-This will be the final installment of 'Infection', and to all those who read, followed, commented, or just plain enjoyed, I love you all equally and I thank you so much for all of your support. The sequel will be titled 'Infection: Antidote' and should be posted soon, tying up all of the loose ends. So please sit back and enjoy!-
We'd just cleared the mouth, and outside the scene of a hospital emergency played out. Frank behind us, but in front of us what looked like an innocent, young girl, her eyes wide and watery, a broken and terrified look on her face. I hated when close relatives were watching their loved ones die, it just made it that much harder to cope with. And with all that I'd just been through, I didn't need another thing weighing on my concience.
"Goodjob, Ann gi-" Thrax was suddenly cut off, lurching forward as something slammed into us and sent us spiralling forward. I gasped, suddenly aware of whatever hitting us seperating me and Thrax, hitting me hard on the left side as the young girl's right eye came up fast. I curled up and closed my eyes as I was sent rocketing towards it, not prepared for the sudden splash of liquid, holding my breath as I jolted upon impact with the watery surface.
Dots filled my vision as I felt myself lose conciousness for just a moment, eyes closing and body floating towards the surface of the eye, limp. A series of images flashed across my eyes as I floated, the watery liquid slowly guiding me to its surface, mind in a sort of haze. An image of Thrax, when I was younger. When we first started this whole thing, when I still thought that guilt was something you outgrew when you got older. An image of Osmosis disguised as a cell. Of him, Drix, and me all dancing to James Brown.
Of a time, for just one day, that I felt like maybe...maybe I really could start over...
A hand pulled me back to conciousness, followed by two arms pulling me from the water. I slowly coughed and looked up, seeing Thrax already letting go of me, both of us now standing on the surface of the water through its surface tension. I shook, the liquid falling off me as I looked to where Thrax was already moving.
Osmosis. Of couse, who else would do something so stupid? He was slowly staggering to the surface, coughing and making surprised exclimations as he slowly gained his bearings. I tensed, seeing Thrax walking slowly towards him with a look of pure anger, hatred written on his face, a few dreads falling in his face. And I couldn't do anything but stand there and watch, couldn't move, couldn't shout.
I just stood there. Truly torn, in this one moment. Because...yes. I wanted to save Osmosis. I felt somewhere inside of me that this was what I wanted to do. What I wanted...it seemed almost sad that this was a foreign concept to me. Tragic that it was a dangerous option. Horrible that it was a difficult option...
"Ya just don't know when to quit, do ya Jones?"Thrax demanded, then paused, looking down at his still-frozen claw in horror and realization. He couldn't kill Jones with that, and part of me sighed in relief. Though, that part was quickly shut up as Osmosis took quick action, and slugged Thrax right in the jaw. I paused, twitching and wincing as I fought every instinct to go to Thrax's aid...
Thrax, who quickly fought back on his own, lunging and slashing and punching at Osmosis, but failed to get in any hits as Jones quickly and efficiantly used his pliable dynamics to move his face, sliding from one place to the other, ducking, splitting his stomach in two so that Thrax's hand went right through, and so on. I could feel the frustration building in Thrax as he failed and failed and failed again, the few times he actually got in hits being followed by Osmisis instantly getting right back up.
Relentless. Damnit, Osmosis...
He suddenly jumped, spinning upsidedown in the air and, in a slow-motion moment that seemed to take an eternity, my eyes widening as Thrax slowly swung his hand around. Time moved faster again, just as the ice over Thrax's claw hand shattered and freed him. Where relief was supposed to be, a fear twisted inside of me.
Thrax paused for just a second, Osmosis rolling away and coughing, shaking his head from the impact. Thrax slowly raised his claw hand, the chain hanging from it. My eyes widened, our minds to intertwined to not know what he was thinking, taking in a quick, sudden breath, unable to do much but just stand there and watch as an evil glint shone in Thrax's eyes.
"You know Jones,"He drawled, walking up to Osmosis and snapping the chain, one end in both hands as he walked behind a still-groggy looking Osmosis, "You want this chain so bad? Big daddy Thrax is gonna let you have it." He grinned evilly as he quickly drew the chain around Jones's neck, twisting and pulling upward harshly and suddenly.
I cringed, stifling a gasp as Osmosis began to choke, eyes bulging and clawing at the chain, a horrible chill running down my spine. My eyes were wide, taking in the entire scene, my cytoplasm running cold as I clenched my fists and...and...and watched my older brother choke someone who I wanted to be my best friend...
Maybe my life was meant to boil down to a point like this. I mean, did I honestly expect that, in all the bodies we were going to visit, I wouldn't find at least one person who was special enough, kind enough, and different enough to make me want to be their friend? I was a virus. He was an Immunity cell. But, then again, I was a virus that didn't want to kill, and he was an Immunity cell who got killed almost on a daily basis.
We were messed up. We were the underdogs. He was kind, idiotic, and the best damn cop I'd ever met. And I...
'You can start all over again!'
...I wanted to do something right for once in my life.
"Looks good on ya Jones! Ya wear it well!"Thrax exclaimed, standing up and increasing the choke on Jones. I moved forward quickly, ready to do something, anything... When the girl decided to blink. I paused, horrified as I saw the upperlid begin to come down upon us, thinking fast as Thrax exclaimed, oblivious, "Too bad you had to come this far from home, just to die-Argh!" He turned and shouted, holding Joned out in front of him as a shield as the lid slowly shut, the water whelling up and, watching as I jumped up and barely grabbed an upper-lid lash, Jones rolled down to the lashes on the lower lid.
He rolled to a stop, coughing on his hands and knees as, while Thrax approached him from behind, he realized that the chain was still around his neck. I watched, waiting, wondering if I were really about to do this. Wondering what happened to the girl who started this whole mess, just yesterday. Could she really have dissapeared in just 48 short hours?...
Or did she just change? Either way, I felt that if she hadn't, if she'd never met Osmosis Jones, than that guilt she felt would have killed her faster than any virus she ever came up against. Thrax was now past my line of fall, and so I let go of the lash, plummeting what felt like hundreds of feet and yet still landing cat-like, on my feet and crouching.
"Haha, who's the germinator now-woah!"Osmosis exclaimed as I suddenly lost my balance, falling forward a bit and having to stand up to catch myself.
"The Frank?"I whispered, looking down to see the lashes actually falling. It didn't take a genius to figure it out, just a girl with a sense of femininity, to realize what we were standing on.
It was a falsie. This girl wasn't older than twelve, what's she doing wearing a falsie?! I heard the glue snap behind me, my nucleus stopping for a second as I looked forward, seeing Thrax now right behind an unsuspecting Jones, the lashes below us slowly slipping. My mind churned, waiting for the perfect opportunity, moving forward slowly and watching.
Thrax suddenly lunged forward, throwing his claw into the lash as he tried to hit Jones. I saw what Thrax didn't, Jones splitting his chest so that there was a hole in the center that Thrax's claw went through, lodging it into the lash.
"Can you feel the heat, Jones?"Thrax cooed darkly, tilting his head down from where I could see, "Too bad you wont be here to see me break my record, when I take down Frank's pretty, little, girl!" And there, in that moment, with those words...I finally spoke. Not as Thrax's sister. Not as the Red Death virus.
I spoke as Ann.
"She's not going down, Thrax."
Silence. That was what followed, Osmosis looking up at me with a surprised look on his face, but what I was really focused one was Thrax, how his back tensed, how he remained silent for a few beats. Slowly, he turned his head, looking back at me with a face mixed with fury and confusion, a horrible tremor running through my spine. Wanting nothing more than to just turn and run. To take it all back. To go back.
But there was not going back. Not after I'd made this choice.
"What did you just say?"He asked in a measured tone, a tone I'd never been on the brunt end of before, still sticking to my place. I slowly shook my head, Jones moving slowly and carefully, splitting bit by bit up his chest and sliding around Thrax's unsuspecting claw.
"...Thrax, I can't...I can't let you do this. This man...after the explosion, he took care of me...and...I just can't let you hurt anyone anymore."I tried, mind lurching to find the right words to say. I saw shock cross Thrax's features, something darker, something almost painful hidden in the pools of yellow.
"What the hell's gotten into you, huh? We're so close to our dream, and you're askin' me to let an Immunity cop just go free?! If this is a joke, and I sure hope it is, it ain't funny."He growled, eyes narrowing at me. In all of my years, I'd never seen Thrax actually...angry at me, before. And I'd expected it to be terrifying. Expected it to rip my nucleus apart...
And it was. It was and so much more, it was wrong, it was confusing, it was like stepping into an uncertain world where I didn't know the outcome. But wasn't I doing just that? Wasn't my path one I'd never dared walk down? And so, as Osmosis was slowly sliding his face in half, I gulped down the lump in my throat and squared my shoulders.
"No, Thrax."I said quietly, and a look of surprise crossed his face, "It...this isn't our dream. All these people, all these deaths...I never wanted any of it. I hated it, all of it, seeing all of those innocent people die...and I can't do it anymore. I wont."
"Where the hell is this all comin' from?! What did you do to her, Jones-"Thrax cut himself off, looking down wide-eyed to see that Osmosis was no longer under him, but that his claw was stuck firmly in the falsie. Osmosis ran rather awkwardly over to me, his body split in half from his chest to his head, both sides flopping around as strands of white-blood cell shot from one half to the other, slowly sewing him back up.
By the time he got to me, he was in one piece. He stopped at me, crouching and panting from the exertion, the chain still in his hand. I fell to my knees next to him, placing a hand on his shoulder to make sure he was okay. Slowly, he raised his head to me, our eyes connecting closely, and something new stirring in my chest. Something wonderful.
"Ann...what are you doin'? I thought-"
"Osmosis."I said sadly, hopefully, looking him seriously in the eye, "Did you mean it, when you said that I could start over?"
He paused a second, then nodded slowly.
"Yeah, Ann girl. I did."He said, and there was so much truth behind it that, no matter what, there was no turning back.
"Oh, I get it."Thrax's bitter, angry voice pulled me to him again, seeing him with one hand on his claw-arm, hunched over and a few dreads in his face, teeth barred and gritted, glaring over at me with a look of pure, smoldering hatred.
"I take care of you. I raise you. We spent seventeen years together, seventeen years of me protecting you! What happened to all that talk of bein' a team, huh?! I guess that all of that, all of everything I ever did for you, can just dissapear when one white-blood cell decides he wants you to turn sides!"Thrax spat, and I moved forward, feeling the falsie slowly dip again.
"No Thrax!"I shouted, a pain in my chest and a sadness in my voice, "That's not it! Don't you get it? I always felt this way! This ain't anything new, Thrax... The only reason I ever put up with all that guilt was for you. Because seeing you happy...that was all I ever wanted. That's why I spent those seventeen years fighting down all the pain I had from killing all those innocent people, germs, and cells. It was all for you, because I wanted you to achieve your goal, I wanted my big brother to be happy."My voice got quieter at the end, moving closer as I spoke.
The falsie suddenly lurched down, Osmosis shouting from behind me,
"Ann! We gotta go!"
I reached out my hand to Thrax, streaching it. This was it. My last chance to maintain some sort of normalty in the life I was about to throw myself into. I gave him a pleading look, bangs falling in my face as Thrax looked at me with a mixture of anger, shock, and confliction. He looked from my hand to my face, and I shouted over the sound of buzzing machines and snapping glue,
"Thrax, I love you. Please, take my hand and...and let's just be a normal family."
A dark look crossed his eyes, narrowing them in contempt that he shot right at me.
"..You want a normal family? Go be one with him!"Thrax shouted...and then did something he'd never done before. Something I'd never even considered him doing before... He hit me.
Right across the face, with the hand that wasn't stuck in the falsie, a pain exploding across the side of my face as I was thrown back, grunting in shock as I rolled and slid. If I were looking back, maybe I'd have seen the shocked, guilty look on Thrax's face. Maybe I'd have seen the pain in his own eyes. Maybe. But that's not what happened.
Instead, all I could focus on was falling. Falling, and that horrible pain in my chest. Not a physical pain, but...but a horrible, tearing apart of my nucleus. Of everything I'd ever envisioned my life to be. Of my image of Thrax and me, of Thrax caring about me, of him being my big brother. I'd always thought that, when it boiled down to it, he put me as his little sister first, just like I put him above everything in my life...
But if that had ever been the case, would we have ever gotten in this situation in the first place? If he put me first, would he have led me down this path?...It's a terrible realization, when you finally understand that you were just a pawn in someone's game. Just a tool for them to use. Like a slightly better croonie. I couldn't believe that, after everything we'd been through, that he'd actually do something like this. Yes, a terrible realization.
A realization that, for the first time, gave me a whole new feeling about Thrax. Not pain. Not sadness. Maybe a bit of betrayal. Not longing.
"Ann!"Osmosis broke me from my stupor, realizing I was slipping off the side of the falsie, gasping and reaching out a hand that, in a second, he took in his. Tightly, he pulled me up and pressed me to him, pulling me into a hug that was so tight, so warm, and so sorry. I wanted to stay here forever...but I couldn't.
I moved and took his hand, grabbing the chain and sprinting upwards, just as the lash began to crack, break, and fall.
"We're not gonna make it!"Osmosis shouted, but I wasn't giving up. Not now. Not ever.
"Hold on!"I shouted, grasping his hand tight as the last of the glue snapped and gave way, the surface under our feet falling away as, in a moment of sudden strength, I pushed off of the lash and made the impossible leap.
It seemed to go on forever, that one jump. Across a span of just space, seeing a single strand of glue, reaching out my hand, Osmosis clutching mine next to me, streaching...streaching...streaching...
"Got it!"I shouted, grasping the glue in one hand as Osmosis grabbed his own next to me. I quickly looked down, seeing the falsie fall down, Thrax's scream soon becoming unheareable. It slowly fell and, suddenly, smacked off the edge of the medical tray near the end of Frank's bed, falling onto a passing medical tray being carted by a nurse. It lay there, my eyes watching as the nurse carted it away, soon just turning a corner, gone.
And I had to fight the lump in my throat because, despite everything, some part of me still broke, knowing that I might never get to see him, Thrax, my big brother...ever again. Osmosis must have seen this, because the next thing he said, in a soft voice, was,
"Hey, Ann girl...you did the right thing." I paused for a moment, and then actually felt a small, bittersweet smile spread onto my face.
"I sure damn hope so, Osmosis."I whispered, looking down at Frank. The machine was making a solitary, stationairy beep, one I'd heard multiple times. And then another, more troubling thought hit me...I could start over...but it would take some time. It would take some time for the people, the humans, the bodies, to be able to stand me.
But, hell. I was a virus. I had all the time in the world, so long as I got to be with Osmosis and Drix eventually. And suddenly the sad thought wasn't so sad. It was almost...an adventure, before the adventure. But in order for those adventures to begin, we had to get our sorry behinds back into Frank!
"Yo yo yo, what's goin' on?!"Osmosis exclaimed, my nucleus stopping as the little girl suddenly got ushered away by doctors and nurses, away from her father. No, no this wasn't good! Not after everything we'd been through, we couldn't just be defeated like this!
"Damnit! Bring her back!"I shouted, the chain rattling in my hand, the chain they needed to save Frank.
"Ann, what's the new plan?"Osmosis asked panicked, and I just looked broken over at there the man was slowly fading away. I thought and thought, but nothing came to mind, nothing... I grit my teeth, shouting as if the girl could hear me,
"Go back! C'mon, we've got too many people counting on us!"
And, suddenly...it worked. The beep became solitary, a flatliner, and suddenly the girl started sprinting across the floor. I gasped, feeling my heart jump as I suddenly began to cheer,
"Yeah girl! That's right, run back!" She arrived quickly, Frank's open mouth right below us, but with no way to fall in and not break every fiber in my body...wait...this girl's dad was dying, that meant that...
"Tear!"I shouted, looking up just as one big, fat tear rolled off the end of an eyelash. Osmosis and I shared a look for just a second, before a smile broke on his face.
"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"He asked, and I responded by shouting,
"JUMP!" I let go, flying downwards and suddenly wishing Thrax had taught me that whole jacket-parachute thing, doing nothing but letting myself fall and hope that I landed in the tear. I felt two arms wrap around me, and I looked up to see Osmosis smiling down at me confidently. I couldn't help it, I smiled back, burying my face in his chest as he held me to him, feeling us breach the surface of the tear and just float there, as if suspended in a space.
My breath began to run low, my face still stinging from the hit I took, chest convulsing as, at the last minute, I felt the impact. It was stifled by Jones, landing on his chest hard as the tear splashed and broke around us, leaving both of us in a puddle and soaking wet. I took in a breath of air, only to cough and wheeze, rolling off Osmosis and squinting, eyes closed as the voices above us shouted.
"Hey! It's her, quick, shoot!"I heard the woman shout, followed by Osmosis quickly saying,
"Yo yo, she's cool! She's on our side now..."He coughed, laying his head back as I slowly splayed my right arm out, feeling the chain rattle in my hand. The chain I never, ever, wanted to see again, let alone feel the pulse of those I'd helped kill.
"Quick, get that thing to the Hypothalimus Gland, now!"A gruff voice shouted out, the chain being quickly removed from my hand, forever.
"Hey, Drix."I coughed out, opening my eyes slowly and looking up, seeing the large pill floating above me with a concerned look on his face.
"Yes?"He asked, and I smiled up at him.
"Think I can get any more of that soup?"I asked, and loe and behold, a smile cracked onto his own face.
"Yo, Ann girl,"Osmosis coughed out, and I turned to him, only to get flicked on the end of my nose. I scrunched up my face in irritation and snapped out,
"What was that for!?"
"For that punch you gave me in the Zit! Always wanted to repay you."He laughed, giving me that charming, happy-go-lucky smile of his that I couldn't help but laugh at. And suddenly, I was glad that I hadn't killed him. Not just that...
I was glad I came back, even if it wasn't for very long.
-The Next Day-
The crowd was roaring, people were snapping picture after picture, Drix was doing ridiculous poses, Leah(the woman, whose name I learned from Osmosis play-flirting with her, only to get turned down) smiling and crossing her arms as Osmosis did his own poses, the Chief congradulating us, and me...
Well, I was standing stiff as a board and wishing that I had better people skills. I literally wanted to crawl into a hole and hide until this whole thing was over, not actually good at having a massive, and I mean massive, crowd of people all looking at me.
"Yo, Ann girl, loosen up!"Osmosis exclaimed, elbowing me. I shot him a look and muttered,
"I'm not exactly good in crowds, Osmosis."He flashed me a wink and elbowed me again, saying,
"Hey, it's Ozzy, remember?" I smiled back at him. Yes, it was Ozzy. And it always would be.
"Hey, kids!"The Chief exclaimed, a rather...um...rotund man with a bushy mustache, a white-blood cell just like Ozzy, and I turned to him curiously. He beamed at me and placed his hands on his hips, asking happily,
"You know, you're a deadly virus that almost destroyed this entire city."
"Really? I missed that memo."I deadpanned, Ozzy grunting behind me and mummbling,
"Not a good idea, Chief's not good a humor-" But just as he said that, the Chief threw back his head and bellowed, giving me a too-rough slap on the shoulder and making me jump a bit, Ozzy giving him an incredolous look and exclaiming,
"You laugh when it's her jokes, but not mine?!" The Chief gave him a wise smile and said gruffly,
"I like her." Ozzy gaped, and I surpressed my own fit of giggles as the Chief continued, "And that's why I'm giving her a job in Immunity, partnering with you and your pill friend over there." I paused, gaping myself this time. Ozzy straightened up immediatly and began cheering, me still in disbelief that this man was kind enough to offer me a job after what I'd just done...
A job protecting, instead of killing?...
"You hear that Drix? Ann's our new partner! Don't worry kiddo, we'll show you the ropes, and maybe I'll be able to give you a little bit of my expertise."Ozzy said, popping out his jacket collar and smirking.
"Please, Jones,"The Chief said tiredly, "The only reason I'm partnering her with you is because no one seems better at getting you out of trouble! Besides, who knows the criminal mind better than a former one herself? Yep, little lady, I think you'll make an excellent addition to the Immunity team!" I smiled up at him, something warming up inside of me at how generous, how special this man was.
Maybe more people were like this, I just never got the chance to see it. If that were the case, that made this all that much harder.
"Thank you, Chief...but I can't accept."I said, his face turning to one of surprise as Ozzy's hand turned me around, his own face surprised, as well as Drix and Leah's.
"But Ann, this is your chance! Start all over, remember? Start doin' some good!"Ozzy pleaded, but I just smiled at him and placed a hand on his shoulder, having to reach up. He gave me a cute, crestfallen, puppy-dog face, and I just smiled softly.
"I know, but I can't do any good right now, can I? Frank's still incredibly succeptible to me! One little tear in any tissue and he could end up back in the hospital."I explained, seeing their faces only fall more. And it was so, incredibly amazing, that I finally found a group that actually cared about if I stayed or left, about me. And it was also incredibly sad that I had to leave them for however long I did.
"Hey..."Leah said, uttering the first word to me since our car-ride conversation. I raised an eyebrow as she offered me a conservative, tentative look, nervously scratching the back of her neck.
"Yeah?"I asked, and she cleared her throat.
"Um, yeah, well...listen, maybe you're not so bad. And I...uh..."I could tell she was struggling for words, so I decided to help her out by just smiling and saying,
"Thank you." She paused a second, then nodded quickly and straighted out, gathering herself again as Ozzy whined,
"But Ann girl, I just got you back!" I laughed, jumping up onto the podium near us, ready to jump to the roof of Cerebellum Hall and made a secret exit out of the mouth, a pollen pod hidden in my jacket. I crouched down, Ozzy now shorter than me, and placed my right hand on his cheek, smiling down at the cute man that completely changed my life.
That helped me start over again.
"Hey, once the humans make an antidote, I'll be right back here, got it?"I smiled as I said this, then leaned down and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, surprisingly warm, before leaning back and seeing his surprised, slightly hopeful face. I straightened up, smiling down at Drix and winking.
"Seeya around, Drips."I teased, before jumping up and landing easily on the roof, hearing him call back,
"It's Drix! With and X!"
"Whatever!"I shouted over my shoulder, jumping over the peak of the roof and out of the public's view. And as I made my way up, ready to leave Frank behind for the time being, and hoping that maybe, just maybe, I would be able to start over again, that I really could start doing some good on Immunity. That I could reverse the path I'd been set on against my will, to change my future with the help of a white blood cell and a pill...
Hey, if a virus can want to heal people, anything's possible, right?