Disclaimer: not mine. the end.

Warning: Tools of Destruction spoilers. Takes place prior to Quest for Booty.

Lombaxes Don't Count Sheep

By, Nicole Silverwolf

"but we need hints
before we get tired
now we need hints
before we loose pace
now we need a hint to know we're on the right track"

-excerpt from 'Hints' by Jose Gonzalez

He startled awake, so unaware of where he was that the clatter of tools crashing to the ground sounded like plasma fire to his ears. Bleary green eyes blinked once and Ratchet swayed on the stool, keeping himself upright by sheer force of will. A slow glance around as the din died down gave the Lombax plenty of an idea where he was.

After all, falling asleep at his workbench was becoming a common habit these days. At least he hadn't fallen asleep with an arc welder in hand or anything. The most important piece of equipment hadn't been damaged further by his flailing thankfully. Moved out of the way by foresight or chance the Dimensionator lay balanced on its side. A schematic drawing of its innards lay in front of him and now Ratchet could clearly see the jagged equation that had drifted to an uneven scribble as he'd nodded off. He hadn't drooled at least, reflexively checking his chin just to be certain.

It was the middle of the night; he knew that on instinct. He should probably get some real sleep in a bed. Logically he stood to do that, eyes still lingering on the oversized headpiece his people had created.

Months of work and he'd made no progress in bringing the machine back online.

No progress either in the search for a tiny robot with a serial number for a name that he'd never used. The closest friend he'd ever had.

Frustrated he yanked the machine up and over his eyes. It was still unbalanced and unweildy; Ratchet had to wonder what kind of engineer had built something so non-ergonomic. And if they'd been Lombaxes--supposedly the most advanced engineers out there--what did that say?

He yanked on the starter, which didn't even splutter with the hope of functionality. Again and one more time just to be sure with the same effect. He shut his eyes anyways and concentrated. Pictured every detail as clearly as he could. The first and now admittedly only time he'd used it, he had begged the Dimensionator to find home. Such a non-specific request should have sent him and Clank anywhere. They could have ended up in whatever dimension the Lombaxes had gone too. Could have dropped on Veldin or in the middle of downtown Metropolis or back in the factory Clank had first emerged from.

But the machine hadn't. Somehow it had known to bring them back to Apogee station.

"Find Clank," he commanded firmly, voice steady.

Nothing happened.

He'd known that would be the case. It was worth the try however much hope it might have cost him to do so. Ratchet stifled the urge to throw the device across the room. That wouldn't help anyone he reminded himself fiercely. Despite how good the short term satisfaction of blowing the thing sky high might bring.

In the dark, this late at night when no one would know or see Ratchet could admit how much he missed his best friend. He had to believe the Zoni weren't hurting him; the little creatures had saved the both of them so many times during their latest adventure.

Conviction that his friend had been taken against his will had driven his search. But how much longer could that take him? Was Clank even looking for him? Did he even care that Ratchet was gone?

Questions without answers again. Frustrating in the worst of ways.

Exhausted almost tears pricked at his eyes and he pulled the contraption carefully off his head. Set it safely aside with firm hands. He needed sleep.

Lights off and leaving the workbench a mess was a new bad habit but as there wasn't anyone to scold him about it, Ratchet couldn't come to care. Their place in Metropolis was his base when he wasn't out at Apogee station with its access to IRIS or Max Apogee's impressive collection of histories.

It was spacious for a city dwelling, thanks mostly to Secret Agent Clank's wild popularity.

Too spacious now. The meticulously kept room next to his own had been vacant for far longer than it should have and while he'd once thought of this place as home...it had just been a roof over his head recently.

For whatever reason the bed he'd slept in for years felt like rocks and after a bleary cycle of tossing and turning he shuffled out from under the covers. Pulling one after him like he hadn't done since early childhood he made his way out to the hangar. It was relatively quiet for the city and he startled the bot scrounging through his scrap heap in search of metal.

Bitter winds bit into his fur and he drew the cloth around him and hunched into the chill.

Aphelion was powered down and motionless, like she'd looked the first time Ratchet had ever laid eyes on her gleaming hull. Unlike that first encounter though, when his hand grazed the side of her hull, she came to life instantly.

"Miserable cheats...do they even know..." her accented voice trailed off at the sight of her pilot smiling thinly not a foot away.

"Sorry Aphelion. Didn't mean to wake you," Ratchet apologized with a truthfulness that might have seemed a front to anyone else who didn't know him. The Lombax was somewhat unique in how he treated the robots he lived with. And it had earned him an unrivaled loyalty from them.

"Is something wrong Ratchet? We're not under attack are we?" It was embarrassing to admit it; when in Metropolis she let her guard down. But the way Ratchet stood, eyes exhausted and reactions sluggish she doubted there was imminent destruction raining down on them.

"No...just couldn't sleep," he admitted after a long pause. Aphelion didn't respond and Ratchet couldn't help but think she was passing judgement on him and that statement. Even though that was probably impossible.

Aphelion could sense what this was about and without a retort the ship's canopy opened with a soft hiss click. Relief crossed the Lombax's features and he scrambled blanket and all into the cockpit. In reality he'd spent more time here than he'd spent anywhere in the last year.

The seat was small and only moderately comfortable. It did not recline and stretching his feet across both seats was both a challenge and a pain. Ratchet was just a foot or two shy of reaching without having to stretch.

The canopy snapped closed, he wrapped himself as best he could in the cloth and settled in. There was no need to explain why he couldn't sleep. Aphelion missed the smallest robot part of their trio too.

When it was clear that even the hum of the ship wasn't going to be enough and he'd flipped over for the sixth time she surprised him. Aphelion's tone was smooth, quiet and even, though not particularly impersonal.

Starting to recite the technical manual for the RYNO would be a peculiar place to start for anyone but Ratchet. When she finished all 250 detailed pages she went on to the specifics of his most current nano turret and when she'd finished that there was no need to go further.

Ratchet was deeply asleep for what was likely the first time in days.


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