None of which was getting the sergeant to turn loose of his book. Michael narrowed his eyes.
“You are way too serious, Lieutenant,” Cardillo sighed, letting go. “You’re twenty. You’re off duty. You should be out with a girl, or at least with your team-”
“I’ll have fun when there’s time for it,” Michael said bluntly. “And if I were going to show up at a base party, I’d dress properly.” And invite Rachel.
No, that’d be unprofessional. Rachel Monroe was a contact, nothing more. A medical statistician with the good luck to notice odd patterns indicating HST predation on local hospitals, and the even better luck to have never met the creatures herself. An older woman, no less. A party was out of the question.
Shooing the thought off into the dark where it belonged, he eyed Cardillo. “I certainly wouldn’t show up as… whatever you’re going as.”
Cardillo out-and-out stared at him. “I don’t believe it. You’re a fan, and you don’t recognize-”
The world shifted.
For a breathless instant, he didn’t know who he was. What he was. Memories poured through him like lava, trying to burn away everything that didn’t fit….
Marksman. Soldier-scholar. Hunter of youi. Keeper of secrets.
But he was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, he’d sworn an oath–
And oaths were tricky things, mixed up with magic. Even human oaths. Especially the oaths of an ensorcelled human bound to one of the maigo by word and fate.
Which was exactly what Houzaborou Ogasawara was.
Spell and two oaths and two lives all tangled-
A rustle like autumn leaves. A flick against his soul, like impatient dragonfly wings.
“Your retainer, huh?” Yukiatsu had grinned wryly at him, a drifter showing up in Ogasawara clan haori and mompei so the ayashi leader wouldn’t have to hunt a youi-haunted highway alone. “Guess I can live with that. You need looking after.”
Ogasawara was never sure why he’d made the offer later. Maybe it was that shadow always in Yukiatsu’s eyes, knowing her formal outfit hid more than just vagrant’s tattoos from men’s attention. Maybe it was the odd resonance he’d felt between them; he’d abandoned his birth family to save European studies by his work as an ayashi, and now Yuki was doing the same. Never mind she’d been a vagrant and worse. She was heir to those who served the shogun himself, and she’d set that aside to serve him. Because they were both ayashi… and because Yukiatsu would never let him face the monsters alone.
“We’ll look after each other,” he’d said. “I expect nothing less.”
“Really?” An odd, fey light in umber eyes; the eyes some saw, and were unnerved by, and never seemed to quite reason out why.
Human eyes weren’t that color. Ever.
But he’d known Yukiatsu wasn’t human the moment he’d seen her seize separate from a scrap of rubbish… and blast a youi away like a leaf in the wind.
She was ayashi. She was his retainer. Those eyes might never be human, but the hope in them was. “Always,” he’d nodded.
“You promise?” Yukiatsu’s tone was casual, but her gaze was searing as summer sun.
Which, damn it, should have told him to run. Which, Genbatsu had told him later, snickering malevolently, had been Yukiatsu’s best memory-fractured stab at telling him to run. Warning him to back off, say you didn’t mean it, say anything else-
You didn’t make promises to youi, or those touched by youi. They had a way of making you keep them.