Sorry it took so long to post this. I haven't had wi-fi in a while, and I won't for a long, long while, so I'm using a public internet connection. Anyways, hope you enjoy.
Ralph blinked awake feeling fried, boiled, and steamed all at once. Every tiny part of his body flared with pain the instant he woke up. He felt so tired he wanted to fall back asleep, but the pain kept him from doing so. The sky was too bright, it hurt to look at, so he tried to lift his arm to cover his eyes. It was no use. He was too exhausted. Not even a finger twitched under his best efforts. Ralph tried to roll his head to the side. Not even that simple motion could be carried out. The best that Ralph could do was allow his eyes to flutter closed again.
Since he couldn't do anything else, Ralph tried to remember what happened to him. At first, the only idea that he had was that he had finally taken one too many falls from the top of the Nicelanders' building. But that didn't explain why he felt like he'd been lit on fire. He remembered having an argument with Gene. Something about a medal. Did he get torched over in Zombie's game trying to get one? It wasn't uncommon for the zombies to lit on fire.
But that didn't sound quite right. No, there was a different game Ralph went to get a medal. What was it called...some new game that had only been plugged in for a week...right! Hero's Duty! And he'd gotten a medal. After that, he started remembering everything. The jet, finding Sugar Rush, having his medal stolen, helping Vanellope, Turbo, the cybug invasion, falling into Diet Cola Mountain. It all came in a rush.
His next question was: Where was he? He opened his eyes again, instantly regretting the action because of the glare from the sun. But he squinted hard and was able to make out the red and white branches of a candy cane tree above him. So he was still in Sugar Rush, out in the candy cane forest where he first met Vanellope. Ralph wondered vaguely if Vanellope was okay and whether or not she still came out to play around in the forest.
Hours passed before Ralph could move. That's what it felt like anyway. Ralph curled his fingers, barely able to close them over his palms. It was another few long minutes before he was able to bend his heavy arms and drag himself to his feet. Slowly, painfully slowly, Ralph pulled one foot in front of another, following the sound of speeding carts.
The game wasn't destroyed, which probably meant Vanellope wasn't a glitch anymore. The cybugs had completely destroyed the gamescape the last time Ralph saw it. The other, more disturbing thought Ralph didn't want to acknowledge was possibility that he had just been asleep for a long time, long enough for the system to repair itself. No, that couldn't be it. Old Latwik would've noticed and put the game out of order if that was the case.
Light grew a bit brighter as the candy cane trees thinned out. Ralph found himself standing next a part of the track, where racers could be heard zooming his way. Completely exhausted by his hike, Ralph dropped onto his knees before sliding down to sit on the hard ground.
A small dot appeared on the track, growing bigger as it grew closer. It was the lead candy cart, a couple of others hot on its wheels. Ralph took a minute before he recognized it. It was Vanellope's cart! She was okay!
Vanellope flew right past him before she squealed to a grinding halt, almost making the following carts crash into hers. She jumped out of her cart and ran back to him, looking excited and disbelieving at the same time. "Ralph? Is that really you?"
"Yep," he replied. He couldn't think of any witty remarks, not when she seemed so worried about him. She ran up and hugged him, gripping him as if he was just going to disappear. It wasn't like her usual self at all. Fortunately (or maybe not), Vanellope recovered fast.
"You had me worried there, Stinkbrain," she joked, not seeming quite so convincing with the tears shining in her eyes, but she refused to cry. "How did you manage to survive that diet soda? I thought you died."
"I don't know, Miss Boogerface," Ralph answered truthfully. "I just woke up in the candy cane forest.
"Well, Fix-it and the soldier lady just left a few minutes ago. You still have time to make it back to your game before the arcade opens," Vanellope said, climbing back into her cart.
"I can't make it back there in time! I have to get there by foot. I don't have a cart like you do!"
"Oh, just shut up and get on, Stinkbrain," Vanellope said. She was clearly rolling her eyes even though Ralph couldn't see her face. "I'll give you a ride." Now, all of the other racers had stopped to see what was going on. One of them spoke up.
Vanellope shot him a look that screamed "shut up".
"Princess?" Ralph asked as he climbed onto the back of her go-cart.
"Yeah, as it turns out, I was a princess. It was just better bein' a glitch, especially since I had to wear this dress...so I just decided to remain a glitch. But there is one change," Vanellope said, starting her engine.
"I can leave the game." The cart shot forward and Vanellope sharply pulled a U-turn. It took all of Ralph's energy to hold on, so he didn't have a chance to say or ask anything else. Vanellope shot past all of the other racers, ignoring them completely as they watched.
It was like the destruction that the game went through was just a bad nightmare. Everything was just like it was before. But instead of having a tyrannous "King Candy" in charge, Vanellope was the leader of the game as princess. Or maybe not, if what she said about choosing to stay a glitch was true. Either way, she was free to race now, just like what she always wanted. Maybe Ralph wasn't going to get that penthouse that Gene offered and maybe other people still wouldn't be nice to him, but it didn't matter, not anymore. As long as Vanellope liked him, that was all he needed.
Ralph was too busy thinking that he didn't even notice the gate leading out of Sugar Rush coming up fast. What if Vanellope was mistaken? What if she still couldn't leave the game? She couldn't know unless she actually tried before, right? He closed his eyes, but there wasn't a sudden jolt at all.
When he opened his eyes, they were on the other side of the gate, speeding through the tunnel to Game Central Station.
"I told you, Stinkbrain!" Vanellope laughed, catching a glimpse of Ralph's expression. "I can leave the game now. I saw Fix-it and Calhoun off outside the gate." So that's how she found out. Would've been nice to know that earlier.
Vanellope blew past the Surge Protector's checkpoint, not bothering to stop when the annoying guy showed up. "Sorry, got places to be!" she called over her shoulder. She navigated like a pro through other game characters that danced away when she came near, clearing a nice path all the way to Fix-it Felix Jr.
There was a full-scale evacuation going on. Calhoun was there to help, waving out the Nicelanders and shouting for them to hurry up. Felix was standing at the head of the growing crowd, making sure everyone was present. However, the whole process stopped when Vanellope pulled up.
Felix ran over, looking ecstatic. "Ralph! You're alive! I'm so happy to see you! We all thought you were dead. Wait. We'll hear the story later. Right now, we need to all get back in the game. Latwik will open the arcade any minute."
"Alright everyone. You heard Fix-it. Get back inside!" Calhoun yelled, herding them back into the gate.
"Well, I guess this is goodbye for now, Ralph," Vanellope said, smiling up at him.
"I guess so."
Felix poke his head out. "Ralph! Hurry up!" Ralph clambered off the cart, still tired from his near-death experience. It was going to be a hard day trying to wreck the building, but it was going to be worth it.
"I'll see you later, Stinkbrain!" Vanellope called. She was already off again, racing back to her own game. Ralph just chuckled and joined the nervous Felix standing anxiously at the gateway.
"So just how exactly did you survive Ralph?" The question was from Gene. Felix put down his slice of cake to listen for a moment. Ralph was a little busy eating pie to answer immediately.
"I don't really know," Ralph replied for the second time. "The last thing I remember was the diet cola spurting up around me, and then I woke up in the candy cane forest this morning."
"He was just lucky," Calhoun muttered.
"We all were," Felix said. "Without Ralph, our game would've been Out of Order."
"Three cheers for Ralph!" Vanellope called raising her cup.
The Nicelanders joined in; even Gene cheered. Wait. Did Calhoun and Felix just hug? Okay, that was weird. Nice, maybe, but weird. But Ralph realized as the cheers rose up around him that this was what he'd really wanted all along. Not necessarily the penthouse or the pies, but to not be treated like a criminal. It really was okay to be a bad guy in the game as long as he had friends.