Jim yawned as he poured himself a big cup of coffee. He never considered himself much of a coffee person but lately rebuild of Killhead Bridge kept him up. As head’s confidant and one of the most important members he had to be present. Not to mention last night and the night before he had act as the supervisor since Barbara had night shifts at the hospital.
He drunk hot black coffee while he scrolled through texts from his kin. Most of them were notations on Bular’s status. It was almost funny to Jim how one troll could put entire race on tip toes. Though, according to some older changelings Bular changed for better after Barbara Lake became the head of the Janus Order. Jim really didn’t want to meet pre-Barbara Bular.
Nomura texted him some pictures of the newest pots the museum received. Otto send report on situation in Germany. Jim printed it and then briefly looked through it. He folded the report and placed it on tray he was going to use for Barbara’s breakfast.
Despite same last name Jim wasn’t Barbara’s son. The woman adopted him after his familiar’s parents died. She took him from his house in Vermont and let him stay with her in Arcadia. Jim was very grateful. Even if he sometimes he heard gossips. Gossips Barbara wanted him to work for the Janus Order sooner than burden of human family would let him.
It would make sense. Even before leaving Darklands Jim was quite famous among his kin. While he wasn’t the strongest he centrally was a good fighter and strategist.
Some days Jim believed it, others he did not.
He made breakfast while munching on a plastic wrapper. Jim packed lunch for himself, Toby and Barbara. Then he brought his mother’s breakfast upstairs. He smiled seeing her still in her work clothes, glassed crocked on her face, hair miraculously not messy. He kissed her on forehead and took her glasses off, then placing them on night stand.
He made it downstairs, grabbed his bag and two lunches. Jim walked his bike from the garage.
‘You look like crap.’ Toby informed Jim.
‘Not like that. Have you gotten any sleep?’
‘No.’ Jim answered.
‘According to this instruction.’ Young changeling tapped his clip board ‘That piece go there, on the left. Put those boxes down! Where is piece number 5? Put those boxes down! Who in the world ordered Starbucks? Can I have some?’
‘I just couldn’t sleep.’ He smiled and offered Toby a paper bag ‘Lunch?’
Toby took and sniffed it ‘Meatloaf, fried rice and dried tomatoes.’ He pushed the bag towards Jim ‘I can’t. I’m on diet.’
‘Yes. For fourteen years.’
‘So?’ chubby boy asked.
‘You’re fifteen.’ Jim took off on his bike.
‘Long distance diet! I’m still growing!’ Toby followed him ‘Are we taking the canal today?’
‘No. Definitely not.’
‘Who are you and what have you done with my best friend?’
Jim usually liked taking the canal. Not today, though. Today Bular fought Kanjigar. As much as Jim hoped Gunmar’s son finally gained the amulet the fight probably ended with dead Trollhunter and amulet somehow beyond Bular’s reach. Black troll had particular luck for these kind of outcomes form what Jim heard. Young changeling did not want to risk troll’s rage.
‘Come on, Tobes. We’re going to be late.’
‘Jim, would you agree?’ history teacher asked.
Jim jerked his head up after Toby shook his arm, trying to recall what the lesson was about ‘Uh?’
‘With Herodotu’s tactics?’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘The winning ones?’ Jim hoped it did not sound like a question.
Bell rung causing students to get up as Mr Strickler gave them homework hoping they listened to him.
‘Jim, I’d like to have a word with you.’ Teacher said.
‘Yes, sure.’ Jim agreed.
‘You seem very tired lately. You literally fell asleep in class. I know your mother works hard and you want to help her out.’
Jim wanted to say “You have no idea.”
‘Still I would want to have a word with her. Here is my number.’ Teacher gave him a note ‘Call me if you need anything.’
‘Thank you, Mr Strickler. I’ll do that.’ Changeling smiled and nodded already putting calling his teacher on not to do list.
It was not that Jim did not appreciate Mr Strickler going out of his way to help him. In fact it was quite the opposite. Walter Strickler was his favorite teacher and one of the kindest humans changeling met during his stay in Arcadia. Jim would keep him alive after invasion.
The same went for Toby, of course. His human friend.
Jim led two lives but that was nothing he could not handle. That is until that faithful evening happened.
Barbara inspected Bular’s sunstained hand ‘How did this happened?’
Black troll mumbled something, that changeling could not understand. She sighed in return.
‘Your father is going to be very proud of you for slaying another trollhunter but I’m sure he won’t be pleased about your wounds.’
‘How am I supposed to not get hurt in a fight, impure?’ Bular pulled his hand away from her.
She gritted her teeth and then forced a smile ‘I’m not talking about the fight. I know you, Bular, and I know you tried to reach the amulet despite it being out in sunlight. As a grown troll you should know better.’
Bular mumbled again.
‘What was that?’ Barbara asked.
‘You’re not my mother.’ Gunmar’s son barked.
Changeling straightened her back ‘That’s true. I’m not your mother but I still care about you.’ She sighed again ‘I know you want your father back. We all do and we’re closer to our goal than ever. Losing the amulet is nothing but a small delay.’ Barbara took Bular’s hand ‘Now. Why don’t we send Jim to grab a fetch, so you could talk to your father?’
‘I would like that.’
‘Jim!’ woman called out.
‘Yes, yes I heard you, mom. Already heading out.’ Jim grabbed his bag ‘You know, Bular, she isn’t mine either but that doesn’t stop her.’
‘Don’t make me ground you, James.’ She looked at Bular, who was about to eat a VHS tape ‘You too.’
‘Sorry, mom.’ Young changeling said before closing the front door behind him.
‘Forgive me.’ Bular set the VHS tape aside ‘Mother.’ He added in quieter tone.
Barbara smiled as she was wrapping aluminum foil around troll’s hand.
Jim walked through the night taking in the view of threes bathed in moonlight. Young changeling wanted to take a little break from people, changelings, the bridge, Bular. In here it was quiet and peaceful. Trolls from the Trollmarket never left their home. Especially now, after Kanjigar’s defeat. He took his time walking between threes. He felt free.
Free from his responsibilities and from Gunmar’s orders.
Jim was taken back to reality by someone shouting. It took him a longer moment to make out words and realize who was near him. Draal the Deadly, Nomura’s ex-boyfriend and fallen Trollhunter’s son. Changeling hid behind a rock and looked at the new comer. Draal looked the same way Nomura described him except for the Trollhunter’s armor covering his body.
Barbara was going to be proud of Jim. He found the new Trollhunter in less than a day since Kanjigar’s death.
Blue troll stopped walking and sniffed the air. He looked in direction of the rock.
‘Who are you? Show yourself.’ Trollhunter ordered.
Jim looked through his options. He could always make a run for it but something about the troll stopped him. Besides, he was one of the best warriors in the order. He could fight the Trollhunter and win. He came out of his hiding spot.
Draal looked at him ‘You’re a changeling.’
Jim stopped mid-step. Not impure but changeling. Nomura must have trained him well.
‘And you’re the new Trollhunter.’
Barbara pushed Bular towards the basement as soon as she heard the doorbell.
‘Can’t I just eat the human?’ black troll asked.
‘No.’ changeling answered while pushing him forward ‘You can’t just eat every human you smell near you!’
‘Hey! I haven’t eaten your neighbors yet!’ Bular said as he entered the basement.
‘Thank Pale Lady for that!’ she exclaimed as she closed the door behind Gunmar’s son.
Barbara sighed when the sound of the doorbell repeated.
‘I’ll open in a minute.’ She called swearing to herself if the visitor was not going to have a good reason she will let Bular do whatever he pleases.
Changeling opened the front door to tall man and paused. She looked at his salt and pepper hair, his not muscular but not too skinny build and those uncommonly green eyes. He looked back at her clearly as struck as her. She gathered herself first.
‘May I ask what brings you here, Mr-?’ she asked.
‘Walter Strickler. I’m your son’s history teacher. It came to my attention your son was lately very tired, he grew a habit of falling asleep in class and seems to be lost in his own mind when he’s awake. Of course I’m aware you work very hard but I think Jim puts too much on his own shoulders.’
‘Do you want to come inside?’ Barbara questioned ‘It doesn’t seem appropriate to let you stand out here in such cold.’
‘Yes, it would be nice. If anything, the fault is mine. I’m the one how started talking, wasn’t I?’
‘Oh, please. You introduced yourself and explained the reason you’re here.’ She gestured to the sofa ‘Would you like to take a seat? Anything to drink?’
‘Tea would be nice. Thank you.’ He sat down.
‘What were you saying about Jim? I know he has a habit of biting more than he can chew. Is it really that bad?’
Has she really overestimated young changelings qualifications? She heard only the best about him from the Darklands. Not that Jim’s school performance was going to mean anything when Gunmar the Black returns.
Human looked at her with his hypnotizing green eyes. ‘Jim is a very bright boy with big potential but I’m worried he tries to carry a weight of the world on his shoulders. He’s young. He should have fun while he still can, not acting a grown up. He has plenty of life ahead of him but he is going to be young only once.’
Barbara nodded. She was not going to lie. There was something about the man. Something she could not ignore. Something alluring.
‘You’re right. Sometimes I feel as if I wasted my youth.’ She said.
Barbara spend her youth on battlefields killing Gunmar’s enemies and fighting tooth and nail for survival.
‘I assure you. You’re not the only one.’ Man laughed.
‘May I ask why you think so?’
Walter looked at her for a moment and finally said ‘I have terrible taste in women. What about you?’
‘I just wish I could grow up in different times.’ Changeling smiled ‘Back to Jim. I’ll talk to him. He can’t just fall asleep in school.’
‘I know Jim wants to help you but it’s not child’s job to take care of their parents.’
Barbara thought for a moment. This was exactly Jim’s job. She was the head of the Janus Order and Jim’s job was to clean up the house, prepare meals, take care of the correspondence, assist Barbara with her duties and keep up the appearances for his human cover. Of course humans, such as Walter Strickler, could not be aware of that.
‘You’re right. That’s not his job.’ She sighed ‘Sometimes I have no idea what’s going on inside his head.’
‘May I ask what happened to Jim’s father? It’s seems very unlikely anyone could leave such a beautiful woman.’
‘Jim’s parents died in unfortunate accident thirteen years ago. Thankful Jim was at home with a babysitter.’ Barbara explained ‘I took him in not long after. Jim doesn’t remember them.’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know.’
‘Don’t apologize. We weren’t close.’
‘I must say it’s very impressive. Single mother, doctor…’
‘Well, thank you.’
‘Is there anything else you can be proud of?’
‘Not really.’ She looked at him for a moment.
He looked back at her ‘Would you like to go out with me in the future? Tea, perhaps.’
‘Yes it would be nice.’