sex with her, I mean. I want to hold her and stroke her and every time I reach out all I touch is my bed. It’s like she’s real, but she isn’t real! What is going on with me Ralph?”
He cleared his throat embarrassedly. “Look. I dunno about the sex bit, but I have the same thing going on, okay? This little girl just... shows up and talks. For hours. About her game, all the racing she does... And I don’t even know what she’s talking about half the time.” His hands ran through his hair, tugging. “Or at least I didn’t. Now, I... I don’t know, I know. Somehow, I know what she’s talking about.”
He shifted nervously.
“I don’t know, Felix. I don’t know why it’s happening.”
Suddenly Felix looked up at him.
“Say, did you mention a little girl? A racer?”
Ralph nodded. “Yeah.”
“She talks about a girl some of the time... Sweets... Vanilla Sweets?”
That glowing knot began to grow again in Ralph’s chest.
“Yeah, yeah! Something like that. Not Vanilla...”
Felix wasn’t listening. His hammer swung faster than ever.
“She’s short, wears a green hoodie and striped leggings. A brat with dirty hair.” Ralph’s excitement bubbled over.
“Vanellope! She said her name was Vanellope!” Felix nearly shouted, his hands vibrating with energy.
Ralph felt his code slip and slide and crash together. Vanellope. The brat’s name was Vanellope!
There was a flash of light that knocked both Felix and Ralph off their feet. Ralph shook on the ground as the coding finally reassembled and he knew. The glow encompassing him and Felix both before dissipating.
Everything came pouring back to him in a flood and there wasn’t anything that could have kept him from breaking down. Giant sobs wracked his body.
Pain crested over him in waves. She was gone. She’d stayed with him to the very end and now she was gone and he wasn’t. She and Sergeant Calhoun were gone.
Felix was locked into place. His eyes saw Ralph but he couldn’t muster the strength to move over to him. His Tammy. Sergeant Tamora Calhoun. She wouldn’t ever knock him over the head for being too sappy again. He’d never see her joke with Ralph or tease Vanellope for being a Princess again.
There was a back door.
There was always a back door.
Felix started his search with every single nook and cranny of the apartment building. Every inch was scoured and searched for an entrance or door that he hadn’t seen yet. The Nicelanders no longer even paid attention to him, they just ignored him as he did them. They didn’t even seem to question why he was in their apartments, just glanced over him and went about their lives.
But it wasn’t in the apartment.
So Felix took his search outside.
Each and every bush. Every single extra brick. Nothing was left overturned. He combed through the whole level with a level of intensity that would have scared him before, now it was simply a means to an end.
The trees were tested, the ground was thumped. The dump was dug through, the train portal was carefully gone over.
Each and every inch of the platform was searched.
Still there was no door.
Felix tapped his toes against the floor, jiggling his leg up and down. It had to be there somewhere, it had to. Every game had a door. It was how repairs could be done, changes made to cater to players. Every game had a door.
If there was a copy of his Tammy somewhere in this game, Felix vowed to find it.
It was disconcerting to watch Felix search through the game.
Whatever he was looking for, it wasn’t easily found. This had to have been his third pass through the courtyard and he showed no signs of stopping.
The look that Felix shot him was dark.
“Go away, Ralph.”
Direct orders had never sat well with Ralph.
“Come on, man.”
He walked over to where Felix was carefully checking a bush for the upteenth time. “I’m pretty sure that whatever you’re looking for isn’t here.”
Felix’s hands clenched into fists.
“It has to be somewhere. I’ll look till I find it, by golly.”
“The door. I have to find the door. Tammy could still be in there.”
Ralph wasn’t the smartest cookie in the jar, but things finally clicked home. He was looking for the door to Motherboard’s code.
“Whoa! Really, Felix? Look, I miss em just as much as you do, but we can’t start messing with the code.”
The handyman whirled on him, finger jabbing into Ralph’s gut.
“No! You listen to me, Ralph! That woman was my wife. I loved her something fierce from the moment I laid eyes on her and those same dagblamed eyes have been haunting me for weeks now.” His hammer spun. Grab, spin, holster. Grab, spin, holster. “I don’t understand why we’re still here, I don’t understand why we suddenly remember everything and I can’t understand why it would do this to us!”
The Wrecker had been wondering the same thing. Why they even remembered the people from that other life. It didn’t make sense.
But then, he’d never been unplugged before. He knew some things, things that came with being code, but others were just...
It made no sense for the cabinet to give them back memories that didn’t pertain to the game. It wasn’t programmed that way. It didn’t have the complex emotional code that was standard for the characters, because that would impede its function. There was no logic in giving them something that didn’t benefit the game directly.
Ralph may not have been programmed as a rocket scientist but he knew when two plus two didn’t add up.
“Look buddy, I don’t know either. I don’t know why any of this even happened! All I know is that right now you’re going Turbo.”
Felix refused to look at him.
“And I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve thought it. I know that right now you want nothing more than to have something you can’t have. I promise you that this ain’t the way to do it.”
Felix just stared in front of him. Hands clenched, unmoving. “Give me a reason, Ralph.”
He glanced up, devastation written in every inch of his face.
“Give me a reason not to.”
A sense of solidarity
It was an imperfect solution. Both of them knew that, both of them understood the repercussions that might follow.
It didn’t matter.
They had gone through something that had changed their very code and that wasn’t easily let go of or forgotten. There were times when Ralph’s hands shook so badly that he couldn’t do anything. Times when Felix would curl up against his front, tucking Ralph’s massive hands between them and becoming a rock.
There were times when Felix was caught in a repetitious cycle of his own making. Tamora’s voice crying out while the handyman used Ralph’s mouth to fulfill his needs.
But it gave them a little solstice from the world. It created a pocket of calm and understanding that they both needed.
Ralph took care of Felix because he needed someone to look after, who would talk to him like he mattered.
Felix used Ralph because the physical sensations were the only things that kept him grounded in their stagnant reality.
It was mutually beneficial in the way that only truly desperate deals can be.
Felix had built a decent size cottage just past the edge of the forest, close enough to the Nicelanders that he could go back and mingle and far enough away that prying eyes would see nothing but trees.
Often times they would spend the whole day lounging. Moving from the bed to the sofa and back.
Some days there was silence, where they spent their time in quiet. Some days it was boisterous enough that they could hear Gene yelling for them to BE quiet. Once Felix had accidentally tripped and fallen smack into his food and Ralph had roared with laughter. Tears running down his face as he doubled over.
The memory ghosts still came and went, talking to and over each other. Never directly interacting with Ralph or Felix, thought they sometimes interacted with each other.
Imperfect, but with each day growing easier to bear.
It had been a full two years since Fix it, Felix had been plugged in inside of the collector’s home.
To say that it was boring was an understatement, at least in Ralph’s eyes. The older man had very little interest in playing the games he owned, but rather he just divined pleasure from owning them.
Vanellope and Sergeant Calhoun’s memory ghosts still popped up here and there, but as the High Score board slowly filled up they showed up less and less. Now it wasn’t anything for a week to go by between glitches.
Ralph gave a sigh, tucking his arm just that much tighter around Felix’s form. The warmth between them kept him sleepy, half awake and less so with each minute.
His cracked eye blearily looked around the room, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. With a yawn he closed it and settled back down to nap.
“Hey, Diaper Baby.”
He didn’t move, brow furrowing for a second.
“I just wanted to let you know that you’ll always be my hero.”
Felix murmured something in his sleep, hand reaching up and stroking once along Ralph’s jaw.
The silence stayed. Not a sound even with tears running down Ralph’s face to wet Felix’s hair. It was a goodbye to a goodbye. One that had been long in coming and was doubly painful because of it.
“I love you too, brat.”