To think a flimsy piece of fabric could cuz so much trouble…. In the end I'd pretty much put two and two together, and Brian confirmed my assumptions about Methany getting angry over Brian taking off his shirt. It didn't make sense to me; you see, they had the girls walking around in skimpy, animal-print bikinis just because they're sexist, and the guys weren't aloud to take off their shirts while they hauled rice through a parking lot in the hot sun. Of course, after speaking to several different people, including Mrs. Smith and a few of my classmates, I'd formed my own opinion of the place.

I saw the logic behind their tendencies, assuming all that Mr. Burns had said was the truth, but one could never be sure. So, assuming this wicked plan was truly just to get rich off of a mining/rice farm industry, and they truly did need extra slaves, I saw the logic behind it. Girls were made to be thought lowly of and showed off to get the guys horny (but not like that was a difficult task) so when we went to the Dark Rooms every night, there'd be a higher chance of us getting pregnant. Then there would be more help…but that's where it gets sketchy. If this operation was to survive on slave labor, and they needed more slaves, why create babies to have to feed and raise for, say, four years before they'd even be useful? That's the part that wasn't logical, but all others I could see. Of course, that meant one good thing – they didn't plan on killing us. Just keeping us as slaves here for a long time, considering we'd have to raise our children here…. Short term, this was good because we'd survive – long term…something would have to be done.

I scooped Brian's discarding tee-shirt up from the ground. I turned it right-side out again and looked at the front. It was a band tee-shirt of Van Halen.

"One of my favorite songs is by Van Halen," I commented, almost to myself.

"You know, that's not even mine," Brian replied. "They threw all our clothes into a huge pile, so all I have that I know is mine is my jeans and shoes from yesterday."

"I'm sure you'll eventually sort out all your clothes."

He shrugged.

"At least it fits. But I don't really know Van Halen that well…."

He seemed to be thinking of something different with a faraway look, and I decided not to disturb him. I soaked the back of the shirt in cold water and turned him around.

I ran my fingers gingerly over the tiny cuts on his back that his belt had created. He didn't seem to notice. I squeezed out the tee-shirt and started at the worst cut I saw – which wasn't actually that bad. There was blood, but it wasn't very deep; it would heel in a few days at most.

Brian jumped and gasped when the cold shirt came into contact with his skin. "Jeez, give me a warning?" he said with a laugh.

I giggled. "Sorry, you were concentrating."

I continued to dab away at the blood that came from the little cuts.

"Oh. I was thinking – about what you said. That we'd eventually sort out our clothes. But to me…I can't even see that far into the future at this point. So what makes you so sure that we'll…um…"

"Survive that long?" I offered, bluntly.

He scratched the back of his head and hissed at the pain in his shoulder. "Yeah."

"Well…Mrs. Smith told me today that they are serious about the girls getting pregnant. That seriously…we will get raped if we're not pregnant by the end of the month…. So I figure that if they're really planning to have roughly…one hundred babies around here, they're thinking long-term."

"It doesn't take that long to make a baby," he pointed out.

"Well…nine months could be long enough to figure something out."

Brian turned around and gave me a kiss on the cheek. "For half of you. What happens to me after I've done my job and possibly knocked a few of you up?"

I gave him a look.

"Okay, sorry. I didn't mean it like…like that. Just thinking aloud…."

"They'll need you for the rice and the mine," I whispered.

"You're right." He paused to think. "It just makes me worried thinking that this is actually happening, and instead of making weekend plans with my friends, I'm deciding on how I'm going to be living here. That's what was going through my mind when Methany was…" He shook his head, as if to clear it. "I kept thinking that this is actually happening, and there's a very real chance I could get killed at any time. I think I'm starting to realize this is a bigger adjustment than I previously thought."

I nodded thoughtfully but stayed silent for a bit.

"I think, as a group, we're taking this transition extremely well. Well, the guys are anyway – I haven't seen the girls since breakfast. So unless they've had at least…twenty mental break-downs, this is good."

He gave me an amused look. "How do you figure that?"

"I took a psychology class at school," I answered.

"Oh, yeah. I was going to take that class just so I could, you know, get into people's minds or whatever, but when I found out who the teacher was I dropped it."

"I know," I said, turning him around again. "We were in the same class for about two days."

I'd wiped the blood away from his back, and despite looking red, even in the dim lighting, it seemed to look like it would be back to normal by tomorrow morning. Of course…I really had no useful knowledge to back a diagnosis like that up with.

"Okay. Why don't you drop your pants?" I said.

"What?" Brian looked back at me with an alarmed expression.

I held up the tee-shirt. "So I can get the blood," I said in a reprimanding tone.

"Oh…well, I think it's fine."

"Why don't you just think of me as your doctor or something? I promise I won't violate you, or molest you, or anything."

He looked at me like it was obvious. "Because. I don't think of you as a doctor. You know how I think of you. And in my mind, that would very quickly turn into a bad porn movie."

I made a face. "That's not fair. You've seen me naked." I paused and then muttered, "And it's not like I'm gonna look."

He frowned and scrunched his brow up. "You shouldn't be able to play that card. That was entirely not my fault."

I shrugged and blushed. "Doesn't mean it didn't happen. And you…saw it all."

He looked away in embarrassment, and even though I was blushing furiously, I think I got him at that. I was genuinely worried about him, and it's not like I knew that just putting cold water on it would help, but…don't you put cold water on everything?

He frowned deeper. "Fine," he muttered.

He turned around and fumbled with his belt buckle. "But you gotta be quick about it."

"I will," I assured him.

He muttered something to himself, but I couldn't hear it. His movements were slow, whether from his reluctance for me to get a little free show, or his shoulders bothering him. Probably a combination of the two.

He struggled to move his hand behind his back with his shoulder, and I helped him push his jeans down. He held up the front of his jeans with both hands and let his head drop into the wall with a sigh. I chuckled to myself.

Since the blood had been wet when he pulled his jeans back on earlier, all of the blood had probably smeared on his boxers. I couldn't tell where the cuts were, and I felt humiliated when I had to kneel down, and Brian turned his head to give me a questioning look.

"Calm down," I said. "I'm just looking."

"Yeah, yeah," he said and stared at the wall again.

I chuckled. "You look like a baboon. Your ass is really red."

"You're not allowed to laugh at me, either," he said defensively.

I rolled my eyes and tried dabbing the blood off. Brian jumped again from the cold water. I put my other hand on his hip to steady him. There weren't too many cuts. A lot less than on his back, even though the brunt of Methany's punishment had been focused on his ass. I cringed, knowing he'd probably be uncomfortable sitting down for awhile. And everyone would know why.

With the hand I had braced on his hip, I reached for his hand. Brian started to rush into a protest, but when he realized I was just trying to hold his hand he shut up. I giggled and ran my thumb over the back of his hand.

"You're so touchy. Calm down," I said.

He sighed and banged his head against the wall. I think that was an accident, but he played it off like he was frustrated.

I finished wiping the blood off, and I decided Brian had gone through torture enough that day. I stood up.

"Okay, I'm done," I said.

He quickly pulled up his jeans and buckled up his belt. I wiped at his back again, and he'd calmed down considerably.

"How does it feel?" I asked.

"It's sore from the pressure you put on it, but the cold water feels good. Better," he answered with a sigh.

I wiped away a tiny trickle of blood that had started up again on the small of his back with my finger. I rubbed it off on the shirt and handed it to Brian.

"We should probably leave before someone catches us back here," I murmured.

He nodded silently and shrugged the shirt on over his shoulders. His movements were slow and stiff. I sighed and looked at the ground.

He brushed his hand across my shoulder. "What's up?"

I shrugged. "I don't want to go back out into the hot sun and drag water to people having break downs…people I've known for years. It makes me uncomfortable and really depressed. I'm just trying to pretend this isn't happening…I just want to stay back here with you."

He sighed and wrapped me in a hug I vaguely thought would hurt his sore shoulders. "That would be nice, but…it is happening. I think it's good that you're bringing water to people. It'll probably be…really encouraging, you know?"

"Uh…no, I don't know. But I get what you mean. 'Be brave for people'…blah blah."

He snickered quietly. "Yeah, something like that."

I groaned in frustration. "I hated seeing you get hurt. And I don't want to see anyone else get hurt…this whole situation makes me nervous."

"Well I'm glad you're only nervous and not going through a complete mental breakdown because I bet there are some people experiencing that right now."

"Yeah," I agreed softly.

"We need to get back out there. Or we'll probably get caught."

"You're right," I agreed reluctantly.

He gave me a chaste kiss on the lips and stooped to help me lift the bag of water.

"Christ, this is heavy," he commented.

I snorted. "Don't remind me."

I have no idea how the word of what happened to Brian reached the boys working in the mines got there before I did, roughly an hour later, but I found out quickly that they knew. Many people regarded me with grave looks, like I had experienced what Brian had. It was then that I was able to empathize with him a little more; I knew how annoying and embarrassing it was to have people look at you in a way that made you know they knew something. Just the look they gave me was enough to let me know what they were thinking. They felt pity, because of both the physical part and the fact that there was public humiliation involved. But they also thought, in their subconscious's, that they were glad they knew – it was a piece of gossip now, not an event, and they were glad they were "in the loop". They knew they'd be able to pass the story on to the girls in the evening. It was as if a family member of mine had died, but in an embarrassing our humorous way, the way they looked at me. And it made me angry, just like it did to Brian.

But to me, I tried to stay on the bright side, knowing that while Brian suffered a painful and public humiliation, it gave everyone else a topic to distract themselves from reality. In the moment the scene occurred, we were thrust back into middle school, and people were gossiping once again, like normal teenage human beings, instead of shuddering children worrying about their future, or lack thereof. I ignored it for that reason.

Since the teachers were sending the guys back one by one, I stood up and waved when I recognized Alex's dirty form running to me over the hilltop. He jogged down the hill and came to a panting stop in front of me. I handed him a half-empty water bottle, and he held his finger up while he caught his breath. He seemed to change his mind about telling me something and downed the rest of the water first. He took in a deep breath and finally told me what he'd wanted to say.

"This…is going to make your story even more interesting. I can't wait."

I rolled my eyes. "Alex, are you that much of a gossip to not care about this?"

"Of course not. I like to hear gossip, but it's not like I'll tell anyone. What kind of conclusion would you make about this if you were in my position?" he asked.

I thought for a moment while reaching in the bag for a new water bottle. "Well, I'd probably assume – knowing myself – that it was one of the most awkward moments of my entire life."

"Of course that's what I thought. I could just imagine you crying in humiliation," he said after taking another gulp of water. I knit my eyebrows together, thinking of something defensive to say. "But," he continued, "I saw that before I even reached here, that from the expression on your face, that's entirely…not the case."

I smiled. "It's not."

Alex grinned mischievously. "So then, of course, one must wonder what the hell happened between you two last night."

I held up a hand. "In due time," I answered. "I promised, remember?"

"I'll be patient. But, in all seriousness, you're probably tired of hearing this by now, but are you okay?"

My smile evaporated. "I told you it wasn't awkward for me. But it wasn't pleasant." I shuddered when I thought about it again. "He screamed right in my face," I whispered.

Alex tracked dirt with his dark hand over my arm that had arisen with gooseflesh to comfort me. It didn't calm down my shudders.

"I heard," he whispered.

"If you think about it," I said, wiping away a tear that formed in my eye, "it shouldn't be as bad as you'd think. It doesn't seem like it would even hurt as bad as it did for him."

"I don't follow," he said.

"Let me rephrase. I just mean that, well, personally, I always thought that if you were to get whipped with a belt like that, it wouldn't be nearly as dramatic and painful as it was for Brian. Of course, I've never experienced that, but it seemed like Methany was really…um." I was searching for the right word to describe her punishment that made Brian be so…un-Brian-like.

Alex suggested helpfully. "What? Strong? Cruel about it?"

I nodded. "Well, yeah, I'd call that cruel, but what's not right now? I don't really know what I'm trying to say, but you know Brian. You know how…tough he is. It just seems to me that, I don't know, Methany must've been really hard on him. You know what I'm saying?"

"Yeah, Blair, I get what you're saying, but I'm sure anyone would cry out if they were in his position."

"I have no doubt. Maybe I don't really have a point here…." I said thinking to myself. Alex chuckled and shook his head. "But really, Brian was becoming faint, and maybe I'm just surprised that it even came to that. That Methany let it come to that in the first place anyway."

He snorted. "At this point, don't put anything past Methany when it comes to cruelty in public humiliation. And stop, because you're not giving Brian nearly enough credit. He was scared, and I know he was scared, both from what people have told me and because he'd be inhuman if he wasn't. But you know this: he was shitting his pants freaking out wasn't he? Fear, humiliation, and pain all going through his head, and knowing Brian, which one would he care the most about? Definitely not pain, so maybe when it became so much of a distraction to his thoughts, it hit him all the harder. Wouldn't you agree?"

I nodded.

"And," Alex said, almost in a hushed tone, "I also heard you took him back to the tunnel. And I won't make assumptions before you tell me your story, but –"

"Alex! You don't need to make assumptions! And if anyone else is, that's ridiculous. I was just helping him. I only took him back there because I think he'd gone through enough public humiliation already," I said defensively.

"No, I understand that. And I'm sure everyone else thinks the same…but I know that you were with him last night. They don't. So I'm allowed to make assumptions. Anyway, from what you've been telling me and your worry for him, there's hardly any assumptions left to make that I don't already know for a fact."

"Really?" I said sarcastically. "And what do you know for a fact?"

He grinned. "Blair. I know you enough. But I don't know Brian, and I know for a fact that he would crush me in a fight, so it's not like I can threaten him. So you're going to have to look out for yourself."

"I can look out for myself!" I interjected. "I could even if I need to," I added.

"Well, good for you. But as for the facts I know…we'll just have to wait, won't we?"

"That's not fair."

"Then tell me the story now," he said with that cocky grin of his.

I sighed. "We should both be getting back to work," I pointed out after a moment of thought.

He gave me a sad smile. "Unfortunately, you're right."

"You're not going to get in trouble are you, since you've been gone so long, will you?" I asked. I completely forgot about the teachers monitoring the guys in the mine. I shouldn't have kept Alex talking for so long.

He shrugged. "I'm not sure. But since they haven't come to get me yet, I bet they've gotten distracted somehow."

I sighed. "Good."

"But if I do get in trouble, I have nothing to worry about."

I gave him a questioning look because I knew he was only pausing for dramatic effect. He smirked.

"I'll have you here to hold me when I get whipped," he said sarcastically.

My jaw dropped. "Alex! I…can't believe you! I can't believe you just said that!"

I pushed him with both hands in good humor. I knew he was only joking, but really…that's going a little too far. If it had been anyone else, they would be receiving a smack across the face and a knee to the groin.

He chortled as he dodged my next push and jogged out of the way. "Bye, Blair," he said with a smile, looking over his shoulder. He jogged up the hill before I could say any more, or do any more, was probably what he was avoiding. I just stood, watching him climb the hill back to work, with my mouth hanging open.

I closed my eyes and shook my head. Sometimes Alex was just too much. If he ever got the chance to talk to Brian, to actually have a conversation, I would be nervous for him. If Brian were here, Alex would've been knocked out with that comment.

I felt bad as I scurried around the dark complex. I'd left Gwyn in the kitchen, getting all of the dishes ready for our dinner. She said she'd cover for me, but I still felt guilt. I knew that Methany could walk in at any moment, and we'd both get in trouble. I loved that she would risk that for me, and I gave her a huge hug before I left to make sure she knew it.

I tried so desperately to trace my steps from this morning. I had looked for a few minutes now for Mrs. Smith's office she had talked with in this morning. I just couldn't find it.

Then I suddenly saw the door to the showers. I quickly ran into the room. I was quiet too, since I wasn't even allowed to wear shoes, my bare feet stepped lightly over the tiles. I looked around for the exit sign that led to the dressing room I had walked through this morning. Then I groaned in frustration when I saw the sign at the opposite side of where I remembered it. It's the boys' shower, I thought miserably.

They had to be connected or stationed close to each other, I thought, trying to be logically. I walked out into the much larger dressing room the boys had. It had cubbies filled with clothes. How I wished for pants at the moment. I trot reluctantly past the clothes and out the door into another corridor. It looked familiar, and as I peered into the next hallway over, I realized I recognized it.

I ran triumphantly into the next hallway and down the hall to Mrs. Smith's office. I looked around, knowing with my excitement I would've already have been caught if someone was around. I looked anyway and slowly tried the door, remembering the hint Mrs. Smith had slipped me this morning. "Sometimes I forget to lock it," she'd said. Just like she'd said, the door was unlocked, and I walked right in.

It was dark in the hallways, so I decided to leave the light off, just in case someone happened to be walking by and see the light emitting from the hallway. I closed the door behind me, too, for extra measures. I had to feel my way around the small room.

My heart was pounding like no other. I was scared shitless, knowing what could happen to me if I got caught. I opened a few filing drawers, and the noise seemed incredible in the dark and quiet. I felt around in a few before I found anything useful. My fingers brushed over a large plastic box, and I concentrated as I interpreted what the embossed capital letters spelled out. EMERCENCY KIT.

I hit the jackpot! I thought. I opened it quickly and felt around. There was a flashlight! I chuckled to myself as I switched on the flashlight and allowed myself to revel in my own cleverness for a few seconds. I was actually doing it. I had snuck into this room by myself, and I was actually going to get something accomplished. It wasn't a fool's errand. And, I thought with growing excitement, if I could do this, who knows how much more I could do? I could find a way out!

I quickly snapped the light off when I heard a noise in the hallway. I held my breath for a full minute before I decided my ears were playing tricks on me. If I were to do this, I had to take it slow. If I rush it, I ruin it. I was panting and my heart rate was racing with the thought that I could actually escape this nightmare.

But for the time-being, I had to take things slow. One at a time, and focus on what I'm doing. I had to gather facts first, and what I needed at the moment could be in the room I was snooping in. I turned on the flashlight again and stifled the light by cupping my hand over the glass. I pointed in the direction I needed.

I began looking through drawers again. There was a slim drawer with bottles of pills stacked in rows. My heart raced faster – there were so many opportunities in this drawer right here for me to help everyone. My hand shook as I pointed the light at the label of each bottle. I looked for something useful.

Tylenol! I held the flashlight between my knees and worked the bottle cap open with my shaky fingers. I shook it slightly til two pills fell out. I licked my lips in thought and quickly turned off the flashlight again. This time I definitely heard someone in the corridor. I put away the bottle and closed the drawer as quickly and silently as possible. I ducked down so no one could see me through the window overlooking the hallway. Not that they could since it was dark but… I felt my way on the ground back to the drawer with the emergency kit.

My breathing was ragged now. I heard steps coming closer. I left the flashlight and took it with me when I crawled over to hide behind the desk. I sat with my back against the cool metal and tried to calm my breathing. If someone looked in here but didn't look around, they wouldn't see me.

I jumped a little when the door opened. I grabbed my face and covered my nose and mouth. They're gonna kill me, I thought with despair. But whatever they do, they can't find the pills… They were still clamped in my sweaty hand. My mind was racing. The light flicked on; I started shaking.

I looked around. I had no pockets, no shoes. There wasn't anywhere to put the pills for safe keeping. I tried to be as still and quiet as possible, and I quickly shoved the pills in the right cup of my bikini top.

The person in the room started walking toward me. Please, I prayed, please don't find me.

"Blair?" I squeaked out a muffled scream through my hand that was still gripping my face. "Shh!" Mrs. Smith hurriedly put her finger to her mouth and knelt down to my level.

"Don't scream. It's just me," she whispered.

I let my hand drop and immediately started hyperventilating. I just couldn't suck in enough air, and tears started rolling down my cheeks. Mrs. Smith put a hand on my shoulder and then grabbed me, wrapping me in a hug.

"Hey, just take a few deep breaths. You're alright," she soothed.

"Oh….my God. Mrs. Smith…I thought," I stuttered. "Oh," I sighed in relief. "I can't believe you found me."

"I can't believe you left the drawer open," she said, pointing to the drawer the emergency kit belonged in.

I panted. "Oh, I didn't have time. You scared me so much."

"I know, sorry. But be glad it was me," she said.

"I am. Thank you." I wiped the hair that had fallen into my face away.

"What are you doing in here?" she asked.

I regarded her with a suspicious look, even though she hadn't done anything for me to mistrust yet. "Maybe I can help you," she suggested.

I subconsciously felt the pills through the padding of the bikini. "I need a condom," I said.

Her eyes narrowed. "Why do you need a condom?"

"It's for Brian. Brian East."

"I know Brian. Why are sneaking around for him? I know I gave you permission to be in here, but why are you risking your skin for him?"

I gulped visibly, still shook up from my fear. "He'll only agree to have sex with me if he's got a condom."

"You're planning on having sex with him? How do you –?"

"Well, it's actually a long story, but he was who I was paired up with yesterday. He told me he gets to pick who he gets tonight, and he promised to pick me. We didn't have sex yesterday. He thinks…he might have an STD. He doesn't want to give it to me."

A small smirk formed on her lips. "You're seeing him," she stated. "Are you dating?"

I swallowed again, trying to think of the most un-complicated answer. "Yes."

She got up and opened a drawer on the other side of the room. One I would've never gotten to in time by the way I was looking. She dug around and pulled out a condom and handed it to me.

"Where do you plan on keeping this?" she asked.

I looked down to where I'd stored the pills. She snickered. "Resourceful," she commented.

"Thank you so much," I breathed. "I owe you so much; I don't even know where to –"

"How's my son?" she asked with a sad expression.

"He's fine. He's putting rice away. He told me to tell you he loves you."

She swallowed and looked away with an unreadable expression. "Please tell him, I'll be watching him."

I nodded. "I will. And thank you for getting me assigned to the water position. It's very convenient."

She looked back at me in slight confusion. Her lip twitched in thought. "You're welcome," she said. "Now you really must be going. I know you have work to do, and you'll be missed if someone decides to check in on you. Do you remember how to get out of here?"

I nodded. I carefully tucked in the condom with the pills and spread it flat so no one would notice.

Mrs. Smith nodded. "Good. Now you must go. I'll check in with you later. I hope for an update on my son."

She helped me up, and I gave her the flashlight. I quickly scampered out of the room and down the hallway leading to the cafeteria.

Please review!