Chapter One: First Meeting
Okay, welcome to The Grim Reaper (Part Two). For those of you who read the first story, this takes place approximately fifteen years later, making HUNK thirty or so. For those of you who haven't read the first story, this may be a bit confusing at times, but it should be comprehensible. Oh, and in case anyone thinks that I made a mistake with HUNK's nom de guerre, I know very well that it is "Mr. Death" in the American version. But the Japanese version has it as "Shinigami", which means "God of Death" or "Grim Reaper". And I like that one better ... but enough. Thanks for reading, and please enjoy!
~ Dr. Kitten
It was a warm, damp night, and a high breeze carried the stink of death to every corner of Raccoon City. Smoke billowed black against the clear sky from the many fires. As HUNK weaved his way between two wrecked police cars, their lights still flashing in a useless warning, he was glad of the gas mask that covered his face and kept out the foul smell that lingered everywhere.
As he stepped up on the curb, a sharp jab of pain ran through his side and he cursed, grabbing onto a lamppost to keep himself from falling. Damn that Birken, and damn the raw boys they had given him to work with. They were fresh out of training, ignorant and inexperienced, and it had cost them their lives and nearly cost him his. His mission was in the dirt now. All that was left was to limp back to base and try to explain why yet once more, he was the only survivor.
"Grim Reaper" HUNK … the nickname echoed bitterly around his mind as he pushed himself upright and kept walking from sheer force of will. It had become a superstition in the U.S.S. by now that anyone who was partnered with him was doomed, a dead man before the mission even began. He might as well shoot them himself.
And in many ways, it was true that the countless deaths of his teammates were his fault. He was never directly responsible, but he didn't save lives either. If someone was in trouble, he wouldn't help. They thought it was because he was cold-hearted, dedicated only to his job.
They had no idea …
HUNK shook his head angrily. Why was he thinking like this?
His body felt like was encompassed by a sheet of fire. Sweat rolled down his forehead and back. He probably had a touch of fever, brought on by dehydration, hunger, and lack of proper medical treatment. He had been lucky enough to avoid getting an open wound from his encounter with the mutated Birken, but his body was battered and bruised, and he was sure that several ribs and his left arm were broken. And he had lain unconscious in a sewer for half-a-day … who knows what vile disease he may have caught. When he got back to base, he'd have to get the Doc to give him a thorough check-up.
But for now, his priority was to get back. His radio was miraculously intact, and HQ had given him instructions to get to an extraction point on the other side of town. Not exactly convenient, but there was no future in complaining. He had two days to get there before the military stormed in and blew the city to hell.
However, HUNK was 100% sure that he wouldn't make it as far as the extraction point if he didn't get some food and water fast. It had already been two full days since he'd had any nourishment, and he was beginning to feel lightheaded. If he wasn't doing anything more strenuous than hiking in the woods, maybe it would be fine, but he was fighting for his life out here on the streets. He had already killed more than a score of infected citizens (his sensible brain rebelled at the thought of calling them 'zombies' or 'undead', as if this was a cheap horror flick at the local cinema).
He was in the residential district now, and he cased each of the houses in turn, looking for one that might suit his needs. He chose one that was dark inside and still had its front door and all the windows intact. The front door was locked, but that didn't bother him. Normally, he would have kicked it open, but he picked the lock instead. For one thing, the less noise he made right now, the better. Also, he was dead tired, and if he decided to sleep for an hour or two, he wanted to do it in a secure place.
He entered the house with Matilda out and checked the downstairs rooms one by one. All was deserted, so he moved upstairs. It was when he got to the landing that he noticed it: a tiny sound, no more distinct that a mouse moving across the floor. It came from a room on his left.
He walked over and grabbed the door handle with his left hand, ignoring the pain running up his arm, and twisted it, flinging the door open.
He had been expecting one of the infected. What he saw instead was a girl, maybe eighteen, maybe younger, but undeniably alive and well. She was sitting on a bed, her back pressed against the wall and her hands held out protectively in front of her. She gave no cry of terror, but her face was so pale that it almost shone in the darkness.
HUNK holstered Matilda and regarded her silently, wondering what to do. He hadn't expected to find any survivors, let alone a child. Although if she hadn't left this house and nothing had gotten in before him that would explain why she hadn't been infected.
The girl spoke first. "Are you a soldier, sir?" Her voice was low and hushed. She seemed to appreciate the need to be quiet.
"You could say that," said HUNK.
She sat up on the bed, no longer frightened of him. "Please … can you tell me what's going on? Out there, I mean."
"Death," he said. When she gave him a puzzled frown, he shook his head. "Where are your parents, kid?"
She gulped. "Mom works at the front desk of the Umbrella Pharmaceutical Company. Dad went to go pick her up when this all started yesterday. They haven't gotten back yet."
They're dead then, he thought, but he didn't say it aloud.
The girl's voice brightened a little as she said, "Well, if the military is here, then everything will be okay. You're going to save us, right?"
"That's not my mission," he replied shortly. Speaking of my mission, it's time I was on my way. I'm getting nowhere.
He turned to leave, but the motion sent a sickening wave of pain and nausea through his body, and he stiffened, leaning against the doorframe.
"Hey, are you okay?" the girl chirped, hopping off the bed and approaching him boldly. "You look hurt."
There was no point in denying it. "I got into a fight."
"There's a first aid kit in the bathroom that you can use," she offered.
HUNK narrowed his eyes. Her generosity seemed quite natural and without ulterior motive. "Thanks," he said, "but bandaids aren't going to help much. My ribs are broken."
She was undeterred. "Well, you can use Dad's ace bandages. I can help. I'm used to wrapping up his ankles."
This has gone on long enough, he thought irritably. "No. I'm in a hurry."
But his legs betrayed him by giving way when he'd gone no more than three paces. He sagged over the railing, cursing his ill luck. Of all the houses on the block, he had to pick the one that was occupied. Of all the potential occupants, it had to be an annoyingly helpful girl. And when all he wanted to get out of there and back to business, he had to collapse and reaffirm that he was in need of help.
The girl was already beside him, pulling his arm around her small shoulders and trying to lift him up. She was stronger than she looked, and she actually managed to budge him a couple of inches before he took over, pushing her away.
"I'll follow you," he said firmly. It would be the last straw for his dignity if he had to be supported by a child.
Somehow, he made it to the bathroom, which was back downstairs. The girl lifted a box stuffed with random medical items onto the counter and started fishing through it. After a minute, she located the ace bandages at the bottom of the pile, and set them out on the counter.
"Okay," she said, turning to him. "Take off your shirt."
HUNK would have liked to push her out of the bathroom and shut the door in her face, but it was a tiny, cramped space she was all the way in the back of it, practically standing in the shower. He pulled off his gas mask, setting in carefully on the counter. His tac vest and black shirt followed. In the mirror, he scrutinized his abdomen. An incredible array of blacks, blues, and dark reds flowered across his pale skin. No wonder he was so sore.
The girl gave a little gasp of shock at the sight. "What happened to you?" she asked, shuffling through the box again. This time she came out with a bent tube of arnica cream, which she handed to him. He pulled off his gloved and, with a little difficulty, smeared the cream across his bruises.
"I got in a fight," he repeated.
"Was your opponent King Kong?" she asked, with a fairly straight face.
"Not far off."
The girl giggled. "By the way, my name's Annabelle Leigh. Laugh all you want. I know it's kind of funny. My Mom is a big Poe fan. I guess I'm lucky that she didn't name me Ulalume. Anyway, you can call me Anne for short, or Belle, whichever you prefer."
HUNK flinched. I'm not going to be calling you either, he thought.
"What's your name?" Annabelle asked.
"HUNK," he replied.
She giggled again. "O-kay. Should I call you Mr. Hunk, or is it your first name."
"It's my codename."
"Oh! Cool! Kind of like James Bond."
HUNK suddenly realized that she had been moving slowly closer the whole time they were talking, until she was standing only inches away from him. She had an ace bandage in her hand, and she reached out to start wrapping it around his chest. He snatched it deftly from her hands.
"I can do that."
She looked dubious. "Are you sure?"
"Yes." He paused for a moment. She was still watching him. "Isn't there anything else you could do besides staring at me?"
Annabelle blushed and looked away. "Um … I guess I should make myself some food. Do you … would you like some?"
"Sure." It would save him the trouble of breaking into a different house.
"Okay." She pushed past him and disappeared.
Securing the ace bandage by himself was painful, but he managed it with a few curses. Slipping his shirt and vest back on, he reflected that his ribs were already a bit less painful. Maybe this detour hadn't been such a bad idea after all.