Chapter 1: In Which Ralph Catches a Garter
Felix and Calhoun's wedding reception was in full swing. Sprites of all shapes and sizes and from all kinds of games were there. Felix had invited all the Nicelanders from home along with Q*bert and the rest of the formerly homeless new guys. A whole squad of Calhoun's space marines was relaxing after standing watch for Cybugs. The couple had also allowed the best man and maid of honor to invite their own friends. Ralph invited everyone from Bad Anon while Vanellope invited all her racers and candy citizens. Only about half of the invitees showed up, but they made a good-sized party nonetheless. Also among the more famous guests were Sonic the Hedgehog, Ryu, Chun Li, and Tapper.
Besides the bride and groom, no one was happier to be there than Ralph and Vanellope. This was the first time either of them had ever been invited to a party, let alone a wedding. Not only that, but they were given positions of privilege to the wedding couple. Three months ago such a thing would have been beyond imagining for both of them.
As the night wore on, the energy level was still high. The newlyweds had their first dance, followed by much cheering and toasting, then a big fancy buffet dinner. Then the party officially kicked in, which of course involved music and dancing.
Now the latest of several wedding traditions had just been announced; the bouquet and garter toss. While the emcee explained the event, Vanellope was bouncing up and down excitedly on her chair, rustling the multiple layers of crinkly candy wrappers that made up her puffy pink dress. Ralph towered over her in a tuxedo, picking at the hors d'oeuvres on his plate and watching the tiny girl with an amused smirk on his lips. He couldn't blame her for being thrilled about every little thing that happened. The kid was still getting used to being able to leave her own game. So of course something like catching flowers at a wedding would seem interesting to her.
"Come on, Ralph!" Vanellope squealed, eyes sparkling with delight. "We gotta get in on this! These chumps don't stand a chance against us! I'll catch the bouquet, and you can catch the garter!"
Ralph arched a doubtful eyebrow. "You do know what it means if that happens, right?"
She rolled her hazel eyes at him, as if the answer was the most obvious thing in the world. "Uh, yeah. We win the game. Duh!"
His smirk widened into a gap-toothed grin. "Not quite. It means we'll be the next people to get married."
"What?!" Vanellope gasped, eyes wide with shock. For a nine-year-old girl permanently in the 'boys are icky' phase, this was truly horrible news. She cringed in revulsion at the implications of marrying a man who was not only her best friend, but three decades older than her. "Ewww! No offense, Ralph, but there's no way I'm ever gonna marry you!"
Ralph rolled his eyes, pretending to be offended. "Sorry, didn't realize I was such lousy husband material."
Vanellope pouted and put her tiny hands on her hips. "Not that, dummy. I mean, you're old enough to be my dad! That's just… Ewww!" She poked a gloved finger in her mouth and made a retching noise to emphasize her point.
"Well, you're young enough to be my daughter, so the feeling's mutual. Besides, it's not like any of that stuff's for real. All we'd have to do is dance with each other."
She blinked a few times in surprise. "Really? Just dancing?" Then she narrowed her eyes at him in annoyance. "Humph. You could've told me that before I started freaking out."
"Yeah, I could have," Ralph chuckled, grinning as he gently nudged her cheek with one giant knuckle. She couldn't stay mad at him when he did that. "You can still try catching the bouquet, if you want to. Who knows? Maybe the guy who catches the garter won't be such a creepy weirdo."
Vanellope smiled back at him. "Nah, I'll just sit here with you and watch. If I'm gonna dance with somebody, it's not gonna be a guy who chases after a ladies' unmentionables."
Meanwhile, all the other female guests in the reception hall were crowding around Calhoun. The bride was standing with her back to the group and waving the bouquet of white lilies tauntingly over her head. The Sugar Rush racers and Nicelanders shrieked and hopped up and down, reaching and grasping desperately over each other for the prize.
Two women stood head and shoulders above all the others at the very back of the crowd. The more athletic of the two was none other than Chun Li. The other was an elfish, blue-skinned lady with long, deep blue hair and a slinky red dress. The two women were glaring at each other in a plainly competitive way.
Ralph scooped Vanellope up to sit on his shoulder so she could get a better view of the action. They exchanged some amused chuckles. This was gonna be good.
The bride tossed the bouquet behind her. Predictably, it sailed several feet over the Sugar Rushers and the Nicelanders, too high for them to reach even when they jumped. Chun Li broke away from glaring at her elfish opponent and made an impressive, athletic leap straight up in the air. Just when it looked like the bouquet was about to fall right into her grasp, a blue and red blur swept past her and snatched the flowers away in midair. Chun Li cried out in dismay, landing in a crouch on the floor.
The blue-haired woman in the red dress descended gracefully and stopped to hover several inches above the ground, holding the bouquet of white lilies in her arms. Then she raised a flat palm under her chin with the pinky bent, and laughed a long, high-pitched and very gloating laugh. The little sprites behind her backed away nervously. Chun Li just groaned, frustrated and defeated.
Back at his table, Ralph placed Vanellope down on her chair and rolled his eyes at the blue-haired woman's triumphant cackling. "Yeesh. I feel sorry for the poor chump who gets stuck dancing with that screwball dame."
Vanellope watched the laughing woman with interest rather than fear. She was obviously a Bad Guy, and unlike most kids her age, Vanellope didn't have much reason to be scared of Bad Guys, since her best friend happened to be one. Besides Ralph and this weird lady, some of the other Bad Guys who had come to the wedding were Zangief, M. Bison, Zombie, and the King Beholder. The motley crew was now gathering around to congratulate their female friend on her victory, and they all seemed to be genuinely happy for her.
"Hey, Ralph," Vanellope said, craning her neck to look up at him. "Isn't that screwball dame one of your friends from that Bad Guys only club?"
"Friends?" Ralph echoed, as if he'd never thought about it before. "Well, yeah, we're both in Bad Anon, but I don't really know her well enough to call her my friend. I've never really talked to her outside the meetings. Heck, I can't even remember what her name is."
Vanellope smirked and nudged Ralph's massive forearm with her tiny elbow. "Maybe you should try hanging out with kids your age once in a while, chumbo. Might be good for your people skills, ya know?"
"You're not the boss of me, Little Miss President," Ralph joked. "I'm old enough to be your dad, remember?"
Their friendly teasing was interrupted by a chorus of male voices whistling and whooping. Felix, flustered and blushing, was reaching under Calhoun's dress to clumsily remove the garter from her thigh. When the groom finally produced the lacy white garment, the men cheered even louder and gathered to form a crowd.
All except for Ralph, who remained seated firmly in his spot and showed no sign of budging.
"Aren't you gonna try an' catch it?" Vanellope asked.
"Why? So I can look like a fool with those guys chasing after Sergeant Calhoun's underwear?" He shook his head decisively. "Thanks, but no thanks."
Vanellope was about to reply with a sarcastic crack about underwear when the men's shouts grew louder. Felix had one gloved hand covering his eyes, too embarrassed to even look at the garter in his other hand. Then, without looking, he flung it in the general direction of the crowd.
Unfortunately, he threw it just a little too hard. It sailed completely over the crowd. And it was headed straight for the only man there who didn't want it.
When Ralph saw that the garter was heading right at him, it was too late. He froze as it landed lightly on his head, catching in his messy brown hair and dangling limply over one eye. He blinked a few times, wide-eyed and stunned, as the full impact of what had just happened sank in.
The sound of Vanellope bursting into shrill, rowdy laughter snapped Ralph out of his trance. Unfortunately for him, her laughing gave everyone else who was watching permission to laugh, too.
"Sh-Shut up!" Ralph spluttered, face reddening with embarrassment. "It's not funny!" He plucked the garter off his head with his fingertips, jumped from his chair and waved it at the groom to get his attention. "Felix! Do over! Give this thing to someone who actually wants it!"
Felix was turning even redder and trying desperately to look at anything but the garter his best man was flailing around. "I-I'm sorry, Ralph," he stammered, his voice barely audible above the noisy laughter. "…B-but it d-doesn't work like that…"
"You caught the garter fair and square, Wreck-It," Calhoun chimed in, calmly rising from her chair and smoothing down her dress over her legs. "So now you gotta dance with the lady who caught the bouquet. Those are the rules."
"I gotta do what?!" Ralph exclaimed, utterly horrified.
Things were rapidly going from bad to worse. First he was stuck with this stupid frilly thing, and now he had to dance with a weird lady he hardly knew in front of everybody. On top of that, Vanellope was laughing so hard that she was about to fall out of her chair. Could things possibly get any more embarrassing?
Right on cue, the female Bad Guy with the blue hair and gloating laugh drifted up to Ralph, still holding the bouquet of white lilies. She wasn't exactly unattractive, but she was definitely creepy to look at. Besides having blue hair and skin, her ears were long and pointed, and her eyes were a disturbing shade of blood red. She was shorter than Ralph, maybe a little smaller than Calhoun's size, but her hovering easily put her at his eye level. That was pretty unsettling for a guy who was used to looking down on everyone else.
"Dance," the woman said, in answer to Ralph's previous rhetorical question. "You do know how to dance, don't you, Mr. Wreck-It?"
Ralph tripped over his tongue, feeling more uncomfortable than ever. He did not want to dance with this weird, creepy lady, but he also didn't want to offend a fellow Bad Guy. And for the life of him, he still couldn't remember what the heck her name was.
"Er, I, uh…" he stuttered, raising his big hands defensively. "W-Well, I've danced before, but n-not like with a partner or anything…"
"That's no problem," the woman said coolly. "I've done it before, so I can teach you."
She then turned to Vanellope. The girl had finally caught her breath from all the laughing and was watching the exchange with both hands over her mouth to stifle even more laughter.
"Pardon me, President Von Schweetz," the woman said, curtsying respectfully to the child who outranked her in social status. "Would you mind if I borrowed Mr. Wreck-It for a while?"
Before Ralph could raise any objections, Vanellope grinned hugely and nodded. After so many years of being shunned and rejected, she enjoyed it when people treated her with such courtesy. "I wouldn't mind at all, my good lady," she replied with exaggerated politeness. "Borrow him for as long as you like. I'll even hold your flowers for you!"
The woman smiled back at her pleasantly and handed her the bouquet. "Thank you, Miss President." She then turned her attention back to Ralph. He was slouching in an effort to make himself less conspicuous and failing miserably. "Come along, Mr. Wreck-It," the woman said. "The music's starting."
"Uh, wait a minute, I don't—Whoa!" He was cut off when she caught him by the hand and pulled. Stumbling and staggering to keep up with her, he looked back over his shoulder helplessly to see Vanellope's head partially obscured by the large bouquet in her lap. She was still wearing that annoying grin as she waved him off.
"Have fun playing with the other kids, sweetie pie!" she called after him in a sing-song voice. "I'll be here to kiss your boo-boos when you get back!"
Ralph just glowered at her in reply. He'd have to think of some way to get even with her later.
Once the blue-haired woman had dragged him out in the middle of the dance floor, she turned around to face him and took hold of both his hands. "Now, the first thing you need to know is how to hold your partner," she explained. "Take my right hand in your left and straighten your arm."
Not knowing what else to do, Ralph obeyed. "Okay…"
"Next, your right hand goes down here." She gently tugged said hand to wrap around her tiny waist and laid her arm over his.
He swallowed a dry lump in his throat. His face was heating up yet again. "Um… You sure you wanna do this? I'm not the most graceful monkey in the barrel…"
"Well, lucky for you, feet stomping won't be an issue." She pointed downward, showing that she was still levitating above the floor. There was no danger of him tripping over her while she was in midair. "Now, relax and follow my lead."
She began to sway in time to the music, which for Ralph was painfully slow. He clumsily followed along, trying not to think about how many people were watching and how ridiculous he must look. He was sweaty and tense with nerves, not daring to look up from his bare feet. Never in all his thirty years of life had he danced with a woman like this.
Fortunately for him, this woman was observant enough to notice how uncomfortable he was and decided to break the ice with casual small talk. "Thank you for inviting all of us here, Mr. Wreck-It," she began. "No one in Bad Anon has ever been to a wedding until now."
He cleared his throat, still not daring to look her in the eye. His mouth felt as dry as the Sahara Desert. "Oh, uh… don't mention it. Nobody likes to be left out when there's a big event going on… That happens a lot to us Bad Guys."
The woman knew he had a specific event in mind. When Ralph came back to Bad Anon after his game-jumping adventures, he started the story off by explaining how his co-workers excluded him from their game's 30-year-anniversary party. Most Bad Guys could relate to that kind of rejection, having been through similar experiences themselves. None of them had ever gone as far as 'going Turbo,' of course, but still.
"You'll have a lot to share at the next meeting," the woman went on conversationally. "Still, I'm glad I could finally get a chance to talk to you away from the group."
Hearing this surprised him enough to tear his eyes away from the floor and look back at her with some surprise. "You are?"
She nodded, smiling in a friendly way. "Yes. I've been meaning to congratulate you."
He gaped at her in confusion. "Congratulate me? For what?"
The comical, wide-eyed look on his face made her chuckle. It sounded completely different from her gloating laugh earlier, more warm and natural.
"For saving the arcade from Turbo and the Cybugs," she began. "And for being kind enough to adopt Q*bert and the others into your game. And getting friendly enough with your Good Guy to be the best man at his wedding. You've got a lot to be proud of, Mr. Wreck-It."
That finally got him to smile a little, though he blushed from her compliments and looked away bashfully. This was a lot to take in for a man who was still getting used to people treating him like a person and actually wanting him around. "Yeah…" he said at last. "I guess I do."
His stomach twisted a little with guilt. He'd pegged this woman all wrong. When she gloated over catching the bouquet earlier it was easy to assume she was an arrogant show-off, and the way she'd approached him and dragged him out to the dance floor was pretty pushy. Plus, her exaggerated cackling earlier was kind of obnoxious. But now she was like a different person. There was no hint of teasing in her voice, only genuine, unfeigned respect. Even her creepy red eyes were warmer and easier to look at. Maybe there was more to her than what she seemed. Maybe they could be friends after all.
And maybe this was the perfect time to find out what her name was.
Ralph cleared his throat again, noting that his mouth didn't feel quite as dry as before. His movements were less stiff and awkward, too. "So, uh… This is gonna sound pretty dumb, but… I'm drawing a blank on what your name is."
To his relief, she looked amused instead of annoyed by this, arching a pencil-thin eyebrow and smirking. "How long have you been coming to Bad Anon now?" she teased good-naturedly. "Alright, I'll give you a hint. It's written on my portrait in Tapper's."
Ralph tilted his head to one side and gazed upward, thinking hard. He knew what she was talking about, and could clearly picture the familiar wall covered in signed caricature portraits. There weren't too many female faces, so that narrowed the options down a lot. Only one of the cartoonish, black-and-white drawings resembled this woman. It had pointed elfin ears and was making the same facial expression she was wearing now. And the name it was signed with was…
The woman smiled and nodded. "Bingo. Is there anything else you remember about me?"
Ralph smiled back. Now that he had a name to go with her face, it was easier to recall other details about who she was. "Hmm, let me think. You're the Bad Guy from Blood & Thunder, that fantasy-horror game that was plugged in back in 1987." His smile became a smirk. "And, about halfway through your first week, you threw a famous temper tantrum in Game Central Station. Took the Surge Protector weeks to clean up all that green slime, and even more to get the smell out."
Sorceress' red eyes widened, surprised that he could remember all that. Then she groaned at the last memory he described. "Ugh… That's one thing I wish would stay forgotten."
Ralph chuckled. "I thought it was pretty cool, actually. When I lose my temper, all I do is wreck stuff. That's not nearly as impressive as summoning dark forces and oozing ectoplasm on the floor. Besides, anybody who gives ol' Surge a hard time is okay in my book."
It was her turn now to blush and look away. Whether it was due to the embarrassing memory or his compliments he couldn't tell. "Thank you, but I have no desire to repeat that experience. Being grounded in my game for three months was no fun at all."
Ralph felt another little twinge of guilt upon hearing this. He hadn't meant to make her feel bad or think about something she'd rather forget. "Well, I guess that means we have to keep you happy, right? So you don't have to go through that again, I mean."
That got her smiling again. "And how do you plan on doing that, Mr. Wreck-It?"
He shrugged his big shoulders. "I dunno. But you look pretty happy right now."
Suddenly the slow dance song was replaced with something more up tempo. Ralph stopped and looked around in confusion as more sprites came out on the dance floor. Had he really been dancing alone with this woman for that long?
"Oh… I guess we're done," he commented, not knowing what else to say.
Sorceress was also looking around with an equally bewildered expression on her face. "I guess we are…" she said at last.
"Yeah…" he sighed.
It was strange. When he first came out here he hadn't expected to enjoy himself. Now he found himself wishing it could last a little longer. Somewhat reluctantly, he released his hold on her.
"Well, uh, thanks for the dance, Miss Sorceress," he said, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. "It was actually pretty fun, I gotta say."
Sorceress nodded in agreement, fidgeting with one of the gold skull cuff-links on her wrists. "Yes, it was…" An awkward pause followed. Then she peered up at him from behind her long, thick blue bangs. "Maybe we could do this again sometime…"
Ralph almost couldn't believe what he was hearing. She really wanted to spend time with him? As in, she actually liked spending time with him? Seriously?
He was still standing there gawping at her when Vanellope came skipping up to him. Or rather, she waddled up to him. Skipping was impossible while she was clutching the too-big bouquet in both arms and her heavy dress crinkling and rustling with every step.
"Pardon me, my good lady," she said, poking her head out from behind the flowers and smiling brightly. "Sorry to interrupt your playtime, but I'm here to pick up my little Ralphie-poo!"
Ralph clapped a hand over his face, grinding his teeth and silently fuming. The kid just loved making him look stupid, didn't she?
Sorceress stared down at the child in stunned silence for a moment. "Oh, uh… yes, Miss President," she said, regaining some of her composure and remembering her manners.
Vanellope practically shoved the bouquet at her. "Here ya go, toots. This is yours. So if you wouldn't mind taking it back before my arms fall off, I'd really appreciate it."
"Yes, of course," Sorceress said, taking the flowers back and still rather mystified by the girl. "Er, thank you for looking after them for me."
"No problem, honey," Vanellope replied, waving a hand dismissively. "It was my pleasure, really. Thanks for keepin' an eye on the big lug for me!"
"Yeah, thanks," Ralph finally managed to say.
He shot a quick, dirty look at the young president, who just went on smiling angelically as if nothing in the world was wrong at all. Then he turned his attention back to Sorceress, folding his arms behind his back and shuffling his feet awkwardly.
"By the way, uh… yeah, we should do this again some time."
Sorceress' eyes seemed to light up at this. "Really? Oh, good! That would be—"
A noisy splash and some shouts of dismay from another part of the reception hall cut her off. The other Bad Guys were gathered around the buffet table. One of Zombie's hatchet-carrying arms had suddenly broken off and fallen into the punch bowl. Zangief was clumsily trying to help him reattach it while the Beholder and M. Bison watched.
"Hey, Sorceress!" M. Bison called in her direction. "A little help, please? We could use your magic right about now!"
Sorceress let out a longsuffering sigh. A woman's work was never done. "I'd better go," she said to Ralph. "So, um… I'll see you later, Mr. Wreck-It. And you, too, President Von Schweetz." She performed another polite, hovering curtsy. Then she turned and floated off to join her friends by the punch bowl.
Ralph stood there watching her until he felt a sharp little elbow jabbing at his left knee. It was Vanellope, of course, trying to get his attention. "Ow! What?!"
She smirked up at him impishly, lacing her fingers together and batting her eyes. "Weeeell? How'd it go, stud muffin? Didja have a good time waltzing with Lady Lovely Locks?"
Ralph snorted and rolled his eyes. "As a matter of fact, I did have a good time," he grumbled, folding his arms irritably. "And furthermore, her name isn't Lady Lovely Locks. It's Sorceress."
"Oh-ho-ho, reeeally?" Vanellope teased, wiggling her eyebrows. "You like her enough to remember her name now? And you wanna hang out with her again, too?" She wiped an invisible tear from her eye and sniffled. "My little chump's growing up so fast!"
"Quit it, ya little guttersnipe," Ralph grumbled. He was still mad at her for making him look stupid in front of Sorceress. "Did you come out here just to make fun of me?"
"Actually, I came to tell you that the newlyweds are gonna cut the cake soon, so there's still some time for you and me to dance. Unless, of course, you wore yourself out shuffling around in circles with your new friend."
"Psssh, are you kidding? I could dance circles around you!"
The rest of the reception went on without incident. After some more dancing, there was cake, followed by even more dancing. Ralph spent most of that time with Vanellope, Felix and Calhoun. He did see Sorceress a few times in passing, but one or both of them kept getting distracted by other people and they didn't dance again that night.
But that was okay. Ralph would see her and the other Bad Guys at the next Bad Anon meeting later that week, when he would give them all an update on his progress. Maybe then he could talk to her, and some of the other guys, too.
He just hoped he wouldn't forget her name again. That would be pretty embarrassing.