“I’m a tracker. Our abilities are different.” He glanced over at me, and, sensing that I would just ask more questions, he went on. “They’re more suited for tracking, obviously. Persuasion isn’t particularly useful in that arena.”
“What is useful?” I pressed, and he sighed wearily.
“It’s hard to explain. They’re not even real abilities in the sense of the word.” His jaw ticked, and he shifted in his seat. “It’s more instinct and intuition. Like the way a bloodhound follows a scent, except it’s not actually something I can smell. It’s just something I know.” He looked over to see if I was getting it, but I just stared at him blankly.
“For example, when you went to visit that woman the other night”—that woman being someone who I had thought was my mother my entire life—“I knew you were far away, and I knew something was distressing you.”
“You can tell when I’m upset? Even when you’re not around me?” I asked.
Finn nodded. “As long as I’m tracking you, yes.”
“I thought you said you weren’t psychic,” I muttered. “Being able to know my feelings sounds awfully psychic to me.”
“No, I said I couldn’t read minds, and I can’t.” Then, with an exasperated sigh, he added, “I never have any idea what you’re thinking.
“I can’t even tell everything you’re feeling,” he went on. “Just distress and fear. I need to be alert to situations when you’re in danger so I can help you. My job is to keep you safe and bring you home.”
“How do you know how to track people like me? Before you find us, I mean.”
“Your mother has things from when you were a baby. A lock of hair usually,” Finn elaborated. “I get a vibe from that, and the parents usually have a general idea where you are. Once I’m around you, I start to get a real scent of you, and that’s it.”
An odd warmth filled my chest. My mother had things from me. Kim had never treasured anything about me, but someone out there had. She had taken a lock of hair when I was born and kept it safe all these years.
“Is that why you stared at me all the time? Because you were feeling this . . . this vibe?” I thought of the way his eyes were always on me, and the way I could never make sense of his expression.
“Yes.” There was something about his answer—he wasn’t lying exactly, but he was holding something back. I thought about pressing him further but there were so many other things I wanted to know.
“So . . . how often do you do this?”
“You are my eleventh.” He looked at me to gauge my response, so I kept my face as expressionless as possible.
I was a little surprised by his answer. It seemed like an incredibly time-consuming process, for one thing. And he seemed fairly young to have done it eleven times. Plus, it was unnerving to think there were that many changelings out there.
“How long have you been doing this?”
“Since I was fifteen,” Finn answered.
“Fifteen? No way.” I shook my head. “So you’re trying to tell me that at fifteen years old, your parents sent you out into the world to track and find kids? And these kids, they trusted you and believed you?”
“I’m very good at what I do,” Finn replied matter-of-factly.
“Still. That just seems . . . unreal.” I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. “Did they all come back with you?”
“Yes, of course,” he said simply.
“Do they always? With all the trackers, I mean?”
“No, they don’t. They usually do, but not always.”
“But they always do with you?” I persisted.
“Yes.” Finn looked over at me again. “Why do you find it so hard to believe?”
“I find this all hard to believe.” I tried to pinpoint what was bothering me. “Wait. You were fifteen? That means that you were never . . . you weren’t a changeling. So not all Trylle begin life as changelings? How does this work?”
“Trackers are never changelings.” He rubbed the back of his neck and pursed his lips. “I think it’s best if your mother explains the changelings to you.”
“How come trackers aren’t ever changelings?” I questioned.
“We need to spend our lives being trained to be a tracker,” Finn said. “And our youth is an asset. It’s much easier to get close to a teenager when you are a teenager than it is when you’re forty.”
“A big part of what you do is building trust.” I eyed him with renewed suspicion.
“Yes, it is,” Finn admitted.
“So at the dance, when you were being a total dick to me. That was you building trust?”
For a split second he looked pained, then his normal emotionless expression returned. “No. That was me putting a distance between us. I shouldn’t have asked you to dance. I was trying to correct the error. I needed you to trust me, but anything more would be misleading.”
Everything that had transpired between us had just been because he was trying to get me to the compound. He had been keeping me safe, getting me to like him, and when he noticed my crush developing, he had tried to put me in my place. It stung painfully, so I just swallowed hard and stared out the window.
“I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you,” Finn said quietly.
“Don’t worry about it,” I replied icily. “You were just doing your job.”