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He would die if she left him there, that much she knew. Alaya was also well aware, however, of who he was, and that he was an atrocious danger in his own right. The news had shown him countless times, and there could be no mistaking his identity. Thrax, the Red Death himself, had not perished outside Frank's body as everyone happily believed he had. Well, now everyone but Alaya.
She sighed at she stared down at his broken body. Why did he have to pick this spot to hide? Why her, she thought as she wished she had never stumbled across this particular soul in need. It was right along her usual route home from work. Grant it, it was not the safest way home, but it was quickest. Besides, there were few completely "safe" ways in the worst parts of the city for a common red blood cell trying to scrape by.
It was a very small alley way, big enough to hold only a dumpster and a few old signs that had been discarded of after they had ceased to be of use to some shop or another. Thrax was unceremoniously slumped with his back against one of the rough walls and his head leaning against the side of the dumpster. It looked as if he might once have been curled against the dumpster in an attempt to hide, but now his arms lay slack, one on the ground and one against his stomach, and his long legs lay sprawled in front of him. Part of his sickly purple dreadlocks were strewn forward, out of place, so that they draped over his face. He was barely breathing.
With a huff, she looked away. No, he wasn't just some pitiful injured cell. This was the virus who had almost succeeded in killing Frank. She had been cowering inside her home the day the now famous immunity cell, Osmosis Jones, barely managed to stop Frank from burning to death with his terrible fever. This was the virus who had caused all of that. How had he even managed to survive and make it back inside Frank?
Thrax's slow, rasping breaths drew her eyes back to him, and she worried her bottom lip with her teeth. Despite all of that, leaving him here would be as good as murder. Feeling a mixed disgust with herself, Alaya came forward and knelt beside him. As she drew closer, she wrinkled her nose. The pungent, cloying smell of alcohol clung to Thrax. Gently, she reached out and put her hand on his arm. For a lack of anything better to say, she sighed, "Tough breaks all around, huh big guy?"
There was barely a hint of recognition when she spoke to him. What might have been a faint moan grated in his throat, but he was otherwise unresponsive. Great. She couldn't carry him. So she tried again to rouse him while attempting to be as quiet as possible so as not to draw attention to the usually insignificant alley. "Hey. You have to wake up." She shook him, and this seemed to bring about a pained response. He gasped, and his eyelids fluttered. "Come on. If you want to get out of here you have to wake up and help me get you on your feet. I can't carry you by myself." As she continued to gently prod him to awareness, Thrax leveled chilling yellow eyes on her. "You have to help me get you up," she repeated. His throat worked hard for him to swallow and he opened his mouth. Alaya instinctively leaned closer to hear him.
"B…burns," he managed to rasp. "Still..b-burning." His voice cost him dearly. A wretched cough was torn from his lungs that sent him gasping for air. Alaya quickly realized what he meant. The deadly alcohol still clung to him, his clothing, everything. It was hurting him, like an acid slowly torturing him until it would take his life. A new urgency spurred her on.
"Come on," she said stubbornly, as she lifted his arm and pulled it around her neck. She put all her weight into dragging him up. "You have to… get… up!" she grunted. Slowly, she helped Thrax struggle to his feet. "Ok, good," she whispered encouragingly. "It isn't far to my apartment, just hang on."
Slowly, agonizingly, one step at a time… they stumbled through backstreets, making their way toward her home, and trying to stay out of the way of curious eyes. Alaya herself thought she'd never make it… her legs and arms burned from the effort of trying to support him, and the smell of alcohol was almost unbearable. Finally, after what seemed like forever, they stood at the steps of her apartment. "We have to be quiet," she said as she opened the door. "My neighbors can't know you're here."
Ugh… the stairs. When Thrax's feet touched the edge of the staircase leading up to the second floor where she lived, he seemed to lose all will to continue. His head sagged even lower, and his feet ceased to move. "Come on, just a little further," she urged, taking the first step. "Ugh. I didn't bring you all this way to give up now. Do you want to die in a heap right here on the stairs of a two bit apartment in Frank? Come on…" her final words were almost pleading. Oh Frank… she couldn't watch him die. What had she done? What if he died in her apartment once she got him there? If she got him there…
Her gruesome ponderings were cut short as Thrax, trembling with the effort, lifted his foot and placed it on the first step. "That's it," Alaya encouraged him. "Almost there…" she repeated. It took several pauses before Thrax could make it all the way up the stairs. Hers was the first room on the left. Thrax nearly slid from her shoulder as she let him go momentarily to slip her key in the lock and shove the door open.
"Here," she gasped, breathing hard with the effort of half dragging him up the stairs and into her living area. "We're here now. This way," she tugged him carefully in the direction of her bathroom. "We've got to rinse this alcohol off of you."
After leading him into the bathroom she propped him against the wall and began unceremoniously peeling away his ragged clothing. Every inch of skin revealed made her feel more and more pity for him. His skin was raw, painful looking where he had been burned. He protested weakly, raising a trembling hand to try to ward hers away as she removed the last remaining tatters of his clothing. Instead of pushing his hand out of her way she took it gently for a moment. "It's ok, I'm only trying to help you. You're safe here. Just relax." Reaching out, she found a towel draped over the side of the tub, and this she tied around his waist to preserve his dignity.
Leaving him leaning against the wall for a moment, she turned quickly to turn the water on, lukewarm, and begin filling the tub. Then she quickly turned back to support Thrax, and guide him the short distance to the water. "Easy," she gritted through clenched teeth as she strained to lower him gently into the water. Halfway down, his strength gave out and he fell into the tub, hitting the bottom and splashing water over the side and onto Alaya and the floor.
Suddenly, Thrax was very alert. Alaya was shocked by his panic filled eyes as he scrambled, one arm clawing to hold to the side of the tub as he slid down. It was as if he were only just now aware of everything around him. The liquid had brought him back to his senses for a moment. He started to cry out but Alaya clamped her hand over his mouth. He reached out with his wickedly clawed hand, grasping desperately for her sleeve, and tearing it by accident in the process.
"Shh! Shh, shh, it's ok," she soothed. "Hush now, you're safe here but you won't be if my neighbors here you. Shhh." His grip on her arm slowly relaxed, and his eyes dimmed again, his eyelids fluttering low over his gaze. Alaya took her hand away from his mouth and gently slid it behind his head to ease him down into the rising water. "There… just let me help you."
As quickly as it had returned, his awareness faded away again. She turned the water off and let his damaged body soak for a while, removing the alcohol from his skin. Then she let the water drain, and took the shower head on its long flexible tube to rinse his body carefully as the rest of the water receded, washing away the remains of the stinging chemical. Last of all, she carefully took a rag and washed his face, and letting his head rest on one of her arms, used her other hand to gently wash his hair. As she ran her fingers through his locks, she watched his face. Every now and then an eyelid or the corner of his mouth would twitch. Alaya wasn't sure whether he was conscious or not. Either way, he didn't have the strength left to be very responsive.
Remembering his rasping voice and breath from earlier, she tipped his face toward her. "Here, rinse your mouth," she said softly, holding his head up to let water from the shower head drizzle slowly into his mouth. He may not have even heard her, but she angled his head forward so he wouldn't strangle on the running water. "Spit," she ordered, letting him lean forward to allow the water dribble from his lips and swirl down the drain with the rest.
When the task was finally done, Alaya turned the water completely off, and retrieved a clean towel from the rack on the wall. "Alright, one more move. You've got to get up, then I'll help you to a bed where you can really rest." She realized that the more she talked to him, the more gentle she let her voice become. She was supposed to be the tough girl. She had to be careful, had to take care of herself. But he was hurt so badly. No matter what happened later, right now he needed help. That much she could do for him.
"Come on," she coaxed yet again. She put her arm around his shoulders, pulling him forward so she could dry his face, neck, and chest with the towel. "Get up… you have to help me. That's it," she praised as he made a dim effort to raise himself. Standing, she put her arms under his and lifted from behind. After a moment of struggle with the slippery bathtub, Alaya managed to get him back up on his feet. Standing him back up against the wall briefly, she slid the now soaked towel down his waist, and as it hit the floor she reached over and took her massively oversized bath robe from its hook near the tub. It was nearly floor length on her, but he was quite a bit taller than she. However, it covered him well enough as she draped it around his shoulders and deftly tied it for him. It came only a little past his knees.
She took his wrists in her hands and pulled him forward, looping his arm over her shoulders as she did so, and led him across the tiny hallway into her single bedroom, where she lay him down in her unmade bed and pulled the blankets up over him. Thrax's eyes wandered weakly, and his brow furrowed as his gaze rested blearily on her face. "Wh… who…?"
"I'm just a red blood cell," she said quietly. "I know what it's like to be down on your luck I guess. So you're my guest until you're back on your feet."