I was floating in a void. All was blackness and for a long time, silence. But then there were voices. Just a few here and there, at first. Faint. Distant. I thought that I should recognize the voices, but I didn't, not really, and I sank into the void again…

"He'll come around when he's damned good and ready," a gruff voice said some indeterminate time later, pulling me up from the depths again. "Hovering isn't going to make it happen faster," the same voice continued. "Shoo!"

I concentrated on the voice. I knew who had spoken, knew his name. It hovered, shimmering in my consciousness, just out of my reach. I wanted to growl in frustration, but I didn't seem to know how to make my voice work.

"Just relax, Sideswipe," the voice said, apparently talking to me. "You've been in stasis for a while, and it'll take a while to come out of it."

I could do nothing but obey the voice, and I let the void embrace me again.

When I awoke again, when I could open my eyes, the first bleary though that occurred to me was that the Ark and the Pit had identical orange ceilings. But that didn't make sense. I shook my head to clear it out, and in response, the universe inverted and lurched into a stuttering, nauseating spin. I must have made some sort of sound in response because Ratchet – That was his name! – suddenly materialized next to me. He said something to me, but I couldn't quite catch what he said. I was too busy trying to make the universe hold still. Eventually, after a small eternity, it settled, and I looked up at Ratchet.

"Wha…?" I asked intelligently, and that was as far as I got. Words formed in my processors easily enough; getting them to come out of my mouth seemed to be the tricky part.

Ratchet, somehow knowing was I was going to ask, filled me in.

"You've been in stasis for about six months, on Optimus Prime's orders. Took him that long to figure out what the hell to do with you."

"Should have let me die," I muttered.

"Yes, that would likely have been a lot easier for you, wouldn't it?"

There was an edge to his voice. Ratchet was often grumpy, but much of it I knew to be an act, his own special brand of defense mechanism. But this wasn't an act; he wasn't entirely happy to see me awake.

And so it began…

"Did some research while you were out," Ratchet was saying meanwhile. "Records are sketchy, but we did find some court documents and a notation that you'd been remanded to some experimental rehabilitation program. So that checked out."

I nodded but kept silent, so he continued.

"And then Jazz did some digging and somehow managed to find some of the program's records. Some of them talked about you, so…Optimus decided to bring you around."

Only one word of what he'd said really leapt out at me.

"Jazz is all right," I breathed, relieved.

"He's fine," Ratchet confirmed. "Sunstreaker did some more damage after Prowl pulled his little stunt, but I pulled him through. Bluestreak's OK, too." He paused significantly and then added, "Physically."

Dread, guilt, and remorse pounced on me, and I could do nothing to defend myself against their assault. I closed my eyes in surrender.

"Dear Primus help me," I murmured prayerfully.

"Mmmm," Ratchet grunted in apparent agreement. "Indeed. Sunstreaker's also in stasis," he informed me, "although he'll be staying there unless some miraculous and real method of rehabilitating him happens along."

It was only as Ratchet said the words that I realized that I was alone, truly alone as I had never been since…since I had existed in this form. There was a only a hollow, ringing emptiness where he had once been, and I felt more incomplete than ever. I was alone, incomplete…and I had to live amongst a few dozen Autobots who probably hated me and rightfully so. Worst of all, I would be able to feel their anger, their hatred. The thought was overwhelming. Terrifying.

"Ratchet, I can't do this," I whispered, stricken. "Put me back in stasis. Please. Or kill me. Something, anything other than this."

Ratchet laughed. For a long time.

"Oh, no," he said when he calmed down. "This is your punishment, you see. And you can do it. Or at least you will do it. You have no other choice. Death is easy. Living…not so much."

"But that's—" I began to protest.

"Don't you dare say that it's cruel," Ratchet interrupted, leaning over me threateningly. He was genuinely angry only infrequently. Now, he was utterly furious. "We know what you did. Found those records, too."

I could only stare at him, wide-eyed, and I couldn't stop myself from trembling violently. I had no idea what to say.

Ratchet snorted at me contemptuously, and then he turned away and headed for the door of the small, private, and no doubt guarded and monitored room that I occupied.

"Better rest up," he tossed over his shoulder. "Tomorrow's the first day of the rest of your life."

And then he was gone. And he was right, too. The first day of the rest of my life. The only problem was that it was a life I was certain I didn't want to live because I had simply exchanged one monkey on my back for another.

So there you go! I might write more stories after this. I don't know. It depends on how the mood strikes me. I have other things I need to finish, though. Thanks for reading and, if you've been waiting for this conclusion, thanks for your patience. :)