Author's Note:

Well, here I am again shocked that my second posted fanfic turned out to be Ratchet & Clank as well. *-* This is a sequel of sorts (or maybe 'companion' is a better word) to Watch My Back. Just as the ending of ToD overwhelmed me with a desire to figure out Ratchet's feelings, the ending of ACIT overwhelmed me with a similar desire get Clank's side. As such, this is basically an exploration of the characters more than an actual fic, so those looking for action need not apply. This took a lot longer to write than Watch My Back did, which makes sense, I suppose, since it's set after ACIT rather than ToD and is thus more than twice the length. Plus, I found it a lot more difficult to get inside Clank's head than it was to get inside Ratchet's... Ultimately, though, it all came together, and I'm pretty happy with the end result. :)

My best friend is nothing like me. He is rash and impulsive, impatient and reckless, passionate and emotional. He gets angry easily and is prone to hold a grudge. He acts without thinking and always looks on the bright side. He never waits, never worries, never stops... It defies reason that the two of us work so well together.

I cannot explain why, but I have always had faith in him. Ever since I first met him, even though it was obvious how childish and self-centered he was, I believed in him. I just had, for lack of a better word, a feeling that he had a good heart— that underneath all his anger there was compassion; that underneath all his immaturity there was nobility. I chose to trust him because I saw the Ratchet that could be somewhere inside the Ratchet that was, and determined that I would stay by his side no matter what.

No matter what...

It was not always easy. We clashed on just about everything, from methods to ethics, and there were times when I wondered in a dark corner of my mind if I was wasting my time with him. Maybe he was not the hero I wanted to believe he was, and I would be better off on my own. But I pushed those thoughts out of my mind because I hated the thought of giving up on Ratchet. As difficult and juvenile as he was, he was my friend, and I could not turn my back on him anymore than I could abandon my quest to protect the galaxy from evil.

As time went by, I lost track of how long we had known each other— how many foes we had vanquished, how many lives we had saved. Little by little, as we were thrust from one adventure to another, I began to see a kinder, more selfless Ratchet surfacing from within the daredevil. While relentless threats and battles continued to come our way, the two of us gradually became inseparable. Everything we did, we did together, and we could depend on one another for anything. I knew that he would never give up no matter how difficult the challenge, and he knew that no one could sneak up on him as long as I was on his back. I became very attached to him— oftentimes literally— and although he never actually said so, I knew it was the same for Ratchet. As much as a robot can feel such a thing as happiness, I did.

Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come...

Ratchet might not realize it, but I know him better than anyone. As different as we are, I can understand what makes him the way he is. He never met his parents, never had a family, never even saw another of his own kind. He was always alone. Everything he knew, he had to teach himself. Everything he wanted, he had to get himself. Everything he owned, he had to build himself. It is really no wonder he turned out selfish. I tried to imagine what it was like for him— growing up in a place where he obviously did not belong, an outsider and alien who would always be regarded with suspicion. It could not have been easy. Thus, when clues about what happened to his own race began to surface, I completely understood his desire to pursue them. I would have supported his search for answers with every gear in my body— if only it had not led to such a dangerous end.

Regardless of my friendship with Ratchet, my first duty is to the galaxy. I could never allow anyone to possess a device capable of destroying so much so easily— even though it was Ratchet's only hope of solving the mystery that had haunted him all his life. I thought he would understand... but I was wrong. Apparently the weight on his heart was too great for him to see past. He had changed a great deal since we met, but not enough that he was willing to make such a sacrifice. When I told him the Dimensionator was too dangerous to be used he looked at me with a fierce anger that I had never seen before, and he completely rejected me... As much as robot can feel such a thing as heartache, I did. It hurt to know that my best friend did not trust me.

Just as always, though, Ratchet came through in in the end. When it came to the final reckoning, he walked up to the portal that could take him home— home to be with his own kind at last— and instead of going through it he turned around and came back to me, vowing not to leave until he had destroyed the Dimensionator. Part of me could hardly believe it, and another part expected no less from Ratchet. If he had proven himself once, he had done it a thousand times, and this was no exception. I was very proud of him. It was a close call, but we were able to make good on Ratchet's promise. The Dimensionator would never again be a threat to anyone.

That was when it happened.

They came for me. The Zoni. The creatures only I could see who had been aiding me all throughout our mission, and who Ratchet had only recently come to believe existed. They appeared at the Apogee Space Station where Ratchet and I were, and took me to the home I had never known.

I was gone for two years. Of course, I was unconscious the whole time, so for me it was no different than entering sleep mode to charge my power cells and waking up the next day... but it must have been much harder for Ratchet. He did not know what was happening— who the Zoni were or where they were taking me— only that I had disappeared without a trace.

I have no idea what was going through Ratchet's mind when he set out to find me, but one thing I do know is how diligently he searched. When I found out how long it had been since the Zoni brought me to the Great Clock, I tried not to think about Ratchet. I reasoned that by now he had probably forgotten about me and carried on with his life. The thought made me a little sad, but I had a new path of my own to follow, after all. It was time for me to move on, and if Ratchet had already moved on as well, it was for the best... I cannot even describe how surprised I was when I suddenly heard his voice out of nowhere, turned around to see his smiling face on the screen behind me, and realized that he had been looking for me all along. He had been looking for me for two years. A little while later we met face-to-face, and even after two years all I could think to say when we were reunited was the same thing I said when we were separated for less than two hours: "Hello, Ratchet." I wonder if he could tell how overjoyed I was when I said that? I could certainly tell he was— grinning from ear to ear even as he gasped for breath after nearly getting himself killed in order to save me.

I feared that our joy would be short-lived, however, when I discovered that another of his heart's desires was now in conflict with my duty. If he wanted to use the Great Clock to turn back time and save his family, I simply could not let him. There was no limit to the amount of damage it might cause. What could I do? What could I even say? I knew how much this meant to him, and I knew he would give anything to save his parents. Still, I simply could not condone the Clock to be used for time-travel. So, I just reminded Ratchet of what had happened with the Dimensionator, and fell back on my faith in him once more.

I was amazed at his response. No argument— and almost no hesitation. He took my side immediately, accepting the truth with only my word as proof... and I saw that the trust I had always invested in Ratchet was at last being reciprocated. He finally trusted me— completely— with every hope and dream he had ever had. He laid them all at my feet in that moment when I told him that time could not be changed. And I thought to myself, this truly is the Ratchet I always knew was there.

After that it was just like old times for a little while— riding on his back while he led the way from one battle to another in the wild goose chase that would hopefully lead us to accomplishing our objective. It was bittersweet for me, because I knew it would not last. Once we secured the Great Clock, I had to stay there and protect it. It was my destiny— the purpose for which I was created. I was afraid of how Ratchet might take the news, wondering if he would be angry or think that I did not care about him anymore. I do not suppose it would have been unreasonable for him to feel that way, especially after he had just spent two years of his life looking for me. Still, this was my duty, and I could not abandon it. Ratchet would simply have to understand... and for once, in spite of my fears, he did.

"When this is over, I'll back whatever decision you make." He got down on one knee and said these comforting words to me with a smile and a hand placed gently on my shoulder... And when it was over, he kept his promise. I explained to him why it had to be this way, and he listened quietly to everything I had to say. Then, for the very first time since we had known each other, he gathered me up in his arms... and hugged me.

If I were physically able, I am certain I would have shed tears at that moment. It was a painful, beautiful irony, because I knew that in those brief seconds he held onto me he was also letting me go— for my sake, because he wanted what was best for me. As I closed my eyes I noticed that I could feel his heart beating— his kind, strong heart that I always knew was good.

Moments later, I watched him die.

I could not believe it... It came out of nowhere and happened so fast. I saw him stagger backwards as the energy blast struck him head-on. I saw him clutch at his heart while sparks of electricity still sizzled across his chest. I saw him gasp out his last few ragged breaths... and I saw him fall off the edge of the Clock. I ran to him, but I was too late. Even if I could have gotten there in time to catch him, it would not have mattered. He was already...

All I could do as I watched him disappear into the cold emptiness of space was shout his name, futilely stretching out a hand that could not reach him.

There was no time for me to grieve, or even to let the horrible truth sink in. Seconds after I lost my best friend I came face-to-face with his killer. I ran. What else could I do? I had failed to protect Ratchet, but I had to do everything in my power to protect the Clock. I remember thinking this just before I took flight toward the Orvus Chamber. Even so, the thing that consumed my mind as I raced forward— screams from Sigmund and Azimuth piercing the air all around me— was Ratchet, and Ratchet alone. I should have seen this coming. I should have been able to prevent it. If I had turned around just one second sooner, I could have saved him. He would still be here, and we would be fighting together, back-to-back, like we always had.

I barely made it into the Chamber in time to seal the door behind me, and as I approached the center of the room and the main control switch for the Great Clock, it occurred me that I could use it to save Ratchet. I could change what happened and bring him back. But as soon as the concept took form, I knew it would be wrong. I remembered what Orvus had said about the Clock— how it was not meant to be used as a time machine and how every life in the universe could be threatened if its power were misused. I had not even let Ratchet use it to save his entire race. For me to use it to save one life, simply because it was the life I valued most, would be unforgivably selfish and hypocritical.

However, even as I met with this resolve, my soul ached at the realization that Ratchet was really gone forever— and that he had died because of his allegiance to me. That was the worst part. Even though I had made the right choice and done the right thing, it did not change the fact that Ratchet was killed for siding with a robot against one of his own kind... and that meant his death was partly my fault. His voice echoed in my mind, over and over, amidst the voices of everyone else telling me I couldn't save him. I do not have a heart, but I am certain at that moment I learned what it feels like when the heart breaks.

Then, in the midst of my despair, I remembered something someone had said to me about risking more than six minutes. Six minutes? A thousand facts and technicalities and laws of temporal mechanics flashed into my mind at once, zipping and cross-referencing through my neural circuits with such urgency that I am surprised I did not crash my central processor. It only took a second— maybe even less— and I was sure. The risk was not zero, but the worst damage that a time change of less than six minutes could do was create a few quantum singularities, and I had repaired those on a daily basis since I had begun my training as caretaker for the Great Clock. I made up my mind. This was the least I could do for Ratchet after everything he had done for me. I am sorry, father, but I am going to break your rule...

Ratchet will never know what I had to do in order to save his life, but I will never forget what it was like to see him die. It was a horrifying reminder of how different he is from me— not only mentally, but physically as well. He is a creature of flesh and blood who can be hurt and killed in so many ways. The thought that I might not be there to protect him when he was in danger made saying goodbye so much harder.

With all these thoughts swimming in my mind, I looked into his eyes for what we both knew would be the last time. He told me to take care, then turned and walked away, and I was struck with a feeling of sorrowful indecision completely unfamiliar to me. Never before had I questioned my calling. Never before had I wanted anything that conflicted with my directive. Ever since I was born my sole desire had been the fulfillment of my duty... and yet here I was, wishing I could abdicate my greatest responsibility simply because I did not want to be separated from my friend.

I was at an impasse. If I left the Clock, I was betraying my father, but staying with the Clock felt like betraying Ratchet. I did not leave him back when we barely knew each other and he tested my patience at every turn. I did not leave him when we were pursuing the Lombax Secret and he completely shut me out. I did not even leave him when he angrily threatened to sell me for scrap metal! How could I leave him now, when he had finally grown into the hero I always believed he could be? He gave up everything for me, and had not even asked me to stay with him in return. How could I just watch him walk out of my life forever after all we had been through together?

And then I realized something... my first duty is to Ratchet. He and I defended whole galaxies against any number of threats, and he never once shied away out of concern for his own safety. The two of us became famous as heroes, and I could not have asked for a better partner. With his help I saved thousands more lives than I ever would have been able to alone. Everyone in the entire universe owes him more than they can possibly repay, as do I... and that is why I cannot leave him. Someone else can take care of the Great Clock, but no one else can take care of Ratchet. No one understands him better than me; no one cares about him more than I do. So as long as he has no family of his own to turn to for comfort and encouragement, I will be his family. It is my responsibility, and my pleasure.

As long as he needs me, I will be there.