"I gotta tell ya, grease monkey, you sure picked a bad time to get a virus." She had picked a bad time. It was Friday night, which meant tomorrow was Saturday. And Saturday at the arcades was the equivalent to little kids in a candy shop. Pure, hectic chaos. And a lot of it.
Vanellope scowled at him from where she was walking- right beside him, her small hand clutched in his massive ones. "I didn't mean to."
Ralph had found her over an hour ago after popping over to Sugar Rush for a nightly visit. Work had ended, and he'd had to avoid bumping into an overzealous Felix Jr. who'd been getting ready for his date with Calhoun for over a week and was running late. But he'd made it. Vanellope had been ecstatic to see him, but something had been off. No flying insults, no harsh words and when he had asked her if she wanted to show him the new cart tricks she had learned she said she couldn't. "I'm feeling dizzy," she'd said, her voice small and embarrassed.
He'd checked her temperature, a chase scene worthy of a blockbuster, and when he'd finally caught up to her enough to put his hand on her face she'd been warm- and not just from all the running. So, despite her reluctant pleas, he'd told a few of the other residents in Sugar Rush that he'd be taking her to his world for one night, maybe more, just to keep an eye on the little girl for a while. She'd been a locked character for so long, by now no one would deem the game "out of order" if she didn't pop up.
So, after donning her crown (her ticket in and out of the portal) and grabbing her hand he'd toted her down the winding cables back to Fix-it-Felix Jr.
"So, here's the deal, when we get back to the apartment, you're going to rest. And in the morning-"
"I know, I know. Stay away from all windows and walls. Don't stand near any glass cabinets and duck under a desk if player one loses."
"You've told me this a thousand times." Her voice sounded like it was going through a cheese grater, and she tripped over her feet again.
"I'm serious! You could get hurt!" She could! He had seen the destruction done to the building every day. In fact, he was the one commiting it! Felix worked full time; first to entertain children that came and went to Litwacks. And then to fix the building, ex and interior. Windows were smashed, walls caved in, furniture shook and floors trembled. It was a one person earthquake. And the last thing he needed was her in the middle of it. Right now, he didn't have much of a choice, so he'd keep her as safe as he possibly could. "Look. I just dont want you to get hurt!" He tried to give the little girl, so pathetic looking right now, a harsh glare. "And honestly, I don't want to be the one to hurt you! My job is-"
"To wreck things." She finished for him, trying hard to mimick his voice. Then she snorted, though it lacked any spite. "Yeah right. Like you'd ever let me get hurt." And though it was meant to be said sarcastically, he could still here the enormous amount of belief behind the words. Like she was certain, one hundred and fifty percent certain, that he'd protect her no matter what.
Just the thought of that made that thing in his chest grow and bubble. This little girl, a hero in her game, in fact the ultimate hero, trusted him. She looked up to him. Like he was the hero. It stunned him to no end.
He looked down at her when she tripped over her own feet... again. Ralph slowed, allowing her to catch up, and giving him time to asses the nine year old again. Vanellope's voice had definitely lost it's edge, her familiar bite gone. Even her glare, which he'd been lucky enough to be graced with more than once, was void of all intensity. he stopped and pulled her over to the side of the able, kneeling down next to her. Ralph put his hand on her forehead once again.
"Great," he sighed, "just great. You're burning up."
Vanellope's eyes went wider than he ever imagined they could and she bit down hard on her lip. He couldn't blame her for being scared- she'd never admit it. Vanellope was from a new game, one that hadn't aged enough to fight virus' like his game could. Besides, when he'd broken all the barriers between their world he was bound to let something in. Anyone could have caught it.
Unfortunately, it wasn't just anyone who had to catch the virus. Oh no, fate wasn't really looking down on him like that. No, it had to be Vanellope. His little nine year old.
"It'll be okay," Ralph gave her an encouraging smile, all he could do for her at the moment, pushing back a few stray hairs from her face, "you're going to be just fine. And you're going to stay with me for a little big, okay?"
She nodded, rubbing her large eyes free of any sleep and scared tears that had just begun to form. Ralph took her hand again and the two began to walk once again. As they walked, Ralph looked at their clasped hands and wondered if he sounded too much like a worried parent. It didn't really matter, he told himself, because now he was acting like one too. Just great.
Vanellope tripped again, and he slowed his walking once more. "You okay, kid?"
She nodded her head, putting on the brave face he'd seen more than once. Her huge, easy to read eyes gave her away though, and he rolled his own letting out a chuckle.
"Okay. Up we go." Without telling her anything, he scooped her up into his arms- well, arm- despite the small sound of protest, and continued walking at a faster pace. She didn't seem to like the arrangement at first, but soon settled down as comfortably as she could, snuggling against his chest. He felt the heat her body was expelling through his ripped overalls and something in his chest wrapped around itself worriedly.
That thing that was being squeezed to death nearly burst when she looked up at him through fever clouded eyes and mumbled, in the most pathetic voice he'd ever heard from her, "I don't feel good."
"I know, kiddo."
"Do I have to sleep in the bricks?"
Ralph hadn't laughed that hard in a long time.