Disclaimer: Not mine. The end.

Notes: This would take place somewhere in Up-Your-Arsenal, around the Metropolis ground battles. I always felt ridiculously terrible about letting Ratchet die on the field. And then got to wondering what happened in those instants in between where I was suddenly at full health.

Comments are always welcomed.

Dog Tags

By, Nicole Silverwolf

"Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking."

-H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

There was a deafening shudder and the tell-tale fwump of a Nitro Eruptor ammo as it connected with its target and annihilated it.

"Ratchet..." was all he heard from Clank before the force of the blast threw him off his feet and flying through the air. Somehow Clank or the comm unit in his helmet came loose because he didn't hear the rest of the obvious warning and the panicked response of a Galactic Ranger was abruptly cut off. A weight came off his back and so he had to assume that Clank had been knocked off completely.

Hope he's alright. Floated very briefly through his head before he ate plant life and skidded across the plaza unable to do a thing to stop it.

After a period of undetermined time, he remembered that he was alive and could breathe.

He could hear the Rangers cheering but it was muffled at best. It sounded almost slow in nature, like being underwater. His helmet had probably been damaged then.

He couldn't really hear anything well he realized sluggishly.

Had he been too close? There had been a few times when he'd been a little too close to a Eruptor and he'd lost hearing temporarily. Not a big deal really since he'd come out of it, hearing intact and body none the worse for wear.

This felt different.

The blast had thrown him against a pillar in the plaza, and he was standing, if only by the fact that the pillar was still in one piece.

But it was over. If the Rangers were cheering, that meant the assault was over.

Ratchet felt the battle's adrenaline high wear into the achy contentment that came with knowing that he'd done a good job. The Galactic Rangers were not the brightest robots out there (actually they were at times downright useless) but they were always honestly grateful. And even with all their cowardly talk over the comms, were extremely loyal. And apparently always in need of a hand.

He tried to grin.

Something wasn't right though.

He felt drained, exhausted more than he should feel after a battle--even a tough one.

The realization came far slower than it should have.

Maybe he was injured?

He glanced around. Something was missing.

Where was Clank?

Oh, there he was. Whole, intact and apparently fine. He'd been blown halfway across the square in the opposite direction but was walking as quickly as he could in his direction.

Good.

Was he talking? It was hard to tell since the robot didn't exactly have lips.

Why couldn't he hear him? Oh, right...his comm...or his hearing?

"I'm okay Clank," he tried to say. Honestly he wasn't sure if that was what came out, without his hearing to tell him if he'd gotten it right.

He forced a lead heavy foot to take a step forward, away from the marble wall's support. With the second step—that was far more difficult than usual—the world tilted violently around him.

Why was everything so dim? It had been broad daylight a minute ago.

Why did everything hurt?

Where...where was he again?

Shit he realized a moment before it happened, Don't pass out. You're fine Ratchet. Don't freaking pass out when it's all over. Don't. Don't. DON'T!

He took a deep breath, carefully (and casually of course) lowered the Nitro Eruptor to the ground to act as a support. Bent his head carefully to regain his center of balance and keep a sudden roiling nausea under control.

At least in his mind.


Unit CR40038 was not a particularly brave robot. He'd been brought online to act as one of the Galaxy's protectors, only to find that he really preferred taking care of plants. Orchids in particular. Not exactly easy, considering his size and model makeup. That was something he could only consider a hobby with his programming as it was. His full time occupation was as a Galactic Ranger Commander.

And having survived a few serious battles in one functional piece, he'd be promoted in a way, to leading a squadron of Rangers into some of the most dangerous hot zones in the Solonas galaxy. The promotion had been rapid, taking only a couple months what it would probably take a living being a decade to achieve. That wasn't to say that he was any good, rather that most of his superiors had already been destroyed.

It was strange to hope that he didn't die when he knew logically that he was a machine. In theory if he was knocked offline, they would only have to flip a switch and everything'd be fine. Of course that didn't take into consideration the nitro weapons that blew you into so many pieces that it'd be lucky if all of your parts were even found again let alone be put back together.

He wasn't that stupid.

It cost less to simply manufacture a new Ranger rather than to repair a broken one. He was nothing more than a very disposable foot soldier to the people of the galaxy.

Well, except to the Sarge.

Sergent Ratchet and his robotic partner Clank had come to their aid by accident when the lombax's home planet of Veldin had been invaded. He'd been in charge of the assault there, and had experienced first hand what Ratchet could do. The Rangers had mistaken him of course for the robot who was coming to act as sergent.

CR40038 had been most impressed with his attitude. After a confused shout of "What! Why me?" he'd been left on his own and hadn't turned tail to run. And the kid had proven to be a fierce fighter, and had come whenever the call for aid had been sent since.

That was something in and of itself when calls to the planet's personal military went unanswered or ignored.

CR40038 didn't understand exactly what drove the kid to come to their aid time and time again. He was reckless certainly, and had a temper to boot. But he also fought like an inferno when he was cornered, never gave up despite truly overwhelming odds, and seemed to thrive on the adrenaline whereas that same thrill response made him want to flee.

Respect was only the first adjective that came to his mind. Foolhardy, brave, and maybe less than sane were a few of the others.

When he'd put in this call to the lombax it had been with a little bit of reluctance. The fight here was one of the worst he'd ever seen and they were incredibly out-gunned and on the verge of being overrun. There was a very good chance that they wouldn't survive. But his Rangers had pleaded over their comms, mentioning everything from girlfriends to Agent Clank episodes, protopets to bolt collections that they wanted to see again and he'd relented.

And though the waiting had been harrowing at best (involving much running, ducking and hiding) the lombax had arrived, half their height, half their age, and ready to take on anything that could be thrown at him.

It didn't really surprise him that Ratchet had helped to win the day.

He raised his blaster to the air in triumph and cheered along with his fellow soldiers. It felt good to know they'd achieved the goals set down by the commanding officers of the Rangers. It felt better to know they were not going to be turned into slag.

Turning from the area he'd been pinned down in, he scanned and reported into the sergent at the same time.

When he didn't get a response from the upbeat kid, he started to worry. Ratchet, even when exhausted knew to call in. He'd been trained with the best soldiers at Megacorps. Switching to an organic scanner he swept the square again.

There he was.

Slumped against a wall, and barely standing, Ratchet didn't exactly look the picture of perfect health.

His helmet had been smashed nearly off, ears drooped uncharacteristically low, like he didn't have the strength to hold them at their usual angle. Either he was having trouble breathing, or it was taking far too much energy to do so. And the fact that he was still holding his gun seemed to be more a matter of instinct than conscious thought.

The kid looked up and around, but CR40038 didn't think he was actually taking anything in, his gaze too unfocused for an organic. Clank, the little robot who usually rode his back was moving as quickly as he could to the lombax's side repeating questions about his welfare. Ratchet took a step forward, swayed violently and tried to take another one.

The Nitro Eruptor slipped out of his fingers and clattered noisily to the ground.

Something was wrong. The thought jolted him from simply gawking at his commanding officer. "Sarge? You alright?" He moved down the steps towards where the lombax stood.

Most of the other Rangers had turned at this, and if the sheer volume of responses over the comm was any indication they were also aware and concerned that something wasn't right with the lone organic in their field.

He sprinted down the short flight of stairs when Ratchet crumpled bonelessly to the ground a second later.

"Sarge!"

The next few moments were nothing but mass confusion and near panic. Nearly every Ranger was shouting something different, and running in multiple directions. CR40038 reached the kid first, laying in a awkward heap but still breathing at least, though one would think he were dead with the amount of shouting and misinformation circling about his head. Honestly, didn't these Rangers trust their sensors?

Calls for order took far longer to establish than they should have. Only a threat of having to serve under Captain Qwark for the rest of their SHORT time as Galactic Rangers (because they were all aware of how incompetent HE was in the field) shut them up.

Clank, smaller than even Ratchet seemed stood over his longtime friend and one had to wonder whether he was panicking or not.

"He will require medical assistance immediately, commander," the robot insisted placidly. Though CR40038 noted the amount of care the tiny robot took in probing the lombax with sensors and a three pronged hand. "I am not a medical expert, but I believe that he was struck by a piece of that exploding drop ship."

The kid must be really hurt then, not just exhausted like he had originally suspected. He was no medic droid, and his sensors weren't meant to do deep organic scans but it didn't matter. Ratchet needed their help now. And there wasn't a chance that he was going to let the Rangers fail.

"Get our drop ship prepped and in the air in one minute soldier!" he barked to two Rangers on his left, who jumped to do just that an instant later.

"HD-47," he pointed to a soldier who appeared to be more collected than most, " get on your radio and get an organic medic. One who has experience with lombax anatomy. Tell them we got a Class One priority coming in on the double."

He nodded and began speaking with a dispatcher immediately.

"HF-10, inform command of the situation and request that the Starship Phoenix be brought here as soon possible."

"Sir, yes sir!"

"HH-31, round up the rest of the squadron and go hunting. Make sure we got every last one of those bastard Noids."

Several Rangers saluted before cocking their guns and taking off.

He wasn't particularly surprised to hear calls to make sure the sarge didn't die or that there would be proverbial hell to pay.

"Sir, we're ready to go airborne at your word."

A second voice interrupted in that typically panicky fashion. "Hurry up commander, we can't let the sarge die!"

That had been quicker than he'd expected. He bent down, and carefully scooped Ratchet up into his arms. With the lombax's stature, he was dwarfed in the commander's arm. It was easy to mistake him for a small kit in that instant.

Ratchet stirred, moaning incoherently, and bright green eyes slitted open. CR40038 didn't know if he could understand anything, doubted it really, but felt compelled to reassure him anyways. Which was ridiculous as well because Ratchet was no kid, and would probably kill him later for treating him as such.

"Hang on sarge, we'll get you home. Just relax."

He probably wasn't conscious enough to respond or remember it, but that was alright.

The whine of engines drew him to the drop ship, Clank already using his hover feature to keep up with their comparatively long strides. A Ranger was carefully carrying the Nitro Eruptor in his arms, a thought he'd completely overlooked. "Good work H-60," he praised quietly as they trudged up the ramp, and towards home.

He held the lombax the entire flight back.


Warm. Was he home on Veldin?

No, didn't smell like it.

Smelled like a hospital ward actually. Where the hell was he?

Bright green eyes opened groggily, to take in surroundings of white, white, some more white after that and a little bit of beige in the terms of a blanket he found himself under.

It was dim in the room, and he had no idea what time of day or night it was.

In a chair, sat a familiar and welcome sight watching him just as eagerly.

"Hey Clank," he croaked, surprised to find his voice so horrible sounding and feeling. Swallowed a few times and felt better.

"Ratchet," the bot replied before scrambling to his feet. "It is good to see you conscious."

"Where am I?"

"In First General Memorial Hospital on Metropolis. Fifth Floor, Room 525."

He was surprised. When was the last time he'd been in a hospital? With nanotech, he'd never needed more than a few minutes to recover from even the worst beatings he'd taken.

"What happened?"

"You were knocked unconscious by debris you exploded with a Nitro Eruptor shot. The doctor in charge of your care will be able to explain the details."

Ratchet took that in stride, though he did wonder about something.

"Are Sasha and the others here?" He'd never admit it, but he thought he and the petite captain of the Phoenix had some sort of connection or something. More than simply co-workers, even friends. Maybe he'd read all the signals wrong, but he thought she wouldn't have left his bedside.

The more he thought about it though, the more it sounded like a bad holo-vid.

"I expect that Sasha and the rest of the Q-Force are asleep. The doctor insisted she get more than five nanos of rest. It is 0400 standard time."

"It's what?"

Clank sighed wearily. Ratchet had never really taken to learning the galactic standards tables, that were used by Megacorps, the Q-Force and most of the rest of the galaxy. He preferred a much more antiquated system that relied on Veldin's sole telling of time.

"According to the standard Veldin clock it is 2.57 in the morning."

Well that explained the dark at least.

Ratchet let his green eyes roam the sparse room. He grinned, seeing that they'd managed to save his Nitro Eruptor, and his trusty omniwrench 8000.

There was also a suit of armor laying carefully out on a chair. Brand new in fact.

"Whose is that?" he asked, gesturing carefully to the suit as a lot of movements were still stiff and sore. That couldn't be his. Just from the look of it, it appeared to be Aegis armor. He'd been saving up to get it for a while now, drooling as many others had over its specs.

"That would be yours Ratchet."

"What! But that's Aegis Mark V armor!"

"Indeed," the small robot continued. "The Aegis Mark V armor represents a major breakthrough in armor technology. The suit combines Adamantium plates with a web of integrated forcefields and a sophisticated onboard computer system. The suits built in AI responds automatically to any attack, distributing power and angling the armor plates to absorb up to..."

"66 percent of incoming damage. I know what it can do Clank, we've been eying that suit for the last month. But I couldn't afford that. So how'd one get here?"

"Commander CR40038 brought it here yesterday. He left you this message."

Obediently, a holo-vid screen lifted from the ground to display the commander of the forces he'd been fighting with earlier that day...week...month? He suddenly wondered how long he'd been out of it.

"Heya Sarge! The doc tells us that you should be fine, even though for a while it was touch and go. You gave all of us quite a scare down there. And well..." he seemed sheepish, scratching the back of his head with his gun. "We really appreciate all the stuff you've done for us. No one else shows up when we call for help except for you. And you know we're not all the bravest bunch, but we wanted to make sure you got taken care of right. We all pitched in to get you this armor. Should help the next time you gotta come get our metal butts out of the frying pan. Hehe. Glad you're back Sarge."

And with that the vid ended.

Ratchet looked pleasantly stunned. He'd never received such a generous present from leaders of planets, or even from the Q-Force. Certainly the president never deemed him worthy of such an investment.

Smiling a little he reached out to pick up the new helmet. It was fitted already for his lombax stature and he turned the beautifully sleek piece of electronic over in his hands, admiring the craftsmanship. Getting to hold it was even better than pouring over the spec sheets on the Phoenix or in the holo-mags. The entire Galactic Rangers must have donated towards getting him this. It cost a small fortune at 250,000 bolts.

The thought that the Rangers had done that for him was a truly humbling concept.

Before he had a chance to become sentimental or weepy about it (something he'd gag at later more than likely) the door to his room slid open.

"Well, looks like my patient's awake. Good to see that. I don't think my voicemail can take too many more "DOC DON"T LET THE SARGE DIE!" messages from the Rangers," a woman commented. She had uncannily mimiced the Rangers tone with the message comment. Definitely older than him to judge by the tone.

Ratchet was somewhat reminded of Sasha when he got a full look at the doctor. She was taller than him, possibly a little shorter than Ranger height. Her snout was longer, but she had similar if lighter markings to Sasha. However, her ears stood up significantly higher, and her hair was longer, pulled back into a tie with a few strands hanging out. A white lab coat completed the look.

"Hi doc."

She reached out a clawed hand to gently shake his own. "It's nice to finally meet the famous Ratchet. Your friends have been telling me quite a bit about you." With that she gestured kindly at Clank and indicated with a sweep of her hand more than likely the rest of the Q-Force.

"My kids seemed more impressed that I'd met Agent Clank of holo-vid fame however."

"Yeah, I get that a lot," he sighed, but it seemed in good nature. "What happened to me? How long was I out?"

"You took a nasty clock to the head, from an exploding Noid drop ship according to the holo-vids I've seen. You had a major concussion which required some subdermal draining. We couldn't infuse you with nanotech until yesterday when the cranial pressure decreased enough to allow for repairs by the nano without destabilizing your blood pressure."

"Sorry, doc, I'm just a soldier. Run that by me again? Maybe with less words?" He grinned and she chuckled. No wonder that young captain was so taken with him.

"In layman's terms, your head was swelling--on the verge of exploding--and we had to wait until that went down on its own or the nanotech would have finished you off. It's why you probably still feel quite sore. If you weren't wearing the armor you were at the time, you'd be dead. As it was, you were touch and go for the first 2400 cycle."

"Oh." he replied quietly and Clank sighed, and rolled his metal eyes the best that one could do in the situation.

"As for your second question, you've been out for a little over four galactic standard days."

Ratchet looked surprised at that. "And Sasha's been here that whole time?" He'd meant to say the whole Q-Force but all that'd come out was the girl's name. Boy did he have it bad.

Warm brown eyes narrowed in mirth. "She and Clank here haven't left until I ordered Sasha to get some sleep earlier today. I'm sure she'll try to chew me out for making her go home right before you woke up."

Continuing, she glanced cursively over his record, noting a few things with a light pen. "I would have contacted someone else, but your dog tags don't list anyone as a next of kin. Is there someone on Veldin you wanted us to call for you. Parents maybe?"

She hadn't exactly hit a sore spot, but there was definitely something going on in the shade of his eyes.

"No, hasn't been anyone to contact for a while doc. My parents died in the Veldin War about ten years ago."

"I see," she replied neutrally, "My apologies for making assumptions." Pity was obviously the last thing he would want or accept about a situation he'd already come to terms with.

"Not your fault," he replied honestly but in a tone that stated the conversation was to stop there.

Nodding, she opened a container, previously hidden at her side and held it out.

"Now that you're awake, you can get another infusion of nanotech. Should make you feel a lot better."

The glowing white machines swirled around in the container, going about their AI programmed way and he held out a hand, palm up. As if a button had been pressed, when Ratchet's furred hand drew close enough to the container, they all simultaneously reoriented and leapt into his skin with a faint metallic, almost glass tinkling.

Something felt off about it though.

"Hey," he complained sluggishly. He knew what that feeling was. The nano had a sleep drug laced into its programming.

"Sorry Ratchet. Doctor's orders. You need to sleep a bit more. In the morning you can go home. G'night. Sleep well."

He caught a glimpse of Clank's smug features before sleep swept him up.


"Doctor, if I may ask you a question."

Clank's formal words brought her brown orbs to his and she nodded. "Certainly Clank."

"What exactly is a dog tag? Ratchet has never mentioned such a thing before. And since he so constantly hates being referred to as a pet animal I would not think he would choose to wear one."

"Clank, dog tags are worn by every member of the military, Rangers to Q-Force. It's a chip, that identifies the soldier, all of his medical history, his home planet and next of kin to contact in an emergency. It's a way to track and identify people in a battle no matter what condition they might be in to respond. Ratchet's the first I've seen in a while to have no next of kin listed, which is why I asked."

"I see. Do you know of how exactly one would go about modifying such information."

She eyed him for a moment before a small smile graced her lips. "I'm no computer expert, but all of the information is carried in a system wide database. Nothing a world class bot such as yourself couldn't handle."

"Thank you doctor, for all of your help."

"You're welcome. Recharge for a bit, I gave him enough sedative to have him sleep till at least the morning."

With that, she turned and left, presumably to check on the other ten or twelve patients in her care that night.


When Ratchet woke again, he felt warm sun on his face, and wondered for only a second if he were home on Veldin before he remembered the hospital.

He felt one hundred percent better, and ready to try out that new armor. The novelty of a warm and comfortable bed had already worn off.

"Ratchet! Thank goodness you're alright!" Sasha was latched around his neck a moment later and kissing him. Wow! Score! This rocks! Running through his head. Okay so he could get used to that.

He probably would have enjoyed it a bit more had Skidd not mentioned something about lovebirds a second later. The rest of the Q-Force was right behind her.

They broke apart as flustered as ever, both turning a bright red.

Helga was laughing her head off, as was Clank, and the room seemed a hundred times more colorful in that moment.

It was good to be back.


Many, many years later, long after Ratchet had left the service of the Solanas galaxy, he discovered his dog tags at the bottom of a little used drawer. He didn't much dwell on that portion of his life anymore, so busy with the current one, but he was a little curious. Dog tags were a little like a time capsule, and as he scanned through the information found on it, he could remember the little portions of his life he'd forgotten back there.

One section stopped him cold though, and he had to scroll back carefully to reread what was there.

Under next of kin, where there should have been nothing there was a name. And a place to contact as well. It was just like him too to have never mentioned something like this.

Next of Kin: Clank Robot

Q-Force member Solanas Galaxy.


Owari

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Thanks for reading.