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They took him to an apartment suite on the west side of the city, the area where most of the Guard lived. Realizing it, Jeth wondered if this meant that Hammer had already made up his mind. Of course he has. What could you possibly do to convince him of your loyalty? Nothing. Not even grovel.

As he stepped through the apartment door, Jeth noticed the lock was on the outside. He didn’t bother asking the Brethren why they’d brought him here. With Avalon gone, he had nowhere else to go.

But at least Lizzie and the others were waiting for him when he walked down the hallway and stepped into the common area. He kept a hand on the wall to steady himself. Lizzie took one look at his bruised and bloodied face and burst into tears. She threw her arms around him, and he yelped in pain.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Way to go, Liz,” Celeste said. “Do you think Hammer’s men only work over faces? They beat him everywhere.” Celeste grabbed Jeth’s shirt and hauled it up, revealing a dense patch of bruises beneath. Lizzie gasped. The sound cut off abruptly, as if she’d lost the ability to breathe.

Jeth hissed as Celeste’s knuckles grazed him. He felt as if his entire body had been rubbed with sandpaper.

“Don’t be such a baby,” Celeste said, but Jeth heard the concern in her voice. She pulled his shirt all the way off.

“Damn,” Shady said. “How’re you still standing?”

“Because he’s Jeth,” said Flynn, a note of affection in his voice, along with a tremor.

Lizzie ran her hand over Jeth’s shorn hair. “Why did they cut it?” He flinched away, terrified she would discover the answer. “Why did they do any of this?”

“We tried to pull one over on Hammer,” said Shady. “What did you think he was going to do when he found out?”

“But we didn’t tell him about that.” Lizzie scanned each face. “None of us told him the true story.”

“I don’t think it mattered,” said Flynn.

Celeste sighed. “Come on. Let’s get these cleaned up. I can’t believe they didn’t take you to the hospital.”

Oh, but they did, Jeth thought, and he resisted the urge to reach behind his head and feel the hole he knew must be back there, one large enough to sheath the stem of an implant. He prayed his friends would be too concerned with his face and bruised body to notice it.

Shady grunted. “Sure would be nice to have a doctor around to fix him up.”

“Be quiet,” Lizzie spat. She wasn’t crying anymore, but Jeth could tell she was teetering on the edge of it. He knew she held back because of how much it bothered him. He wanted to tell her it was all right, but he couldn’t find the heart. Nothing was all right. It never would be again.

Celeste led him to one of the bedrooms, the others following behind. She pushed him down on the bed. He didn’t protest, even as a sharp stab of pain shot through his skull when the back of his head touched the mattress. He wanted to lie on his stomach, but at least this way no one would see the implant architecture.

Celeste opened a drawer beside the bed, pulled out an electronic tablet, and started typing. “Head down to One-Eyed Johnson’s and pick up these supplies.” She handed the tablet to Flynn. “Shady, go with him.”

“Do you know what you’re doing?” said Flynn.

“It’s the only option we got. I’ve helped Milton a couple of times.”

Flynn nodded, then disappeared through the door, Shady trailing after him.

“Liz, get a warm washcloth.” Celeste bent and pulled off Jeth’s shoes.

Jeth closed his eyes, too tired and hurt to be embarrassed by the attention. He heard Lizzie return a moment later, and she started to wipe his face with a damp cloth. It hurt, but not unbearably.

“Um, guys?” Flynn said.

“Why are you still here?” Celeste snapped.

“We’re locked in.”

Lizzie’s hand went still on Jeth’s face. “What?”

“Yeah,” said Shady. “The security system says we’re on lockdown until further notice.”

“What the hell does that mean?” said Celeste.

Jeth took as deep a breath as his battered ribs would allow. “That we’re not going anywhere. Not for a long time.” Trapped, trapped, trapped. The words pounded a relentless tattoo inside his head. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter. He thought he would’ve preferred actual chains to this kind of imprisonment.

Celeste let loose a long string of swear words.

“What are we supposed to do? Just let him lie here, bleeding all over the place?” said Lizzie.

“I’m fine.” Jeth forced his eyes open.

Lizzie scowled at him. “No, you’re not.”

“I am. There’s nothing serious.”

“You can’t know that.”

“Don’t argue with me, Liz. Not this time.” A tremor threatened Jeth’s voice, and he almost lost the tight grip on his emotions. “I just want to be left alone.” He met her gaze, his eyes pleading. “All I want to do is sleep.”

“At least let us finish cleaning your cuts,” Lizzie said.

“No. I’ll be fine. I promise.” The lie throbbed inside him.

Bright tears shone in Lizzie’s eyes as she frowned down at him. “What happened? What did Hammer do to you?”

Jeth turned away, unable to bear her anguished expression any longer. He knew she wasn’t talking about the beating. She could tell there was something far deeper wrong with him, that he was broken in some fundamental way. “Let me be. Please.”