Foreword:

This is a short spinoff of my chapterfic, The General and Kaden. It didn't fit in that story as a chapter, so I decided to post it separately. Obviously I recommend reading that fic first, but I don't think you need to. Believe it or not, I wrote most of this before I'd even finished the first chapter of TGaK. In fact, I think working on this was partly what motivated me to get serious about writing the fic that inspired it— because I love this little oneshot with a passion (practically made myself cry while I was typing it up T-T) and wanted to show it to everyone... but it hinged so much on the story of TGaK that I didn't think I could post it by itself. Anyway, For those who have read The General and Kaden, this takes place during chapter 23, during the time that Kaden is inside the tunnel leading into the Court of Azimuth. For those who haven't, this takes place shortly before Kaden is killed by Emperor Tachyon. Oh, and for everyone, Ratchet's end takes place just after the end of ACITaround the time the comics kicked off, actually. Time travel—it's a cornucopia of disturbing concepts. :P


"My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart;"

Proverbs 4:20-21

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Kaden kicked at a stalagmite to break off its point and heaved a deep sigh as he sat down on the stump. The torch he'd stuck in the ground was burning steadily, and would last another hour if he was lucky. He knew he probably shouldn't stop. There was no time to waste, and Tachyon could pick up his signature on a geo-scan any moment. But he needed to stop. He needed to rest, if only for a few moments. He had lost so much these past few months... his wife, his home, his best friend—even his son. Bearing it all this time was almost more than he could take. And now, just a few hours shy of the end, he was losing it.

Come on, Kaden, get it together!

Composure, that's what he needed. Just a few minutes to compose himself. All he needed was to get through this one last trial. It would be the hardest one by far, he knew already, but then it would all be over.

Just breathe. Breathe while you still can.

At least he still had his sanity.

"Excuse me, but, uh—might you be Kaden?"

Then again, maybe he'd lost that too.

Kaden whirled around to find the source of the voice, and was greeted by the countenance of the strangest creature he had ever seen. He was a smallish thing, with pink skin and a wide, amphibian-looking head. His eyes were nothing but round pools of shiny aqua, and they consumed about half the area of his face. His body looked normal enough, minus that his hands sported only three fingers each—and, of course, that his head accounted for about two thirds of his total size. Kaden would have wondered how he could support such a large head, had he not been floating in midair like he was suspended there by some unnatural force. And yet, for all the bizarreness of his appearance, he still looked... familiar somehow.

"Oh, why am I bothering to ask?" the thing went on in his chipper, strangely accented voice. "You must be Kaden. That boy of yours is your spitting image!" With that the creature let loose a very odd-sounding chuckle.

"What do you mean?" Kaden asked in shock. "Who are you?"

"All in good time, my dear fellow," the toad-faced alien said calmly. "Now, my name is Orvus. I am the creator and caretaker of The Great Clock."

Kaden's mouth fell open, but he lacked the breath to gasp. Of course! That was why he felt like he'd seen Orvus before: his likeness had stared him in the face around every corner back when he'd explored the temple on Quantos where he'd formulated his controversial theory. "The Great Clock? You mean it's real?"

"Indeed it is. Kudos to you for figuring that out, by the way. You are one smart cookie, I'll give you that." Here Orvus paused to laugh again, then continued, "Anyhow, with that in mind, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise for you to learn that I am from the future."

Kaden remained silent for a few seconds, but only to let Orvus's words sink in. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that he was telling the truth—it all fell into place just too perfectly—but it was still a lot to process.

"How far in the future?" he asked at last.

"Eighteen years, give or take a few," Orvus replied, then continued without pause. "Please pay close attention from here on, young one. I'm afraid this is where it gets confusing: obviously the time I've come from is the 'future' from your perspective, but the 'present' that I am dealing with is actually two years further on, when I am, uh—well, dead."

Kaden opened his eyes wider, surprised at Orvus for saying something like that with such calm. Meanwhile the odd little alien just kept talking normally as though his own death meant nothing to him.

"But I've seen the future that exists beyond the scope of my lifetime," he said. "I make it a strict policy not to tamper with time, but I can't resist taking a peek every now and then, especially when it concerns XJ-0461."

"When it concerns what?"

"Why, yes!" Suddenly Orvus's eyes shimmered with a soft, paternal glow. He seemed to forget all about the dearly important matter he'd been so determined to explain, and went off on a doting tangent. "Have I ever told you about my son? Remarkable boy! Quite smart. He was born in a robot factory in the Solana galaxy, but to be precise, he was created much farther away. My son's name is XJ-0461, but the universe knows him as 'Clank.' Oh, don't give me that confused look already," he said, finally acknowledging Kaden's bewilderment. "This is the part where you come in. You see, it just so happens that my son and your son know each other—"

"Wait..." Kaden interrupted, "you mean my son—?"

"Yes, of course. Your son is still alive two decades from now. More than that, in fact—he is one of the greatest and most well-known heroes in the universe. And once again, that is where you come in. The truth is, I owe your son a great deal, Kaden. Not only has he been an indispensable companion to my dear XJ-0461, but I have seen through my window into the future that he also rescued my Clock, and sacrificed a great deal in order to do so. When I saw this, I realized right away that I was deeply indebted to him, and I wondered what I could do to show him my gratitude, being that I would already be long gone by the time any of this was to happen... And it occurred to me... What if I arranged for the boy to meet his father?"

"Wh-What?" Kaden muttered in hopeful disbelief. "You're going to—let me see my son?"

"Yes, I am," Orvus affirmed, "but don't celebrate yet—it's not as simple as that. Normally I wouldn't even consider allowing this sort of thing. Leaving such an important mark on the past could change the future in any number of ways. I'm certainly bending the rules as is, but the reason I'm letting this slide is because you, uh—" he paused, his voice softening with remorse, "well, I'm afraid your time is close at hand. Sorry about that."

Kaden let his gaze fall from Orvus to rest on the ground. "It's all right," he whispered with peaceful composure. "I kinda figured I didn't have much longer... but if I could see my son before I go... I'd face the end a thousand times over for that."

Orvus smiled. "I will open a time portal that will allow you to speak to your son in his own time, but first you must consent to two conditions. First, you must not breathe a word about this to anyone before you die, and second..." he paused to swallow, evidently aware of how sad and unfair was his next condition. "You must not use your knowledge of the future to prevent your own death. Do I have your word?"

Kaden's answer came without a second's hesitation. "Yes! Yes, of course! I promise!"

"Very well, then."

Kaden stepped back as the smiling likeness of Orvus disintegrated, transposing into a portal that opened before him to the size of a full-length mirror. At first all he could see through it was a mass of smoky bluish-purple, but soon the haze cleared and an image began to take form. He saw what looked like the inside of a messy workshop. It reminded him of the one he'd had on Lumos as a child, and for a moment he wondered if there had been some mistake and he was being shown a shadow of his own past. He could've sworn he saw himself standing there working on a beat-up old hovercar...

And then his heart leapt in his chest as the obvious truth dawned on him with doubtless certainty. The young Lombax in ripped, grease-stained overalls turned his head to the person beside him and said, "What do you mean, they're obsolete? These things are classic!"

"No one has used a Skyburst 8000 in over two decades. That makes them obsolete," replied the other person, who Kaden only now realized wasn't a person at all, but rather a robot.

A wave of unspeakable joy swept through him as he stood there tongue-tied—watching them from behind, just listening to them talk to each other as though neither of them had a care in the world. It was his son. His only child who he'd been obliged to send virtually unprotected into a harsh, cruel universe that cared nothing for him. He was alive and healthy... and he wasn't alone.

Kaden could only see the back of his head from where the portal was positioned a few paces behind him. He wanted to call out to him, but then remembered with with a pang of deep heartache that he didn't know his own son's name. He thought back to the moment not two days past when he'd sent the infant away to the hopeful safety of Planet Veldin. He had surrendered the privilege of naming the child to the one who had agreed to take him. What had that strange fellow called him? He dug deep into the dearest, most broken place in his heart, and desperately called out, "Ratchet!"

The conversation between the young Lombax and his companion came to an abrupt halt, and his amber ears perked up in surprise. The little robot turned around and his mouth opened wide in utter astonishment. Kaden's son, however, kept his eyes fixed in front of him for a moment of indecision before he slowly turned around...

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Ratchet didn't understand the feeling of hopeful fear that seized his heart when he heard his name out of nowhere. He didn't recognize the voice, but for some reason it sounded... familiar? No, that wasn't the word. He was positive he had never heard that voice before, but still got the feeling he somehow knew the person who was speaking. He was deeply stirred, not so much by the voice itself, but rather the sheer volume of emotion with which it said his name.

When he finally got up the courage to turn around and look at the face of the speaker, he gasped. A voice he did recognize suddenly flooded into his memory, saying, "you, my dear boy... look just like your father." Two weeks ago he wouldn't have thought it possible, but in recent days he had learned beyond any doubt that the past was not entirely unreachable. Even so... could it really be?

The image of a Lombax standing before him, framed in the glittering stardust at the edges of a portal, was vibrant and strong, wearing a smile as broad and warm as the rising sun—but Ratchet regarded him with a look of sheer disbelief, as though he were a ghost. Maybe he was.

"Hello, Ratchet," the specter greeted. His face looked overjoyed, but his voice sounded choked, like he was about to cry. "I'm Kaden—your father."

Ratchet's mouth slowly fell open, and for another long moment he made no effort to speak or even move. At last he ventured to rise from his seat and step slowly and cautiously toward the portal, where he stood an arm's length from its softly glowing surface.

"Oh, wow..." Kaden whispered in awe, "It really is like looking into a mirror."

Ratchet knew what he meant. If he hadn't known better, he might've thought he was seeing a slightly older version of himself. But it wasn't him... it was his father. How long had he hoped for something like this to happen? How many times had he dared to dream that he might one day meet his family? His parents had died when he was just a baby, and he had grown up on a planet far from the domain of his race with no idea where he'd come from or why he was left all alone. He had to learn from his father's murderer what had happened—how their kind was betrayed and slaughtered by a destitute child on whom they'd taken pity. Ratchet shuddered to think that such a tragedy had marked the beginning of his life, back when he was too young to even remember it. He had long since given up hope that he could ever meet his father... but now here he was, standing in front of him like a desert mirage. Ratchet could still scarcely believe it.

"H-How?" he stuttered at long last. "How is this happening?"

"I was approached by someone named Orvus," his father replied. "He said he owed you, and that he wanted to thank you by letting you talk to me, since..." He paused to swallow. "I won't be around much longer."

Sorrow cut into Ratchet's heart like a knife. Suddenly he felt guilty for what had happened to Kaden, even though he knew it wasn't his fault. He hated that he was helpless to rescue him from his fate—that all he could do was say goodbye right before they both knew he was going to die.

"Look at you..." Kaden said endearingly, dismissing as meaningless the weighty remark he'd just made. "You're all grown up! The last time I saw you, you were—this big." He gestured with his hands the size of a baby. "I wish your mother could've been here to see you! She adored you from the moment you were born, and she would've given anything to..." he stopped in mid-sentence and stared sadly at the ground.

Ratchet sensed his grief, and instantaneously felt a measure of it himself. "My mother..." he murmured feebly.

Kaden looked back up at him and managed a sorrowful but sincere smile. "You should know," he said, "her name was Nayeli."

"Nayeli." Ratchet resolutely committed it to memory.

Presently, Clank walked up beside him, regarding Kaden with amazement.

"Who's your friend?" the Lombax asked, looking down fondly at the little robot.

"Huh?" Ratchet muttered, caught off guard. "Oh, this is— Clank."

"Clank," Kaden repeated purposefully, like he was putting a name to a face he'd known for a long time. "I believe Orvus mentioned you." He knelt down to meet Clank on his level, and raised a hand to cup one side of his mouth while he said in a poorly-disguised whisper, "Thank you for taking care of my boy. If he's anything like his old man, I'm sure he can give you a run for your money."

"Do not worry, sir," Clank said with unabashed sincerity. "I can keep up with him."

Kaden smiled and nodded at the small robot, then stood up and once more addressed his son. "Ratchet, you're so quiet... Is there—anything you'd like to say?"

Ratchet bit his lip as he met his father's eyes, and after a short pause to collect his thoughts, he told him the sad truth. "A few days ago—when I thought I might be able to meet you—there were so many things that I wanted to ask you... But now I can't remember any of them. I can't even think straight right now..."

Kaden sighed understanding, and said, "Then, is it all right if I ask you some things?"

"Y-Yeah," Ratchet apprehensively replied.

Kaden took a deep, deliberate breath before he proceeded. "How are you doing?"

Ratchet was surprised it was such a simple question. "I'm—doing fine," he answered, feeling it was much too short but clueless as to how he might elaborate. I mean, nobody's tried to kill me for the past few days, so I'd say things are going pretty well.

"Are you happy?" was Kaden's next question.

Ratchet wasn't sure whether he should shed a tear or raise an eyebrow. What was with these questions? He had been a bit nervous when this conversation started that he'd be facing some kind of inquisition, but this was more like a therapy session.

"I think so," he answered as honestly as he could. Right this minute, he felt pretty near depressed—torn, conflicted, frustrated—but when he looked past the moment at the entire scope of his life, he was very happy. There were plenty of hurts and disappointments behind him, to be sure, but he could smile in the fact that he had overcome everything. Every challenge that had ever threatened his life or his heart had ultimately made him stronger, and had drawn him closer to the friend who had seen him through it all.

Kaden hesitated for an awkward moment before asking, "Is there a—special girl in your life?"

Ratchet blushed and frowned simultaneously. "Next question," he muttered.

"Sorry," Kaden apologized through a faint chuckle. Then he grew solemn once more and gingerly asked, "Are you—glad you got to see me?"

"Yes," Ratchet replied. "Absolutely! I just wish..." He trailed off, breaking eye-contact with his father to look sheepishly away.

Kaden regarded his son with a long, thoughtful stare, then asked, "Do you have any regrets?"

Ratchet turned back to his father with a conflicted look on his face, amazed at how well the older Lombax could read him even though this was the first time they'd ever spoken. Were they really that similar? After talking to him for less than five minutes, he already felt like Kaden had raised him... Of course, if Kaden had raised him, he probably would've had a much more stable childhood, and there would be no need for him to ask his son such a sad question.

"Don't," the older Lombax instructed warmly. "Don't have regrets. Life's too short for regrets. If you've made mistakes, you need to forgive yourself and move on. If someone has wronged you, you need to forgive them and move on. And if you've hurt someone else, you need to make it up to them and—"

"And move on?"

Kaden nodded, wearing a proud smile. "Yes. Always move on. And remember this: sometimes you move the most when you're standing still... So don't be afraid to stop every once in a while, and stand still long enough to learn something."

Ratchet didn't completely understand what Kaden meant, but he sensed sincerity and wisdom in what he said. He would store those words in his heart for as long as he lived. "Okay..." he muttered, clumsily adding after a brief pause, "Father."

Kaden smiled and raised his hand, holding it out flat in front of him. The younger Lombax hesitated for a few seconds, then reached out his own hand to mirror his father's gesture. His eyes flew wide open when he felt the resistance of another palm against his, and he fixed his gaze on the center of the portal, where his hand had met with his father's. He looked up to find that Kaden was just as surprised as he was. Evidently they'd both been expecting the portal to have a look-don't-touch policy.

Once the surprise wore off, Kaden's eyes filled with tears, and he beamed with such unbridled joy as Ratchet had never before seen in anyone. Immediately he took a step forward and reached through the portal, pulling his son into a tight embrace.

Ratchet's body went stiff as a board. He could feel the warmth of Kaden's body, the strength of his arms, the speed of his pulse. This wasn't a dream or an illusion. His father was really there—smiling... breathing... pinning his arms to his sides and threatening to crush the life out of him before he would loosen his grip.

Kaden took in a deep, wavering breath, and spoke softly over the low hum of the time portal. "You have no idea how much it means to me... just to know you survived. I'm so sorry I had to leave you like I did. Believe me, if there had been any other way to protect you, I would've done it! You were all I had left in the entire universe."

Ratchet remained silent, his eyes gaping. He felt dwarfed in his father's embrace—barely able to see past his shoulder, even though they must be close in age. Now that he was bound up in Kaden's crushing grip, everything about him seemed bigger and more powerful compared to Ratchet. His father was suddenly an absolute pillar of strength... and ironically enough, he demonstrated this strength through the ultimate display of weakness: dropping any and all pretenses so that he could lay his heart bare to someone much smaller and weaker than he.

Ratchet felt faint. So easily did the smothering force of Kaden's touch cut through his armor that the closeness overwhelmed him. He shut his eyes, and almost involuntarily bent his arms to reach up and lay his hands flat against Kaden's back. It was all he could do to return his father's affection, for words failed him.

Suddenly the time portal made a sputtering noise, and the two Lombaxes instinctively let go and took a step back. The gate's edges were receding slowly toward the middle— the clear image of the other side beginning to dissolve.

"Looks like our time is almost up," Kaden observed, trying not to sound disappointed.

Ratchet, on the other hand, began to panic. Time up already? No way! It couldn't be over! He still hadn't even gathered his wits enough to remember all the things he'd wanted to talk to his father about!

"Goodbye, son..." Kaden bid his child a fond farewell, pausing for a second before tenderly adding, "I love you."

Ratchet gasped, and his heart skipped a beat. No one had ever told him that they loved him... not with words, anyway. Hearing that simple, precious statement from his father instantly melted away whatever vestige of reservation or self-consciousness he might've had left. For the first time since he was a lonely child raising himself on planet Veldin, he felt like he really and truly had a family. There was actually someone besides Clank who cared about him enough to lay down their life for his sake... and that someone was his own flesh and blood—his own father.

"Wait!" he exclaimed, reaching out his hand toward the fading portal. He couldn't leave it like this. He wanted to let Kaden know how much this moment meant to him, how badly he'd longed to meet him all his life, and how grateful he was for the chance he'd been given to live in a reality that had all but determined to kill him. He was so glad to be alive, and so heartbroken that his father was predestined to die. All his feelings were bursting the seams of his heart... but he just couldn't mold them into words. If he didn't tell his father something in this last chance, he would regret it for the rest of his life. He couldn't let that happen after Kaden had just told him not to have regrets. Why was it so hard?

"I..." he choked past the lump in his throat that was probably his heart, "I love you, too."

The last Ratchet saw of his father as the portal faded out of existence was his most passionate smile yet, his eyes sparkling with fresh tears.

The portal closed with a crackle of energy and a flash of light, and Ratchet was left in the dark, empty silence of his ship. For a moment he could only stare at the space where his father had been, where just seconds ago he had felt the touch and presence of a living creature, and where now there was only filtered air and a depressing view of his messy workshop. He stood stone still, save for the small, automatic motion of his breathing, torn between trying to convince himself that he hadn't actually seen Kaden just now, and trying to accept that he had. At the moment, he couldn't decide which would feel worse.

With a defeated sigh so soft it was nigh inaudible, Ratchet let himself collapse into a slouched heap upon folded legs, his face downcast and his ears drooping sadly. It didn't make sense. Such an amazing chance to do the impossible—to meet his father who had died soon after he was born, should have been cause for joy and celebration... but the feelings it left him with were terrible. All the negative emotions he'd battled over the course of his young life—loneliness, helplessness, doubt, guilt—they all came flooding back into his heart with the painful yet beautiful realization that the family he once feared to have abandoned him had loved him after all. Such a sweet comfort turned sour in the face of his sheer inability to protect them, or help them in any way.

Even so, he knew that all these feelings were just that—feelings. They would dull in time, and then he would be left with only the memories. Ratchet would never lose the memory of his father and the affection he had poured out to him in the brief time they spent together. He would never forget the things Kaden had told him, and how much love he had expressed in every word. Over the course of a few minutes he had forged a bond with his father that would last forever. He had built a relationship that could transcend lifetimes... and for that, he was eternally grateful.

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Clank's eyes narrowed with concern as he took a few steps closer to Ratchet. The events of the past few minutes had taken him completely by surprise, and it was all he could do to stand there quietly and listen to Ratchet's groundbreaking first and only meeting with his father. It made him think of his own father, who had made this possible, and he felt awed at the simple perfection of Orvus's parting gift. He wasn't sure if it was coincidence or design—if Orvus had known Ratchet's heart or if it was simply a lucky guess—but whatever his reasoning, he could not have chosen a better way to bless Ratchet. Clank could tell by the way his friend so tenderly and gingerly returned Kaden's hug that this was exactly what he needed. This would bring closure to everything, and all the wounds he'd sustained since learning of his people's fate could heal at last.

Although, when Ratchet slumped to the ground as though he'd lost control of his legs, Clank couldn't help but feel a little worried. When he stepped up beside him and looked him over, he found that he still couldn't see his face, so low was his head hanging in front of him. He was reminded of the moment in the aftermath of their battle with Emperor Tachyon, when a dispirited Ratchet had hung his head in a similar fashion... except that then Clank had at least been able to distinguish his sad expression.

"Ratchet?" Clank murmured softly, resting a small metal hand on the Lombax's shoulder. In response to his touch Ratchet slowly lifted his head, and looked straight into his friend's eyes.

Clank's mouth fell open in place of a gasp. He had known Ratchet for the better part of five years, and had never even once before seen him cry.

But soon the miserable look on Ratchet's tear-stained face gave way to a halfhearted smile, and he quietly murmured, "Keep this between us, okay Pal?"

"Of course," Clank consented.

He hoped it to be the first of many secrets that they would share.


Afterword:

Well, there you have it—my final sending off for my beloved Kaden. T-T Please review gently. I put my brain into overdrive trying to write this well, but I still feel like Ratchet might be a tad out of character here. It was really hard for me to figure out how he would react in this situation because nothing like it ever happens in the games... Still, I think this sort of monumental occurrence would be enough to draw a lot of raw emotion from just about anyone—even (maybe especially, for that matter) someone like Ratchet. But since it is Ratchet, I chose to keep it raw, rather than making up some eloquent heartfelt speech for him to say (I'd rather not think of this as a cop-out because I couldn't figure out anything eloquent and heartfelt that seemed in character to me ^^').

Thanks for reading!

P.S. If you, like Ratchet, are wondering what Kaden meant about that whole cryptic 'standing still' sentiment, it's actually a reference to something his wife said to him in a flashback in Chapter 20 of The General and Kaden. So if you're curious, go ahead and crack that baby open and read the scene that's all in italics. ;)