“What?” Linus looked over at his friend, who laughed nervously, and then back at me. “You’re bleeding. Were you in an accident?”
“Okay, seriously. We don’t have time for this.” I glanced back at the door. Then I looked down at him. “Come with me if you want to live.”
Both his friends burst out laughing at that, but Linus swallowed hard. The sleeves of his blazer had been pushed to his elbows, and I saw the subtle shift of his skin tone. It didn’t completely change, but the olive color began to take on a bluish hue.
That was good. It meant Linus was scared, which meant he believed me.
“Miss, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave,” a waitress was saying to me.
“Linus, we have to go. Now.”
He nodded. “Okay.”
One of his friends asked incredulously, “Linus, are you seriously going with this crazy chick?”
He stood up, ignoring his friend, but he’d only taken a step away from the table when he tripped over his shoelace. I caught his arm before he fell, and he offered me an embarrassed grimace.
“You are so lucky I’m here,” I muttered as I took his arm and led him out of the restaurant.
“What’s going on?” Linus asked.
When we got outside, I looked back down the street. There was still a small crowd of people milling around where I’d escaped from Konstantin and Bent, but the black sedan was gone. They were on the move.
“I’ll explain later. But right now we just have to get out of Chicago as fast as we can.”
The car I’d rented was in the school parking lot, but there was a chance that Konstantin knew its make. And even if he didn’t, he could still be waiting in the parking lot.
“Where are we going?” Linus asked as I hailed a cab.
“To get a car, and then home.” I held the door to the orange cab open for him.
“But my home is here in Chicago.” He looked puzzled as he slid into the car.
I smiled at him. “No, your real home.”
“Doldastam,” Linus repeated, the same way he’d been repeating it over the past day and a half. Every time he said it, he’d put the emphasis on a different syllable, trying so hard to match my pronunciation.
I’d rented a new car, and the drive from Chicago to the train station in Canada was over twenty hours, and we’d only stopped for gas and bathroom breaks.
Before we’d left Chicago, we’d swung by my hotel, and I’d changed into a much more comfortable pair of jeans and a T-shirt. But I hadn’t had any clothes for him, and I didn’t want to risk going back to his apartment. In Winnipeg, we’d stopped so I could pick up an appropriate winter jacket and hat for Linus, and I’d finally gotten him a change of clothes so he could get out of his uniform.
I didn’t know if Konstantin and Bent were working alone or with others, and I wouldn’t feel safe until we were back behind the walls of Doldastam. Really, it didn’t matter if they were working with others. Seeing Konstantin Black was enough to unnerve me.
As confident as I’d tried to sound with him and as well as I’d fought him, I’d thrown up as soon as we got to my hotel. Coming face-to-face with the man from my nightmares had that effect on me.
But when I was around Linus, I did my best to keep my feelings in check and seem as normal as possible. I needed to be vigilant to keep him safe, which meant staying calm. So I sat rigidly next to him, staring out the window, and not letting my panic show on my face.
“Did I say it right?” Linus asked, and I could feel him looking at me, waiting for an answer.
“Yep. You said it great,” I assured him with a forced smile.
“It’s pretty out here.” Linus motioned to the window, at the snow and tree-lined landscape of Manitoba as we sped through it.
“Yeah, it is,” I agreed.
“This is where I was born?” Linus asked.
“Well, not out here, exactly. We’re still a ways away from Doldastam, but yeah, you were born out here.”
“I’m a changeling.” No matter how many times he said this, Linus still managed to sound mystified every time. “I’m Kanin, and you’re Kanin.”
“Right,” I said, because that was easier than correcting him. I was Kanin—sort of. He already had enough to digest without me breaking into my life story.
If he’d known more about what it meant to be Kanin, he’d be able to tell that I wasn’t really one just by looking at me.
Linus had dark brown hair, cropped short and gelled smooth to tame the unruly curls, and eyes that matched. I, on the other hand, had easily managed blond waves that landed just below my shoulders, and my eyes were the color of the blue sky out the window. Even his skin was several shades darker than mine.
On his cheeks he had a subtle spotting of freckles. They weren’t typical of the Kanin, but they seemed to suit him. Linus had an openness to his face, an innocent inability to hide any of his emotions, and his expression shifted from awe to pained confusion every few minutes.
He furrowed his brow. “I’m a troll.”
The long drive up had given me plenty of time to explain all the big points to him, but he still couldn’t completely process it. It usually took much longer, and that’s why I often spent so long with the changelings before revealing the truth. It was much easier to understand when you had time to digest it instead of your whole sense of reality instantly being dashed away.
“I always knew I was different.” He stared down at the floor, the crease in his brow deepening. “Even before my skin started changing color. But when that happened, I guess I just thought I was like an X-Men or something.”
“Sorry, we’re not superheroes. But being Kanin can still be awesome,” I tried to reassure him.
He turned to look at me, relief relaxing some of his apprehension. “Yeah? How so?”
“Well, you’re a Berling.”
“I’m a what?”
“Sorry. Berling. That’s your last name.”
“No, my name is—”
“No, that’s your host family’s last name,” I said, cutting him off. The sooner he started severing mental and emotional ties with his host family, the easier it would be for him to accept who he was. “Your parents are Dylan and Eva Berling. You are a Berling.”
“Oh. Right.” He nodded, like he should know better, and then looked down at his lap. “Will I ever see my host family again?”