The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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Taking The Plunge

Present Day


“Aren’t you afraid they’ll walk in and find that we’re gone?” Elinor questioned Ivan, shivering as she snuggled into the hoodie Ivan had let her borrow. She knew that wearing his hoodie and keeping the hoodie up was an attempt to keep her face more hidden as they walked through the vacant movie theater parking lot together, but she was secretly grateful that he demanded it for the evening Ohio air was a bit chilly.

Elinor was a bit surprised that Ivan’s plan to sneak out with her simply involved the two of them walking out the emergency exit to the theater room that Brackston and Ivan slept in, shutting the door to the room so that they wouldn’t be disturbed.

She noticed that Ivan was remaining pretty quiet, despite the fact that she had just asked him a question. Pursing her lips, she gazed over at him, raising her eyebrows the moment she noticed just how red his face was, as if he were thinking about something embarrassing.

Ivan could tell that she was curious, judging by what he could see out of the corner of his eye. He glanced at her sheepishly, which only furthered her questioning glare as she walked alongside him. “Remember how Brackston walked in on us this morning?”

She scoffed quietly, looking away. She felt grateful that she had the hood of his hoodie to hide the fact that she felt a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “How could I forget?” she wanted to ask him, but decided to remain silent instead.

When she didn’t respond, Ivan glanced at his feet, continuing down the alleyway that led to the bookstore. He wasn’t for sure if he was going to continue at first but he figured it would be better if he told her now so she didn’t face the wrath of Brackston’s teasing over what he had done later. “I might have decided to play along with Brackston’s imagination… and put a sock on the doorknob to our room,” he whispered, lifting his hand to rub the back of his neck nervously.

He watched carefully as she quickly halted to a stop in the gravel parking lot that rested just at the back of the bookstore. He thought her stopping was because they had just made it to their destination, but when he glanced back over he was a bit surprised to see that she was giving him an incredulous stare, with a hint of amusement. Her bright eyes were lit up with a mischievous glint, her tightly pressed lips were not so much as the result of surprise but the fact that she was trying to hold back a playful smirk.

“Ivan Hayes!” she exclaimed, crossing her arms over her chest as she glared at him teasingly. “I hope you know what you’ve just signed yourself up for.”

He thought originally he was going to be in some sort of deep shit for a moment there, but her playful expression and choice of words left him feeling confused. “I’m sorry?” he asked, tilting his head confused.

Fiddling with the strings on his hoodie, she bit down on her lower lip as she tried to hold in a laugh. “Listen, cowboy,” she began, shaking her head slightly as a smirk crossed her face. “I’m a writer, and writers have wild imaginations that allow them to string together words to make things that never happened seem pretty damn realistic. So if Brackston asks me tomorrow about how our night was together, I just hope you’re prepared for me to throw out some well thought out, vague but steamy answers.”

Ivan watched both in silent horror and surprise as Elinor gave him an ornery smirk, before she turned and started making her way through the rest of the gravel lot.

“The hell?” he thought to himself as his mouth hung in surprise. He was somewhat amazed at how easily she went along with his idea but at the same time, surprised that she was willing to go the extra mile to convince the others of it - even if it was meant to purely get back at him for putting her in the situation.

They had been playing this game for a little while now, where they had danced around whatever these constant moments were between them. She was a careful, guarded soul that over time revealed more surprises that left him feeling as if he never knew what to expect. Everything with her was a mystery, and Ivan was finding the more time he spent with her, the harder it was to keep himself from liking every little surprise detail about her. It made playing off his feelings difficult and keeping them in check even harder. Needless to say, her playful flirting certainly didn’t help.

Shaking his head, he put those thoughts aside and pushed himself to quickly follow after her. By the time he had made it to her side, things had fallen into a pretty eerie silence. He noticed that her entire demeanor had changed in that very short span of a few seconds, and he figured it had to do with the fact that they were now standing directly in the alleyway next to the bookstore.

The strong, leftover crisp scent of smoke still lingered in the air. The very back of the building didn’t appear to show a whole lot of damage but upon creeping up the alleyway, they were able to see that the large bay windows were all missing their glass, allowing them to take in just a small fraction of the devastation that took place after they escaped the building.

Elinor could feel the slightest bit of tingling in her chest, a numbing feeling washing over her body as she glanced at the blackened bricks around each bay window. She could feel a slight shiver run over her as the reality of the situation started to set in.

Her heart sank and her knees nearly gave out from underneath her the moment they stepped out of the alley and onto the sidewalk. “Holy shit,” her voice cracked, her hand flying up to cover her mouth.

As they came to a stop at the caution tape that kept them from proceeding further, she was able to get a better glance with the help of the street lamps at what used to be her bookstore. She recognized the exterior of the building, even with it’s warped skeleton, blackened bricks and the missing charm. The inside however, was destroyed to the point that she couldn’t even picture how it was once her bookstore. The walls were lined with blackened shelves, some empty and some still lined with slightly charred books.

“It’s all gone,” she gasped finally, a wave of emotions washing over her as she tried to keep them in check. “The shelves, the books, the building… Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ghost decided to make a run for it.”

Ivan knew that her playful jab at the bookstore ghost leaving was a poor attempt to hide that she was trying to cope with the fact that her entire world was crumbling before her. Her expression was somber and hard, her eyes filled with a mixture of emotions as they wandered over the building. It pained him to see her taking in the damage that was caused at the hands of Whittaker, to see her expression breaking down the longer her gaze lingered on what used to be.

He questioned himself on whether he should consider reaching out to pull her into a hug but decided against it. He figured it would be best to let her reach out to him when she was ready.

The sound of her clearing her throat brought his attention to her, where he was able to see that she was trying her best to keep up a neutral expression but was failing. He could see that something was weighing on her, something more than just the fact that she was distraught over her bookstore.

“Do you remember when we were at the park and you put together that I had been a victim of some sort?” she asked softly, glancing at him nervously.

He nodded slowly, glancing at her softly. “You don’t have to talk about-”

“I need to!” she wailed, her voice quivering as her hands trembled at her side. “I need to because it’s the reason I even decided to take the plunge to take over the bookstore.”

A heavy silence fell between them as she glanced down at her feet. She took his silence as his way of encouraging her to continue on, which was usually what his silence meant. Taking a deep breath, she slowly exhaled as a way to bring her rise of emotions back down. Once she was confident that she could continue on without bursting into a fit of tears, she opened her mouth to speak. “So I was twenty-seven years old and I had just got back onto my feet…” she swallowed hard, her eyes blinking rapidly.

Ivan grew concerned, wondering if she was seconds away from another episode but the sight of her shaking her head kept him quiet so that he could listen to her continue.

“Even though I was on the right track, I was still in a pretty bad place mentally. In fact, the year prior I was very close to ending my life because I thought my life wasn’t worth living. And while I never went through with anything, those thoughts still nagged at me. Was all the pain really worth it?” she asked quietly, her hands nervously fiddling with the strings on his hoodie.

“In case you’re wondering, there was a guy. In fact, there were multiple guys I had grown close to. I have been on sucky dates, dumped, had a guy leave me for another girl... But none of those other situations could even come close to what I had just walked out of. Let’s just say that it makes a gunshot wound seem like a walk in the park.”

Ivan kept quiet as she gazed at her hands, the way they anxiously tugged on the strings of his hoodie. He had always suspected that she was victim of some sort of abuse, and she even alluded to it that afternoon they spent in the park. Despite always suspecting and somewhat knowing, it didn’t make hearing her talk about it any easier. There was this heavy feeling within his chest that felt like a mix of anger towards whoever had hurt her, and brokenness over the thought of what she had gone through. This feeling only deepened when she raised her gaze to meet his, facing him with eyes that were tear filled.

“This man? I really thought I loved him. I really thought he loved me,” her voice was barely audible, her words caused her to sniffle as she shrugged her shoulders. “But once we got so far into whatever the hell it was that we had, I started noticing that something was different. He started getting verbally abusive, he’d call me names, he’d tear down my body and my personality with his friends over a couple beers as if I wasn’t sitting right there. His friends started bullying me as well and I just had to sit there and take it. Hell, I wasn’t even allowed to talk about what I wanted out of life. I had to be pretty and be ready for whatever they threw at me,” she replied, letting out a shaky sigh as she shook her head. “I don’t know what finally drove me over the edge, but eventually I just stopped trying to fight it. That’s when I started drinking, hoping that it would at least make me numb to what was going on… But it only made things worse. I got into yelling matches and arguments with everyone in my life, I grew afraid of socializing and human interactions. Hell, a guy would walk two inches too close to me and I would feel this heavy feeling in my chest, my hands would start shaking as I…”

Elinor met Ivan’s gaze, her eyes studying his soft expression. She wasn’t sure what she had stopped to look at him for, but making eye contact with him gave her the last bit of courage she needed to get this off of her chest. “Basically that was when I had realized that I was starting to become someone I was not. All those weekends getting just drunk enough so I wouldn’t feel any pain, all the hungover mornings, waking up delusional on some random couch, the constant anxiety and fear... That’s when I realized I needed to get out.”

She had paused for a couple moments, her eyes wandering over to take in the building that once housed her bookstore. He thought maybe she was waiting for him to respond, but the sight of her parting her lips left him quiet for a few moments longer. “I found this church group about a month after I dumped that other life behind. It was a really long month filled with isolation, fear, brokenness… I really needed something to help me get back on my feet. I remember feeling terrified that these people were going to see right through me, that they’d know what kind of a mess I was… But they welcomed me in with open arms. They reminded me that there was such a thing as unprejudiced love, and this thing called faith. And unlike the guy I had recently been with, they showed faith in me, and in return it restored my faith. In God, in my future, in myself.” She smiled weakly, turning her gaze back to him. He was surprised to see a slight sparkle return to her eyes. “You know what was really convenient? The owner of the bookstore was ready to retire at the same time I was bouncing back from my struggles. I had always wanted to own my own bookstore for as long as I could remember... So I decided to just go for it. What more did I have to lose? It ended up being really therapeutic and with the help of that church group, we were able to fix Keystone Books back up and keep it going. And while it really hurts like hell knowing that I’ve lost it all… Just the thought that I was granted the opportunity to have it in my life is something I will always treasure.” she scoffed slightly, shaking her head as she stuffed her hands into the pockets of his hoodie. “Or maybe I’m just crazy.”

Ivan stared at her silently, his mind racing with everything she had just revealed to him as he tried to render a response. He thought he was impressed with her before but now he felt positively blown away. This quirky, outspoken woman was not only wildly brilliant, caring, and talented but she was also resilient, brave, and somehow able to keep what faith she had despite staring the uncertainty of her future right in the face. It never ceased to amaze him how she always seemed to leave him in awe.

“You’re not crazy,” he admitted finally, keeping his soft gaze on her. “After the things I’ve been through these last couple of years… especially these last few weeks with the time travel, Whittaker, with losing my uh,” he grimaced, his other hand nervously fiddling with the ring on his left hand. “My wife and child in a horrible accident...”

Elinor’s eyes widened slightly, her mouth falling slightly open. She knew Ivan had lost his wife in an accident but she wasn’t aware that he had also lost a child. More importantly, she wasn’t aware he had lost them both in the same accident. In fact, his revealing this had made Autumn’s statement from the previous day about being unable to protect his family make more sense to her.

He noticed her surprised stare but she quickly pushed it away with a weak nod that encouraged him to continue on. He was grateful for that. “My point, Elinor, is that I think all of us could use a little faith. And somehow, you manage to admit that you still have faith after you had just faced your dream being reduced to shambles? I must admit, it proves that you’re pretty damn brave and it gives me hope that I can one day find faith again, too.”

Elinor sniffled suddenly, chuckling weakly as she wiped the couple of tears that had escaped her eyes. She threw herself forward gently, wrapping her arms around his waist as she nestled her head softly against his chest. She couldn’t think of words to say, so she hoped that hugging him would be enough. When she felt his arms wrap around her small frame, his chin gently placed on the top of her head, it gave her the reassurance that the hug was more than enough.

She wanted to stay in his hold for a few moments longer, to take in the gentle way his hand stroked her back soothingly. However, she knew that they were running out of time and she needed to make one more request before he told her that they needed to return to the theater. “If I’m supposed to leave Circleville behind tomorrow,” she started softly, her voice still weak from spilling her guts. “Are we at least allowed to make a stop at my place? It’s about a ten minute walk from here and there are some things I really want to bring with me.”

Ivan contemplated her request, trying to decide if it was a wise decision to give in. It was a risk being out here as is, let alone making the trek to walk ten minutes to her place. What if Whittaker had plans to destroy her house like they had the bookstore? They had gotten lucky once, there was no guarantee they’d be so lucky again. However, he thought about what it must have felt like for her to have to leave this place behind, let alone, with nothing but the clothes on her back. He had been there before and he couldn’t face the thought of her having to go through what he did. After sitting silently, Ivan gently pulled away from her hug and gave her a warm smile. “Lead the way, El.”

<>

They arrived at her house about ten minutes later. It was no surprise for Ivan to see that her house happened to be a grand, 18th century brick house. Its windows were accented with red shutters, the roof trimmed with a delicate trim that appeared lacelike. Taking in the appearance, Ivan decided that it was honestly as unique and as special as she was.

She led him to the small front porch, where she unlocked the door with the spare key she had hidden. They entered into a small library that was decorated with vintage and antique furniture and decorations. Ivan was surprised to see that the shelves of the library went to the ceiling, proving to be even too tall for him to reach. His eyes wandered over the small area, taking in the fact that she had a decent sized living room to his right, a dining room one room over, and an entryway to a kitchen just across the room. The house certainly was a lot for one person to live in, especially considering that there was a whole second floor he has yet to see as well.

“You seem surprised,” Elinor pointed out, noting his wandering eyes as he glanced around with a speechless gaze.

“Impressed,” Ivan corrected her, giving her a reassuring smile as he took in the tall library shelves. “It’s a beautiful home. I know Lula would be jealous if she knew that you were living in such a magnificent piece of history.”

Elinor chuckled her face beaming at his comment. Shaking her head, she followed suit and took in the lively shelves of her library. “Trading this in for a life in a lab is going to be interesting,” she admitted, her eyes growing dim as a dark expression crossed her face at the thought of leaving everything behind.

His smile slowly faded into a frown as his mind raced to figure out a way to brighten her mood again. He couldn’t blame her about the lab situation, seeing as it was a whole new lifestyle to get used to. She was at least familiar with both Brackston and himself, but Carter and Lula were still new people that she was getting acquainted with. Factor in that she was also going to have to get comfortable knowing she’d have to get to know Layla, Professor Altman, Agent Simone…

Ivan’s eyes lit up slightly at a sudden realization, earning a curious glare from Elinor. “The lab isn’t so bad,” he began, his smile slowly returning. “I may not have as many great books as you do, but I do have some good books from Professor Altman’s library to read. Lula does as well, though they’re mostly history books. I would probably ask her permission before taking one, she’s pretty protective of her books…” Elinor giggled at Ivan’s exaggerated cringe, grateful to see the light returning to her eyes.

“Honestly though, I’m grateful to at least have some pleasant company at the lab for a change. I’m looking forward to you being there,” he admitted softly.

She gave him a funny look, her nose scrunching up as she tilted her head like a confused puppy. “Um, forgive me if I’m wrong… Aren’t your friends pleasant company?”

Ivan chuckled at her question, shaking his head as he thought about his situation. “Let’s just say that Lula is probably the closest thing I have to a friend in the lab. Carter doesn’t trust me yet and Brackston is still figuring me out. It’s kind of a long story,” he replied, shrugging his shoulders.

He watched carefully as Elinor lingered closer to him, her eyes locked on his as she smiled up at him. “Well it’s a good thing I like stories and some pleasant company as well. Tell me, what could you see us doing together while we’re hanging out inside the lab?” she asked sincerely.

Ivan was almost distracted by the way she had moved in closer, her presence nearly muddling his thoughts as he tried to form an answer. “I like strategy board games,” he threw out finally, keeping his gaze on hers.

“Board games are fun,” she smiled warmly, her hand subconsciously twirling the string of his hoodie around her finger. “I mean, we could also read or you could tell me some of your stories. I’m sure you have some interesting ones from your recent time travel adventure.”

Ivan noticed that at some point in this conversation, they had drifted closer. She was standing right before him, her gaze locked on his intensely. They were back to playing that game again, where they were wondering if this was the right moment to set aside their fears they had been dancing around and to finally take the frightening plunge. Swallowing hard, Ivan tilted his face closer to hers, giving him access to take in those subtle details of her face he had only discovered this morning.

“I thought of something else we could do,” he whispered softly, watching carefully as she shivered lightly at the way his gaze made her knees grow weak.

“Oh, yeah? What is it?” she asked him, the tone in her voice coming across more like she was trying to challenge him rather than question him.

His eyes took in her searching expression, before they flicked down hesitantly to her lips. He thought long and hard about how he should respond but instead of answering her, he decided that his best option was to lean in the rest of the way and finally give in to everything he had been fighting for so long. Gently cupping her face with his hands, he finally took the chance to kiss her, his lips gently making contact with hers as his eyes fluttered shut.

She knew the moment was coming, but she still couldn’t stop her heart from leaping slightly at the sudden impact of his lips brushing against hers, his hands gently caressing her cheeks as she nearly melted in his grasp. She didn’t hesitate with returning the gentle kiss back, her hands roping around his neck. Her hold around his neck kept her knees from buckling as she felt weak under the embrace of his kiss.

She shivered slightly at the sudden sensation of his arms wrapping around her waist, bringing her closer to him as he melted into her frame. She had the strong desire for a deeper connection with him, to know his innermost thoughts. He seemed hesitant to take this any further and she could only gather that it was because he was battling with whatever emotions were plaguing his mind. She had no doubt that he was probably confused, enlightened, and slightly afraid. She figured that because it was how she felt.

After avoiding the intimacy of being even alone with someone, let alone, so wrapped up in this heated moment, there were a lot of different emotions such as fear, excitement, and desire.

She would have gotten wrapped up in those emotions frightening her from continuing further, had it not been for him tilting his head to deepen the kiss. He relished the way she responded to his actions, the subtle way she gasped but got caught up in returning the favor fervently.

He wanted to encourage her further, to be lost in the softness of her embrace and the intoxicating taste of her playful confidence teasing him to fall over the edge with her, but he gently broke away from her soft lips.

She let out a sigh of disappointment over him breaking it off so soon, causing him to chuckle lightly as he pressed his forehead against hers. She opened her eyes to give him a disapproving glare, but being close enough to take in the way his eyes gazed so thoughtfully into hers left her frozen.

“We should save some of this for when we make it to the lab later,” he suggested, grinning at her sudden roll of her eyes.

Despite her dismay, she couldn’t help but match his grin, her eyes remaining locked on his as she pressed her nose to his softly. “We have this nice big house to ourselves right now, you know,” she reminded him. “No Brackston, Lula, or Carter… No need to worry about putting a sock on the door.”

He gave her another chuckle, half tempted to take her up on the offer but decided that it would be best if they got back before the team noticed they were gone. Not to mention, a small part of him was afraid to give into the heated desire that flared up within him. If they fell into one another too soon, he feared that he risked making a rash decision that would only end up scaring her off. He needed time to make sure that this was something that she wouldn’t regret later, severing whatever was brewing between them. “You make a fair point,” he sighed, shaking his head. “But I’m afraid I’m going to have to make it up to you a little later.”

She let out a defeated sigh but before she could remove herself from his grasp, he caught her lips in another gentle kiss that was enough to bring the smile back to her face. “You should go get your belongings now,” he admitted, nodding towards the front door. “I’ll wait down here and then we can leave as soon as you’re ready.”

Nodding slowly, she left the warmth of his embrace and made her way up the stairs, completely aware that his gaze had followed her until she had disappeared out of sight.

Licking his lips, he tried to put his focus onto something else so that he didn’t end up going after her. He never imagined that he would ever let himself even grow to like someone again. Let alone, to point that he had to battle with himself about the idea of even getting lost in another woman. Truth be told, he was beginning to think that she had captured his attention the second he really started to get to know her, and the more time he spent around her, the more he was willing to compromise his heart being bruised again.

Falling for her was a monumental risk as Ivan wasn’t sure where their future would lead or what changes to the past could undo everything. He was understanding more and more of why Carter was so protective of Lula, why the soldier was always so hard on them whenever something didn’t go his way. It was because he was terrified that one wrong move could undo everything he just gained again.

Five minutes of sitting alone in his ever changing thoughts felt like an eternity going by as he waited, listening to the sound of her feet shuffling across the floor. He wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to grab, but he wouldn’t be surprised if on top of clothes she was trying to decide which of her own books to bring. As much as she loved to read, he imagined that was probably the hardest thing for her to choose from.

He was starting to feel pretty relaxed, his eyes wandered over to one of the chairs in her library. He was contemplating getting off his feet for a couple of moments when the sudden sound of something like glass breaking came from upstairs. He tensed at the noise, wondering if maybe Elinor had broken something but the most unsettling sound resonating through the house told him otherwise. It barely took him a second to realize that the sound was Elinor’s scream.

Jumping quickly into action, Ivan reached into his jacket and pulled out his gun. He bounded up the stairs without any hesitation, his heart pounding and his mind racing as he neared the top of the stairs.

He was greeted with a narrow hallway that barely left any room for movement. Ivan’s heart jumped the moment the unfortunate sight of a familiar man standing in the doorway to one of the rooms entered his vision. The man was holding a visibly frightened Elinor hostage, his hand clamped over her mouth as he struggled to keep her from fighting out of his grasp. He had a gun in his other hand, the tip pointed at the side of Elinor’s temple. It only took Ivan a second to recognize that it was the Whittaker agent who tried to shoot her during her book signing event.

Ivan’s face hardened, his eyes staring at the man darkly as he clenched his jaw firmly. Ivan tightened the grip he had on his own gun, the sudden sensation of rage rising in his chest. “Let her go,” Ivan growled deeply. He wanted to shoot this son of a bitch right here, right now. However, Elinor was at a great risk of being severely hurt if he tried.

The man laughed slightly, shaking his head as he glanced at Elinor’s distraught face. Ivan gathered from the sudden way the man’s eyes lit up darkly that he had something up his sleeve. The Whittaker agent removed his hand from over her mouth, giving her the chance to speak as tears flooded her eyes. “Ivan,” she begged, her voice shaky. She was trying her hardest to appear brave in the seriousness of the situation, but Ivan could already tell that she was losing control of her emotions.

This only became clear as the Whittaker agent shook his head, pressing the tip of the gun firmly against her temple. Ivan felt his heart ache as he watched her let out a sob, her body trembling as she pleaded with the man. “I said let her the hell go!” Ivan yelled fiercely, his face turning red as he stepped forward.

“Why should I? I have very strict orders to bring her alive to Autumn,” the agent explained, glancing at Ivan sadistically as he took a step back into the room.

Ivan knew that he needed to distract the man long enough just so he could figure out a way to get Elinor out of the situation safely. “You have Wells’s damn book of notes,” he reminded the agent, his eyebrows drawing together as he tried to control the rage in his tone. “What could she possibly have now that Autumn wants so badly?”

The agent seemed amused that Ivan was pining for information. The thought made Ivan sick. “She’s the light,” the agent stated firmly, tightening his hold on Elinor. “Haven’t you figured that out yet, working on those damn ciphers with her? She’s the light that will reveal the key. We need her.” The man glared darkly at Ivan, his mouth tightening as he stepped further into the bedroom. “And it appears the only way that I can ensure that this stupid bitch is brought to Autumn alive, is that I have my men take care of you.”

Ivan barely had a chance to respond to the agent’s words before a door to Ivan’s right had swung open, a figure lurching from the shadows to plow into him. The surprise attack had caught him so off guard that he didn’t have the chance to respond with his gun before he was thrown into the wall, barely catching himself before he nearly tumbled down the stairs. The force caused his gun to fly out of his hand and across the hallway floor.

Ivan glanced up at the man that had attacked him. He was a bit surprised to see that the agent was the smartass doctor that Agent Simone had called in to check on Elinor. Gritting his teeth, Ivan pushed himself to his feet. “I knew that there was something off about you,” Ivan grumbled, trying to ignore the smirk the doctor was giving him.

“And I knew that you had a weakness for her,” the doctor replied, glancing over in the direction of where Elinor was still being held firmly against her will. “I knew that she would get you to crack up. Autumn’s right, the woman really did make you soft.”

He knew all he had to do was outsmart the doctor long enough so he could grab his gun, but he wasn’t sure how to keep him locked in conversation. “She’s harmless,” Ivan stated, his eyes burning into the doctor’s face. “You’re really going to tell me that after Whittaker stole from her, that she’d be willing to give you-”

Before he could even finish his response, the sudden sensation of something hard making contact with the back of his head caused him to crumple to his knees, his vision growing blurry as he struggled to keep from falling over.

He could hear the sounds of Elinor sobbing somewhere in the background, her voice pleading with them as a figure loomed over him. “That’s the thing,” the voice of the doctor piped up, laughing slightly. “We haven’t stolen everything from her. There’s one more thing that we forgot about…”

Ivan felt the sharp pain of someone kicking into his side, knocking him onto his back. He struggled to catch a glimpse of where his assailant was going to attack from next but before he could even react, the doctor gave one last word that left Ivan feeling hopeless as he struggled to stop the world from spinning. “You.

Just as the word left the man’s lips, Ivan’s last conscious sight was a fist before the world around him went dark.

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