There was no way for light to creep in to let them know when morning arrived, but Ivan could already tell by the sounds outside of the movie theater that the city of Circleville was awake and that a new day was upon them. Ivan couldn’t remember the last time he had slept so soundly that it took the noises of the outside world to wake him up. He could hardly remember a time he woke up without his eyes jerking open, his mind racing from the worries or nightmares of the previous night plaguing his mind.
Letting out a gentle groan, he shifted slightly to stretch in his cot when he noticed that something was laying on his arm, preventing him from moving. Squeezing his eyes shut, he used his free hand to rub his eyes in hopes that it would bring some of the sleep out of them. It only took him a second to realize that there wasn’t just something laying on his arm, but rather someone curled up against him. Forcing his tired eyes to open, his eyebrows shot up to his hairline the moment he saw who was messing with his morning routine.
He was surprised to see Elinor laying in the cot beside him, perfectly sound asleep with her small frame curled up against him. Her head rested on his chest, allowing him to see her peaceful expression as she remained unaware of him being awake. He tried to figure out how they had somehow ended up like this, when the events of the previous night slowly came back into his mind. He remembered Elinor returning to consciousness sometime later in the day, distraught over the events of the day prior. She was afraid to be left alone and in the process of comforting her, the two must have fallen asleep in the cot.
Ivan contemplated moving his arm as a gentle way to wake her up but upon taking in her soft expression, he couldn’t bring himself to disrupt her rest. A part of him was so lost in the small details of her face that he never had the opportunity to notice before to even consider moving. Whenever their eyes were locked, they were always averting their gaze before they could linger enough to take in such details. He never noticed how she had the faintest spray of freckles across her face or how her cheeks always had the natural, rose-colored glow to them as if she were blushing. Her sleeping expression reminded him of the time he caught her reading the night he met with her at the park, how seeing her lost in the words of her book left her at such peace. Most of the times he saw her, her face was usually lit up, expressive and alive with emotions, that seeing her so still was surprising.
Ivan noticed that a strand of her hair had fallen in front of her face, something that he hadn’t noticed at first glance. He carefully raised his hand to tuck it behind her ear, chuckling to himself when the contact with her soft hair caused her to nuzzle her face into her hand that was curled up into a fist on his chest. He was partially disappointed because he could no longer take in the details of her expression but figured it was the perfect opportunity to drift back into sleep and catch some extra rest himself.
He was close to falling back asleep when he felt Elinor shift slightly beside him, causing his eyes to open. Her eyes fluttered open about the same moment as his, giving him the chance to catch a glimpse at their soft blue color with flecks of green. Her eyes glanced around confused as if she was trying to figure out where she was. She tilted her head up to gaze at him, her lips parting in surprise as he let out a soft chuckle at her expression.
“Good morning,” he responded softly, unable to help the smile that crossed his face.
Her already flushed cheeks turned slightly more red at the situation she found herself in, but she couldn’t bring herself to move. She was fixated on his expression, the soft way his eyes focused on her and how his smile seemed to brighten the dimly lit room. She also couldn’t get over how comfortable it felt to be this close to someone, with her body nestled up to his. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt this safe.
“Good morning,” she managed to whisper finally, returning his smile as she sat up slightly. “I’m sorry if this messed up your sleep.”
Ivan tried his best to shrug his shoulders without disrupting her, using his free hand to dismiss her concerns. “You don’t have to worry about me. I’m just glad you got some rest,” he admitted, watching as her eyes roamed over his face.
She never responded to his words or even reacted to the fact that he had said anything. She seemed to be lost gazing at his eyes, only for her eyes to flick down slightly. He could tell that she was fighting with something in her mind from the way her expression grew blank. He was surprised at how close she seemed to be lingering, leaving him to wonder if she wanted him to close the last bit of space that was between them. He was seconds from acting on his impulsions when he cleared his throat softly, bringing her gaze back to his eyes. “Is there something on my face?” he asked sincerely, trying to hold back a chuckle as her face flushed red.
She opened her mouth to respond but the sound of someone coughing in the doorway captured both of their attention, their heads glancing over to see Brackston wearing a shit-eating grin as he stood casually in the doorway. “If you were to ask me,” Brackston began, his tone teasing. “You were about five seconds from having something on your face.”
As if Elinor wasn’t blushing enough before, she was certainly blushing hard now. Her face grew so red that she had to hide her expression from Brackston by planting her face into Ivan’s shirt, letting out an irritated huff. Ivan’s face hardened, his eyes piercing into Brackston’s gaze. “Hey Brackston?” Ivan piped up, using his hands to give Brackston the Ross Gellar double fist bump.
Needless to say, the gesture left Brackston grinning like an idiot. No doubt Brackston was silently proud of Ivan for actually using a pop culture reference, but he decided not to make a comment on it and focus on what he was really here for. “If you guys aren’t busy wrapped up in…” Brackston grimaced teasingly, earning a muffled groan from Elinor, who was still hiding her face in Ivan’s shirt. “Um, with… stuff. Lula and Carter need us in the lobby. They want to discuss our next steps and the plan Agent Simone has.” Without another word, Brackston left the room, a huge grin remaining on his face.
Elinor lifted her head as soon as she was sure Brackston was gone, her face still flushed as she glanced at Ivan. At least Brackston’s comment didn’t ruin too much for them, if she was still willing to look him in the eyes. “Am I allowed to kick his ass?” she asked firmly, her nose scrunching up.
Ivan let out a laugh, shaking his head at her surprising comment. “You’ll have to get in line,” he admitted, smiling as Elinor let out a soft chuckle.
When they entered the lobby a few short moments later, both Elinor and Ivan tried their best to ignore Brackston’s grin. They were at least thankful that he was sitting behind the concession counter, out of both Lula’s and Carter’s sight.
Unfortunately, the two were distracted by Lula’s and Carter’s serious expressions, the way their bodies seemed tense and their eyes focused intently on Elinor, who felt slightly uncomfortable under their gazes. She felt like she was about to be booted off the team for being too much of a hassle.
Ivan could sense Elinor’s uneasiness just from the simple way she started wringing her hands together, one of her many ticks that she was feeling anxious. He wished that they could go back into the safety of the other room, for Ivan had a feeling that what they were about to hear wasn’t going to be good news.
Carter released a sigh finally, running his hand through his hair. “So it’s clear that Whittaker is a threat to Elinor’s life,” he admitted firmly, ignoring Ivan’s hard stare that pretty much read, “I told you so!” and Brackston’s snort from behind him. “I talked to Agent Simone about the copy of Wells’s journal that Autumn stole and how you three escaped the bookstore before the explosion. Once Whittaker realizes that Elinor is still alive, they’re going to try taking her out again.”
Ivan tensed visibly, lingering close to Elinor’s side protectively. He always knew that this was a thing but voicing it aloud made the reality of her situation more frightening and brought a heavy feeling to his chest. He was so caught up in his thoughts that the sudden sensation of a hand brushing against his nearly startled him. He glanced down quickly to see that Elinor had carefully intertwined her fingers with his, which caused him to gaze up at her quickly. She gave him a weak smile, her way of trying to reassure her. It lifted some of the uneasiness that he was feeling at the moment but didn’t take away the concern.
If any of the other three had noticed what had just happened, they paid no attention. Lula and Carter were too busy giving a run down of their conversation with Agent Simone and what she had planned for their mission.
“Agent Simone wants us, all of us, to return to the lab. She doesn’t think that it’s safe for any of us, or for Elinor, to stay behind,” Carter finished, glancing over in Elinor’s direction.
Ivan followed Carter’s action and turned his head to look over at Elinor, who had grown pretty quiet during the rest of the conversation. She did a pretty good job at masking her emotions, for her expression was unreadable. Ivan couldn’t tell if she was upset, concerned, or if she agreed with this plan.
Apparently for Carter, her quiet demeanor and blank stare was enough of an agreement for him to continue on. “Agent Simone says we’ll be leaving in the morning. We need to be ready to leave by then.”
Elinor remained quiet until the meeting adjourned and Lula, Carter, and Brackston broke off to make sure their things were ready to leave with them the next morning. Once she was sure that they were out of earshot, she tightened her grip on Ivan’s hand and lowered her voice to a whisper. “I need you to sneak out with me tonight,” she explained, turning her head to face his surprised expression.
She could already tell by the way his eyebrows drew together and how his lips pressed tightly together that he wasn’t a fan of this idea. “Did you not hear what Carter said about Whittaker?” Ivan reminded her, his voice a little gruff. “I can assure you that he’s not joking when he says that they will come after you again. Why could you possibly want to sneak out?”
Elinor narrowed her eyes as she tilted her head, making sure that no one had entered into the lobby or within earshot. When she was convinced that they were still alone, she lingered closer to him. “I want to see my bookstore,” she admitted softly, swallowing hard as she blinked rapidly. It almost appeared as if she were trying to blink back tears. “I…I want to see what’s left of it.”
Ivan’s hard expression softened the moment she voiced her demands. He almost felt guilty for getting a bit harsh with her, for none of what had happened over their time here had been her fault. Her entire life was ripped out from underneath her and from this point forward, it was never going to be the same. She was staring up at him with pleading eyes, her request relatively simple. Most people wouldn’t want to leave their lives behind and he was somewhat surprised that she seemed to be handling the idea okay.
After a few moments of waiting for an answer, Elinor almost gave up hope when he finally glanced at her firmly, his gaze causing her heart to skip a beat as he opened his mouth to speak. “We’ll sneak out tonight.”