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Serenity bit her lower lip and forced herself not to glance at the fire team again. Three hours they’d been waiting, and her new Sig Sauer’s were as perfect as they were going to get. She missed her Glocks, but knew the longing was bullshit; the Sig Sauer’s were almost the exact same size, and maybe just a little heavier in her hand. She wished she’d had time to fire some practice rounds, just to get a sense of the guns, feel the recoil, make them hers.

But something told her Mancini wouldn’t take kindly to her shooting up cans in the back lot.

He was cute, though. But super serious. The kind of guy who had to be ordered by his superiors to chill the fuck out and have a beer, and then he’d probably do it professionally. Singh was the same. Not that she was complaining. The situation called for serious dudes.

Still, she wished there was someone here for her to shoot the shit with. Huffman, the army chick, was practically vibrating, so intent on proving herself a hard ass that she wouldn't know female solidarity if it bit her in the ass. Delvecchio? The machine gunner had promise. Big hands, broad shoulders, deceptively smart. She’d tried to get him to joke around, but he’d been shut down by Mancini, fast.

Serenity sighed. No, she just missed having James around. His solid presence, those watchful eyes, that subtle humor. He could sling back as good as he got, and - well.

They were a team. Bonnie and Clyde, right? He’d just stumbled into her life, disarmingly clueless yet as solid as an oak. Those blue eyes of his. She loved when they got that faraway look in them, and then she’d say something, a joke, some random shit, and he’d blink and smile and really see her.

Serenity sighed again. Frustration warred with fear. She’d caught him checking out her ass. Not that she blamed him. A couple of points of Strength had brought her old tight curves back like she’d not spent half a decade drinking and scoring drugs. He was interested. She was sure. Then why wasn’t he interested in hooking up?

It would be so right. So easy. Would confirm their connection. Make them a thing. Lock them together. Prevent life from tearing them apart so easily.

Serenity frowned. She’d never met a dude who wasn’t down for some freaky fun, no strings attached. It vexed her, made her even more interested.

Would he be good in bed? Probably pretty boring, truth be told. He looked real vanilla. No need for the advanced techniques. And judging from how gun shy he was, he’d probably not hooked up with anybody in years. Since this supposed family tragedy the CIA guy had mentioned.

But seven years was a hell of a long time to go monastic.

Serenity straightened one of the ten loaded mags she’d lined up before her station so that they were perfectly in formation. They’d spent the first thirty minutes hauling pallets into place and making a waist high barrier that stretched in a curve around them. Delvecchio had the center, his ‘saw’ as they called his machine gun propped on a dipod. Singh was ten feet to his left, and Mancini was the same distance to Delvecchio’s right, and then was her spot. Huffman was watching the back door.

Mancini had told her to conserve her ammo, to wait for the Nemeses to get close enough for easy shots. As if he’d forgotten how she’d aced over a hundred of them last night and with her heightened Agility was probably the best shot here.

Whatever.

Arguing with dudes about guns was as fruitful as trying to convince herself that drinking wasn’t the best way to handle problems.

Serenity sighed loudly, looked at Mancini. It had been twenty minutes since they’d heard from James, who, with predictable stubbornness, had refused to go back for the truck and insisted on crossing Queens on foot.

Mancini’s jaw tightened, but he was clearly impatient as well. This shit was supposed to have gone down an hour and a half ago, and his bosses were constantly checking in for updates.

He lifted his radio thingy. “Kelly, this is Mancini. Can you give a status update? Over”

Immediately the radio emitted shrieks, a wall of brutal sound that sounded just shy of static. James shouted something through it, but all Serenity could make out was: “…coming in hot -”

The radio went silent.

“About time,” said Huffman from the back. She’d been tasked with watching the rear exit, and even now she didn’t take her gaze off the doorway.

“Look sharp.” Mancini’s voice was stern, calm.

The sound of chittering came from the distance, emerging from the night sounds, that high pitched cry that the demons used to call each other. Serenity stiffened, reflexive fear filling her stomach with battery acid. She wanted to make a joke, but everyone was staring fixedly at the front doors a hundred and fifty yards away.

What she wouldn’t do for a line.

The sounds got louder, demon chittering and screams, slowly, agonizingly slowly, drawing ever closer.

The fire team all shifted about, as if they’d waited for the last second to truly get in position. Serenity raised both Sig Sauer’s, feeling like a bad ass. She’d never have tried to fire both guns like this before. It was the kind of stupid stunt kids used to look cool even as they missed every shot.

But with Agility 16? She felt like she could actually pull it off.

The sounds echoed down the length of the cavernous warehouse, louder, louder, and then James appeared in the doorway and strode in.

Serenity’s mouth went dry.

White fire wreathed his frame. He walked like a preacher entering a church full of irredeemable sinners. Chin lowered, broad shouldered, a total bad ass.

The living aura didn’t hurt, either. It had grown. He must have leveled up. It hadn’t been like this the night before. It was constant, as if he’d doused himself with oil and dropped a match at his feet. It had to extend some three, four feet in every direction, making him look like some kind of superhero.

He strode to the right as agreed, and the demons flowed in after him.

Hundreds. They leaped and clawed at each other, pushed and surged, eager to get at James, their mouths wide, their fangs bared, their crimson eyes glowing.

Check that.

Thousands.

They ashed continuously upon him, dying by the dozens every second, and James just kept on keeping on, head bowed, skillet over his shoulder.

There were too many.

Serenity knew that with sudden and absolute certainty.

Far too many.

And that’s when Delvecchio opened fire.

His machine gun was shockingly loud. He didn’t just let it rip, but kept firing stuttering three round bursts, again and again, placing his shots with care. Demons fell, but more were flowing in, hundreds more, spreading out as they tracked James, and then, slowly, noticed the humans at the far end of the warehouse.

The front line screeched, turned, and began bounding forward.

Delvecchio went to full auto and the other two soldiers began shooting.

“Level!” shouted the machine gunner.

It was amazing. It was awesome. Their muzzles flared gold and white, and bullets hailed down upon the demons, tearing them apart, rank after rank.

But more kept flowing into the warehouse.

Serenity waited. She had a thousand rounds, but that would go fast, and she didn’t want to run out of the warehouse without ammo.

James kept walking.

More and more of the demons ignored him now to just charge at them, leaping and springing forward like an avalanche of horrific fleas.

“Level!” shouted Mancini.

Huffman was still at the rear door, keeping vigil, but her expression was so pained at missing out you’d think she was watching her CO bang her boyfriend.

“Fuck,” whispered Serenity as the enormity of what was taking place started to make itself obvious. The gremlins were pouring into the warehouse like that scene in The Shining where the elevator doors opened up and blood came flooding out. Fucking metaphors. But this was crazy. The fireteam was just letting it rip now, filling the air with lead, shouting ‘level’ every few seconds, but for every hundred they killed another five hundred leaped over the corpses to keep coming.

The demons were already halfway toward them.

“Huffman!” Mancini’s summons was barely audible over the rifle clatter and roar.

“Halle-fucking-luja!” Huffman darted to the pallets and opened fire.

Serenity shook herself awake. Blinked, raised her Sig Sauer’s, and joined in the fun.

It was like throwing pebbles into an oncoming wave. She didn’t even need to aim. She unloaded both mags, ejected them, slipped in replacements, emptied those.

James kept coming, a lambent figure, steady and implacable, his aura raging, a haze of black ash in his wake.

Third set of mags.

The fireteam was doing the same now.

There was a dull tokk sound and then an explosion rocked the center of the warehouse as Singh’s grenade detonated, shredding the gremlins in a ten-yard radius and knocking hundreds to their knees.

Another grenade.

Another.

Delvecchio was shouting now, a wordless cry of exultation and fury, turning his machine gun slowly from side to side, just mowing down the demons. Mancini was a steady presence, targeting the nemeses on the flank opposite James, ensuring they didn’t sweep down unstopped, and Serenity took his cue and focused her fire on them.

And still more demons entered the warehouse.

James was halfway toward them now; the flood of demons having washed right past him.

Thousands more were coming, a writhing, screeching, grasping flood of demons, undeterred by certain death, filling the warehouse from wall to wall, desperate to reach them.

And for all that they were inflicting countless deaths upon the Nemeses, they were still drawing closer, ever closer, like a tidal wave of death was poised to break and wash them away.

James saw their predicament and broke into a run. Straight down the length of the building, ashing everything he came close to.

Mancini put up his gun. “Huffman, Serenity, Singh, fall back to the Humvee! Delvecchio, ten seconds and draw back! Go!”

The fireteam didn’t argue, which surprised the fuck out of Serenity. From the way Huffman’s face had lit up you’d think she’d mainlined a pound of coke.

But no, Singh and Huffman ran to the back door, then Singh crossed over, looking outside, followed immediately by Huffman stepping outside. Serenity grabbed her case of mags, tucked it under her arm, but she didn’t want to leave without James.

Who finally joined them.

“I’ll hold the door!” he shouted.

Serenity drank in the sight of him. He was unhurt. No inch of him was damaged. No blood. A weight slipped off her chest, and when he looked her way, she flashed him a grin as if she’d never doubted. He smiled back and her heart leaped.

Mancini ran out the door, Delvecchio right after him, lugging his SAW, and then James was there, the gremlins a screeching wall behind him, closing in on all sides.

“Time to go,” he said, voice calm, certain.

She nodded and exited.

James stepped into the doorway, extended his arms slightly, and filled it completely with white light.

The fireteam was still shooting. They’d taken positions around the Humvee and were picking demons off the warehouse roof, the street, atop the other cars.

Nothing compared to the flood that had filled the warehouse, but their volume was growing.

Serenity felt her gut clench. Had they made a mistake? She ran up to the hummer and threw her case inside, turned and began picking off demons.

Text appeared before her:

 

Your rank is now Mendicant 4

You have 5 unspent points.

“Fucking finally!” she shouted, went to dump the points in Agility, then grimaced and put them into Arete instead.

“James!” Mancini’s bark carried over the firefight. “We’re pulling out!”

“Go ahead!” James’ shout was deeper, rougher, but carried just as well. “I can’t leave this door till you’re gone.”

Mancini cursed, looked around the parking lot then nodded. “Singh, take the wheel. Evac, now!”

Both of Serenity’s Sig Sauer’s ran out of bullets. So fast? Next time she needed to ask for one of those rifles. Fuck that, she wanted a SAW. With grenades. 17 round mags were clearly not up to the task.

She jumped into the back of the hummer as it rumbled to life. Delvecchio was in next, diving next to her, then Huffman, with Mancini getting into the passenger seat last, twisting about like some kind of mechanical toy right up to the last second as he loosed off three round bursts up and down the street.

Then he was in and Singh slammed on the gas and the hummer burst forward.

No time to angle for the gate. Singh took the chain link fence full on, and as it rattled over the hummer it scraped a good number of demons right off.

Serenity’s heart was hammering, she didn’t know if she wanted to laugh or scream or cry but looked out the rear over the tailgate to where a burning flame stood still in the warehouse’s back door, stationary and swamped on all sides by demons.

Her throat tightened. It felt wrong to leave him behind. She wanted to be right there by his side, guns firing, back to back.

“Don’t you go dying on me, James Kelly,” she whispered.

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