Before I get going with this last chapter, I want to give a quick shout-out to Ghostkid33, who has been faithfully following/reviewing my stories since the later chapters of The General and Kaden. I've always wanted to respond to your reviews personally, but since I can't, I figured this was the next best thing. Thanks, GK33! :)


Ratchet woke up woozy and disoriented, feeling like he'd had about twenty different dreams that he couldn't remember. He looked around for a moment, wondering where he was, when he was, who he was... For a few minutes, everything was a blur of fuzzy nonsense.

When he finally caught his bearings he sat up and looked around the room. His first glance told him he was in his trailer, but everything about it looked... different. Aside from the gigantic hole in the wall, which he was afraid to even wonder about, the place was actually... tidy. The floor was swept clean, and all the books and gadgets were either neatly lined on dusted shelves or properly mounted on the wall.

Whoa... I haven't seen my place this clean since... He quickly lost track of the thought, unable to remember a time.

He yawned and stretched out his arms as he headed for the trailer door. There was no sign of the little robot responsible for cleaning up this mess, so Ratchet figured he must be downstairs.

He called out Clank's name as he descended into the shop, and looked all around once he reached the dirt floor of his humble workspace, but Clank was nowhere to be found. He must've left when the fever broke.

In spite of himself, Ratchet felt a little... sad. Although, he wasn't sure exactly why. He shouldn't be surprised that Clank would leave. It was amazing he even stuck around as long as he had. No one else would have. So why shouldn't he leave now that Ratchet was better? Why should he stick around to say goodbye to someone he barely knew? It wasn't as though they were... friends.

Ratchet swallowed the lump forming in his throat, and told himself he didn't care. So what if Clank was gone? So what if everything they'd been through together amounted to nothing? He had never needed anyone before, and he didn't now. Nothing had changed.

However, even as he assured himself of these things, a part of him deep down knew they weren't all true, and standing there in his silent, spotless workshop, he was forced to acknowledge something he'd spent his whole life trying to deny—he hated being alone. More than being stuck in one place. More than being told what to do. All this time he had poured as much effort as possible into hating those other things just so that it would take the sting off the loneliness... but it was all for nothing, he realized, now that the hope of having found a friend had crept into his heart and shattered the defenses he'd worked so hard to build.

He clenched his fists, grabbed his wrench off the wall, and heaved it over his shoulder, ready to let loose all his frustration in the hardest swing he could muster—but he stopped when he noticed in the entrance arch the strangest thing he'd ever seen: a big brown grocery bag with legs.

A small round head peeked out from behind the bag, and gasped in surprise.

"Ratchet!" Clank exclaimed. He set down the bag in the same instant that Ratchet dropped his wrench, and ran over to him while listing off a string of questions. "Why are you not in bed? Are you feeling all right? How many fingers am I holding up?"

Clank's hands were spread flat right in Ratchet's face, and he was too caught off guard to respond right away.

"Uh..." he muttered, "Ten? No, wait... six."

He'd almost forgotten. Clank only had three fingers on each hand...

"Oh, dear..." the little robot said worriedly. "I think you had best go back to bed."

He grabbed Ratchet's hand and started leading him inside, but Ratchet pulled away and muttered, "Clank? You're here?"

The little robot gave him a puzzled look. "Of course I am here. Why would I not be?"

"Well... I couldn't find you when I woke up, so..."

"Oh, I see. I was obliged to leave you alone while I went to purchase food items. You have been unconscious for three days."

"Three days?" Ratchet exclaimed. No wonder he was so hungry when he woke up...

"We should go inside," Clank said. "Let me check your temperature, and then I will make you breakfast."

Ratchet's left ear flopped. He still could hardly believe that Clank had actually taken care of him all this time. Unable to think of anything to say, he followed his companion up to the trailer where a bed and a first-aid kit were waiting.

A few minutes later, Clank pulled a thermometer from Ratchet's mouth and quietly read the numbers. He sighed in relief (which looked funny to Ratchet, since he was a robot), and happily stated, "Your temperature has returned to an acceptable level."

"Well I could've told you that," Ratchet sassed, feeling the need to assert his rebelliousness in the face of a growing affection that he didn't want to acknowledge.

"Are you certain you feel all right?" Clank asked.

"I feel fine," Ratchet replied.

"You are not in pain anywhere?"

"No."

"And your head is clear? No... bizarre urges?"

Ratchet rolled his eyes and grumbled, "Yes, Clank. For the last time, I am totally, completely okay."

Clank smiled and muttered, "I am glad to hear that."

Ratchet felt a wave of something tender and vulnerable rising up inside him, and he turned away, struggling to raise up his defenses again. "You didn't have to do all that, you know. I would've been fine on my own. Why'd you stick around for so long?"

"I wanted to make sure you were all right."

"Well, I'm fine now, okay?!"

Clank went silent, and stared at Ratchet for a moment. It was still a bit hard to discern the emotions on his cold metal face, but Ratchet thought he almost looked hurt.

"I see..." he muttered at long last. "Well then... I suppose I should leave now."

The little robot hopped down to the floor and quietly headed for the door.

"Wait!" Ratchet exclaimed on pure instinct. Clank turned to look at him with a hopeful expression that begged for an explanation. Unfortunately, Ratchet was at a loss for words. His stubborn pride was already rising up in his gut, ready to blast out some sarcastic insult or smart remark... but even louder was the screaming of another voice. His oldest scars and dearest longings cried out from deep inside him with enough passion to wrestle his stubbornness into a stranglehold, threatening that he would never forgive himself if he allowed something as worthless as pride to rob him of this chance.

Swallowing hard and turning away to break eye contact with Clank, he rubbed the back of his head and brusquely muttered, "I mean... you don't have to go..."

Clank tilted his head, giving Ratchet a curious look. "I—do not understand... Do you want me to stay?"

"I don't care," Ratchet lied. "Do what you want."

What a stupid thing to say. Ratchet looked down at Clank's innocent face, fully expecting him to huff off in a fit of righteous indignation. Why would he want to spend another second with an ungrateful brat who couldn't even bring himself to say 'thank you'?

To his surprise, Clank just smiled and stepped forward, meeting Ratchet's eyes from about a foot away. "Very well, then," he said decisively. "I will stay."

« ... »

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12