Disclaimer: Wreck-It Ralph is the property of the Walt Disney Company.
Skittles was at it again.
From the castle, it looked like the entire western half of the Candy Cane Forest was up in flames. Belches of smoke were occasionally visible, darkening the fiery orange glow flickering against Sugar Rush's perpetual lemon drop brightness. The uni-candy-corn rampaged like this every couple months, and every time it was a temptation, a strong temptation, to rip the blasted thing's code out.
King Candy stood at one of the castle's tower windows, arms folded over his chest while he drummed the fingers of one hand on his elbow. He'd sent every guard in the castle to deal with Skittles in the hope that through sheer strength of numbers they could prevent the animal from setting the whole town square on fire like last time.
The disthinct lack of fire containment was making his hope drop precthipitousthly.
The rightful ruler of Sugar Rush turned away from the window and stalked down the gleaming corridor, his normally jovial expression replaced by a glower. Rightful ruler—that—well, you know, it may not have been true, sthtrictly sthpeaking, in the sense that the code said what the code said and some things were embedded too deeply to be deleted, but…code could be rewritten. And he'd surprised even himself with how quickly he'd stopped thinking of himself as Turbo and started thinking of himself as King Candy.
Now that he couldn't actually see the damage Skittles was causing, he relaxed a little. Out of sight, not completely out of mind, but close enough. Anyway it had been a good day—a great, no, fantastic day of racing, in which he'd won every race that a gamer had selected him as their avatar in. Plus a few more. He chuckled at the memory. And tomorrow was another day! Ooh, he loved to win, he loved the looks on the gamers' faces as he accepted the Winner's Cup at the end of the race, the cheering of the crowd, the admiration of the other racers. It made everything worth it, even if his name—his old name that was—had become something like a curse word around the arcade.
A sacrifice. A price to be paid. Sometimes he wondered if it was enough for what he'd done. And then he wondered if he cared.
There was a distant roar—though not nearly distant enough for his tastes—and he continued planning the clean-up in his head. The first reports of a disturbance had placed the uni-candy-corn in Gumball Canyon, where he'd ripped the track up with his hooves, but not badly enough that the damage couldn't be repaired before the arcade opened tomorrow. The forest though, oy, it would take weeks to clear out all the charred and melted candy cane trees, and the taffy swamps would be treacherous, half-hardened death traps, and—
King Candy stopped mid-stride and whirled, looking around the corridor. Which was empty. Ha, well, yes, of course it was empty, he'd sent…oh. He'd sent every guard…out after Skittles…
Narrowing his eyes, he took a step back the way he'd come. Silence, nothing but silence, and he relaxed. Who would come here, anyway? Not the racers, no, they'd be working on their karts or sleeping and hopefully not running in terror from the sour-tempered uni-candy-corn. The NPCs, well, they might have to leave their homes in town and take refuge from Skittles elsewhere, but it wouldn't be here. Sour Bill was sweeping the throne room. Which left…
His eyes widened abruptly as he took in where he was. There was a single white chocolate door in the hallway, scrolling pink frosting adorning its edges, and a discolored spot in its center where something like a plaque had been removed. Of course, King Candy knew exactly what that something-like-a-plaque had been, since it had been him that had ripped it off and destroyed it. Princess Vanellope, it had said. He was standing in front of Vanellope von Schweetz's former bedroom.
There was another muffled sobbing sound, and he took a step back. Correction, then—he was standing in front of Vanellope's former bedroom, and there was someone inside.
"Pixie sticks," he cursed under his breath, reaching into his pocket to pull out the keys to the castle, which he, and only he, was allowed to handle. That room was locked from the outside. No one could get in. And yet there was most definitely someone inside.
For a second, he hesitated. Whoever was in there, they weren't going anywhere now. He could just wait for a few of his guards to get back. Then again if he waited for his guards to get back, he might well be waiting forever, or at the very least until the arcade opened tomorrow.
He squared his shoulders and slid the key into the lock. The sniffling on the other side of the door stopped, and as he turned the key and pushed the door open, there was a blur of green motion from one side of the room to the other. A blur of green motion that dissolved into blue binary for a stuttering half second.
"What are you doing here?" King Candy demanded.
Vanellope, the glitch herself, was huddled underneath the window (locked, also from the outside) on the wall opposite the door. Her eyes flicked between him and the consthpicuousthly empty space behind him. She was afraid of him, no doubt, but not as afraid of him as she'd be if he had some security here.
"I—uh—" she said, one of the aglets on her dirty hoodie dangling from her mouth. He glared at her but didn't enter the room any further. She might try to make a break for it past him, and he did not want her running around his castle.
"You do know that glitchesth are not allowed on the royal premisthesth?" He leaned a hand against the door frame in an attempt to take up more of the space around him. She was looking less and less afraid by the minute.
"I know, I know!" Vanellope said. Her eyes were red from all the sniffling she'd been doing before, and she wiped her nose on her sleeve. The action left a long, wet track on the fabric. "I just thought that, uh, we could talk, Your High and Mightiness."
"You don't have anything to say to me," King Candy snapped. He glanced around the room. "And how did you get in here, anyway?"
The girl bounced to her feet, apparently no longer feeling threatened at all. "Well, that was easy, Sir Candy Cane. Did you have like lay-offs or something? Because there's no one around in this whole place!"
"They're dealing with that animal setting my entire kingdom on fire, if you m—that's not important!" He drew himself up to his full height and pushed his crown back. "This room was locked and I want to know how you got inside."
Putting her hands behind her back and fixing him with a wide-eyed hazel stare, she said, "Well, I was looking for you, but then I got lost, and, I mean, I guess I…glitched."
"Through the wall?" King Candy asked, surprised.
She nodded. "Yeah, which has never happened before! But then the door was locked, and I was trapped and I couldn't get out no matter what I did, and I didn't want to call for help because I thought I might get locked up in the dungeon—"
"Fungeon," he corrected her.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." He narrowed his eyes at this casual dismissal of his cleverness, but she went on, oblivious, "Say, whose room is this, anyway? Don't tell me old Sour Bill sleeps in that fluffy pink nightmare."
King Candy froze. When he'd come in—well, he'd been so focused on Vanellope—but the bed; not just the bed, the dresser, the night stand, the light fixtures, all the furniture and furnishings remained precisely where they had been the day he'd reprogrammed Sugar Rush. A teddy bear with swirly lollipop ears was staring at him from the bed. "It's no one's," he said diffidently, waving a hand. "Just an unused part of the game."
"Huh," she said, peering around.
His heart was pounding, and not in the adrenaline rush way that he got from racing. She couldn't possibly—he'd ripped out her code, locked up her memories—but what if…? And what would he do?
His nervousness made him ask, simply to distract her, "What did you want to talk about, gl—er, Vanellope?"
Her gaze snapped back to him, her eyes wide in surprise. But—just a second, that was a thought—there was no reason he couldn't be nice to her once in awhile, was there? It wouldn't hurt. It might not help but it certainly wouldn't hurt. His subjects, after all, loved him not because he'd reprogrammed them to—though he could have, he was simply a whiz with code—but because he was the greatest racer in the game and their beneficent monarch, to boot. The glitch, though, she'd never see him as anything more than cruel.
Was it really cruel, though, if she didn't even remember who she really was?
Okay, so she was ostracized by everyone—the NPCs, the other racers, though Skittles seemed to like her, go figure—picked on, bullied, teased, and he did nothing to stop it. Well, how could he, he certainly couldn't have her socializing with Taffyta and Candlehead and the rest of them. They might get it into their heads that she could race.
But maybe this was worth a try. Be nice to the glitch, make her see reason.
Then send her back to whatever grubby little hole she slept in.
"Go ahead," he said kindly. "You said you were looking for me because you wanted to talk."
She blinked. "Wow, I thought for sure you'd try to throw me out."
"Well you know the best way to find me isn't by wandering around the castle by yourself, but if one of my subjects wants to talk, that's what I'm here for." He was going for avuncular and possibly laying it on a little thick. But he'd cultivated a pretty good avuncular tone in the last couple years. Then, as an afterthought, he pulled out a handful of peppermints and offered them to her. "Have some candy?"
The girl stared at him warily, and then her hand darted out, snatching the mints from him. He curled his fingers back to avoid coming into contact with her. Glitchy little…who knew what it would do to him—
"Why don't we get out of this room? After your ordeal in here you must want a change of sthcenery."
She gave this some thought. He decided he'd wait fifteen seconds before forcibly removing her. "Yeah, sure, King Candy-pants! It's too pink for me, anyway."
"It's salmon," he informed her as he steered her out into the corridor, locking the door behind him.
"Salmon?" she asked, making a face. "Like what part of the salmon? Its guts? So it's like fish guts? Your whole castle's the color of fish guts?!" She sounded delighted. "That's sooo gross!"
What he needed was some taffy to stick her teeth together with.
"What'sth on your mind?" he asked instead. Her cheeks bulged with candy. "It must be terribly important for you to disobey every single rule in the kingdom to sneak in here."
"Pretty important," she agreed cheerfully around her mouthful of peppermints. She swallowed and said, "I thought we could talk about me. Me racing, that is. And how I really, really, really really really want to do it, but you won't let me?"
Of course he'd guessed this. But he stayed silent for a long moment while they walked down the hallway, as though he needed time to consider his response to this sthurpristhing and unexthpected question.
"Vanellope." He didn't have any particular destination in mind, though he hadn't ruled the fungeon out yet. Depended how many more times she compared the color of his castle to the inside of a fish. "Do you know why I don't allow you to race?"
"Because you're a mean, grumpy, nasty old man who hates me?" Vanellope asked.
King Candy's grin stayed stuck in the same position. Grumpy? Grumpy? "Aren't you an adorable—hoo-hoo, just the sweetest child—no!" He cleared his throat and straightened his tailcoat, then repeated more calmly, "No." Stopping and turning towards her, he asked, "Remember the day you tried to leave the game?"
"Yeah," she said, rolling her eyes. "Your pastry police didn't even let me get halfway up the Rainbow Bridge."
He clasped his hands in front of himself, giving her a somber look. "That was because…" He let the pause hang for a dramatic moment. "…because you're a glitch."
"I'm not a glitch!" she said heatedly, sticking her lower lip out. He furrowed his brow at her in sympathy but didn't say a word. After a second, Vanellope looked at the ground, scuffing her shoes on the sparkling candy tiles. "So maybe I am," she mumbled. "But it's not my fault."
"Of course it's not," he said gently, holding out his hands. "These things—they're not anyone's fault, they just happen." He sighed heavily and prepared his coup de grǎce. "I know Wynchell and Duncan just seemed unreasonable. After all, what does it matter if you visit Game Central Station?"
"You tell me," she said.
His fingers curled back into loose fists, and he dropped them to his sides in resignation. "Vanellope, glitches can't leave their games."
For a long moment, she just gaped, open-mouthed, at him. Then, she shook her head. "No. You're lying, that's not true—"
"I should have told you then, but it just, you know—" He sighed again, the sigh of a monarch doing what he had to. "—it breaks my heart." Putting a hand to his chest, he added, "I know it's tough to hear, but I wouldn't tell you this if I didn't want to protect you."
Her eyes were looking watery again, but she blinked quickly and said, "So what? I don't want to leave the game anyway. I wanna race and you won't let me!"
"I'm a racer!" she shouted, her voice echoing in the columned corridor. Her form dissolved into binary as she glitched.
There was a long silence as the reverberations of her voice died away. King Candy surprised himself by feeling…sorry for her. Not sorry that he'd done what he'd done, he would have programmed her right out of the game if it had been possible. Ha, well, he'd tried, hadn't he? Tried and left her code twitching and glitching on the sidelines.
But he knew what it was like, to be a racer, to know how good you were, and to have that taken away from you, when you hadn't done anything wrong. She, like him, had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sad, he guessed. Sad but true. Only he'd done something about it. She couldn't.
King Candy took a risk then. Kneeling down, he put a hand on her shoulder. Don't glitch, you little brat.
"You know what I'm saying, don't you?" he said.
"No," she said, refusing to look at him. She didn't jerk out of his hold, though.
His fingers tightened momentarily on her shoulder. Let her decide if it was out of irritation or an attempt at comfort. "If I let you race," he said, "the gamers will think Sugar Rush is out of order when you start glitching." He tried to see her face, to see if this almost-truth was making a difference. "And if the game's put out of order…Vanellope, you can't leave like everyone else. You'll die when it's unplugged."
"I don't care," she said stubbornly, still staring at the ground.
"I do," King Candy said. He let go of her and clasped his hands at his heart again. "What kind of king would I be if I let that happen?"
That made her look up at him, a teary glare on her face. "Since when do you care about me?"
"Don't be silly—" he began.
"I don't have a place to live because no one wants me around!" she shouted. "If you cared about me you'd make them be nice to me. You're the king! People have to listen to you!" Her voice was cracking, but she wasn't actually crying. Brave little glitch.
He opened his mouth to add to his half-truths—oh fine, his lies—but then something stopped him. He looked at her, glaring up at him, and he just said, "I'm sorry. I know it's unfair." And he was sorry. Sorry that she'd been between him and saving himself. It was as unfair as the fact that the gamers had abandoned TurboTime for Roadblasters. As unfair as the fact that him trying to show the world that Roadblasters was no better than TurboTime got two games unplugged. As unfair as the need for him to hide his identity in this sugary world while out in the rest of the arcade his name was slandered.
Then again life, as they said, wasn't fair. And he'd save himself at the expense of Princess Vanellope von Potty-mouth any day.
"You're sorry?" she asked bitterly. "How about, 'gee Vanellope, maybe you'd like to live in a gumdrop townhouse like Taffyta'? Or—or tell everyone to stop being so mean, and that the NPCs don't have to scream when they see me, it's not like I smell really bad…" She trailed off as she stared up at his face.
"I can't," he said. "Would you rather I lied?" Oh, the irony. "Would you rather I told you I could do something about it, and then let things go on exactly the way they have been?"
Her mouth opened and closed, and then she asked in a small voice, "Why would you do that?"
"Because you're a glitch," he said. He could have been unkind. After all, she was a threat to him. Minor, of course, since it was easy to keep her from racing, hoo-hoo—that entry fee for the Random Roster Race had really been a blessing. Saved him the programming.
He could have been unkind, but he wasn't.
"I'm never going to stop trying to race!" she said. Hm, so much for being nice. No good deed ever went unpunished. "It's in my code and I'm supposed to be out there, and you can't stop me forever!" she said, her voice rising to a desperate squeak.
King Candy smiled. And this time, he was unkind. Much more Turbo than King Candy. Much more the part of himself he kept in reserve for moments like this. "Oh, just watch me, my little sugar plum. Just watch me."
Vanellope took a couple steps back. "If you cared—"
"I have bigger things to worry about than a glitch's feelings," he said, barely keeping the sneer off his face. "You can't seriously think that your personal fulfillment's more important to me than every other character in this game?" Her arms were ramrod straight at her sides, her fingers clenching at the dirty ends of her sleeves. King Candy crossed his arms over his chest and said, "You can consthider that an invitation to get out. And I don't want to hear about this again."
A glitch flickered across her and she glared. "You're the worst king ever," she spat. "You're more like…like King Cavity than King Candy."
He chuckled. "I love a good pun as much as the next person," he said, making a flicking motion with his wrist, "but I really mustht insthistht that you—hoo-hoo—get out of here immediately."
"Or what?" she demanded, crossing her own arms over her chest in imitation of him.
There was a clanking, and suddenly, a small squadron of his Oreo guards—looking very much worse for wear, courtesy of Skittles—dragged themselves around the hallway's far corner. "Or," he said with a delighted grin, "they can get you out of my sight. Only, it's policy you know, they'll have to bring you to the fungeon. I'll let you just go." Go to wherever she spent her time; he didn't really care, as long as it wasn't near his track. He reached up and pushed the nearest window open, gesturing towards it. "Your choice, glitch."
The guards hadn't spotted her yet, and she looked towards them with wide eyes, then towards the open window. The sickly smell of burnt and melted candy drifted in on the breeze. "Why do you hate me?" she demanded.
"I don't hate you."
She clenched her fists at her sides. "Why do you hate me?"
"Vanellope," King Candy said patronizingly. "You're not worth hating. You're just a mistake in Sugar Rush's code. And the sooner you accept that, the better off we'll all be."
The glitch looked like she had more to say to him on that subject, but then she glanced once more at the advancing guards. Then, blissfully silent, she clambered up the wall, glitching once and teleporting herself to the windowsill, where the surprise of that left her teetering. She glitched again and righted herself, and then she disappeared out the window with only one backwards glance.
King Candy watched to make sure she didn't reappear, then turned his attention to the guards. The lead Oreo was staring up at the open window as he hustled down the hallway, having apparently seen something of the proceedings. "Is everything all right here, Sire?" the cookie asked.
"Fine, fine," King Candy said, waving a hand. "Did you catch Skittles?" The thin line of the guard's cream-filled center was answer enough. "Then why are you here instead of out there?" he demanded.
Looking chagrined, the guard said, "The castle's unprotected, Your Majesty, and I thought the glitch might take advantage of the…disturbance."
King Candy clasped his hands behind his back. "The glitch isn't anything to worry about."
"Don't you think I can handle one harmless child, glitch or not?" He fixed the guard with a look, and when the Oreo nodded, King Candy said, "Now would you pleasthe sthubdue that atrociously adorable nuisthance out there?" As an afterthought, he added, "I mean Skittles." Huh, funny thing, all the nuisances in Sugar Rush were sickeningly cute.
As the guard turned to lead his squadron back outside, there was something like a glitch in King Candy's own mind, and he remembered the look on Vanellope's face as he'd crushed her hopes and dreams. You can't leave the game. You can't race. You're a mistake. That didn't bother him, exactly. He hadn't survived outside TurboTime this long just to be bothered by that kind of…of garden variety morality. Still, there was something, something that niggled at him, that made him feel—well, he was a king, and Vanellope was one of his subjects.
King Candy sighed and said, "Wait just a second." The guard turned and King Candy hesitated, then went on, "Next time you catch the glitch watching a race…you can just…you know…well, let her."
"Sire?" the guard asked in surprise.
Maybe he needed to go make sure his own code wasn't corrupted. "Let her watch," he repeated. "As long as she doesn't interfere with the racers. Or get in the way. Or try to get near any of the karts." Had he covered everything? Interference, obstacle, unauthorized racing…he'd better post more guards at the kart bakery, just to be on the safe side. Maybe add a few extra locks to the door. "It won't hurt to let her watch," he added. Was he trying to convince them or himself?
Still looking surprised, the guard bowed, then gave a crisp order to the rest of the cookies to head back out of the castle. King Candy watched them go, standing stiller than he usually did, and wondering if he'd just upset his own carefully coded balance.
She'd never thank him for what he'd just done. He wouldn't thank himself for it, if he was her. When you were a racer—and Vanellope was, she really was, he'd watched her the day they'd all innocently welcomed him to the game and he could admit when someone was good. But watching, that would never be good enough. When you were a racer, nothing but being behind the wheel of a kart was good enough. Feet on the pedals, hand on the gear stick, and grit flying off the track as you zoomed through this gloriously 64-bit world.
Vanellope had one thing right. Why would anyone ever want to leave this place?
Well, until a newer game came into the arcade and made Sugar Rush obsolete, of course. Then he supposed he'd stop being King Candy and game-jump again. There'd always be another Vanellope to replace. And next time, he'd probably care even less about the things he did to make sure he kept racing.
Oh well. King Candy reached up and shut the window. One game at a time.
Author's note: So, that was my first Wreck-It Ralph fanfiction! Hope it passed muster. This isn't really super important, but for interest, this takes place 1999-ish, roughly two years after Sugar Rush was plugged in.