The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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April 22, 1931
London, England

Carter groaned slightly as he unbuckled his seatbelt, watching as Brackston turned to face him with a slight scowl on his face after they managed to travel back to 1931. The look Brackston was giving him encouraged Carter to hold back any complaints about feeling nauseous. It had been a bit of time since the team first traveled in the time machine. Needless to say, Carter had grown quite accustomed to their modern day mission.

Rolling his eyes, Brackston turned to glance at the other two seats in the time machine. It nearly startled him to see Lula’s seat empty but he quickly remembered that Lula sat out on this one. She pushed for just the three of them to go as the battle plan was to bring Elinor back. One of them would have had to sit out anyways and Lula argued that Ivan and Carter were more useful on this mission. Though if it were Brackston’s choice to leave anyone behind, he would have picked Ivan.

Ivan’s hard, cold expression frightened the hell out of Brackston. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen the murderous expression on the man’s face. Brackston was afraid that Ivan was a potential risk to himself at this point. Pushing those thoughts aside, Brackston glanced down to where Ivan’s hand gripped tightly on the strap of a strangely designed backpack. “I never would have pegged you as a Twenty One Pilots fan,” Brackston jabbed lightly, hoping that it would lift some of the tension in the air.

Ivan silently peeked down at the backpack, ignoring Carter’s stare as he lifted the backpack for the two of them to see. “It’s Elinor’s,” Ivan admitted, his eyebrows knitting together as he swallowed hard. “She was packing some things she wanted to bring from home. I thought she’d like to see that I brought it for her.”

Carter pressed his lips tightly together, unsure of how to respond. He had many opportunities to chew Ivan out for this screw up but for once on this mission, doing so felt wrong. Carter could see that Ivan was beating himself up over this one, so he decided to keep his mouth shut. Lula would have his head if he did otherwise anyways. "We should get going,” Carter reminded them as he turned to climb out of the open hatch into the crisp London air.

Brackston was planning on quickly following suit but he was distracted by the sight of Ivan glaring darkly at the backpack, a seriousness to his gaze that stopped Brackston from exiting the machine. “We’re going to get her back,” Brackston assured Ivan, his voice sincere. “We’re going to make sure Whittaker knows that they messed with the wrong people.”

Ivan couldn’t bring himself to respond to Brackston’s statement. The statement only made his frown deepen as he set the backpack back down at the side of his chair. “Let’s get going before Carter starts yelling at us,” Ivan responded gruffly.

The rest of the trip stayed pretty silent between the three of them. Carter was a short distance ahead while Brackston and Ivan stayed a bit back. Brackston could tell that Ivan was struggling with something, he could see it in the way his dark gaze remained locked on the ground.

“Can I just ask,” Brackston piped up finally, unable to take the heavy, awkward silence that was in the air. “What the hell happened? I thought Whittaker had her copy of Wells’s book. What else could they need?”

Ivan’s hard expression remained as his body tensed slightly at the question. “If you want to know what led to her being taken, it’s simply the fact that I messed up,” Ivan responded gruffly, shaking his head. “I messed up bad, Brackston.”

Brackston pressed his lips tightly together, annoyed that Ivan believed such a thing. “You had no clue that Whittaker was going to jump you,” Brackston reminded him, shrugging his shoulders slightly. “I mean the last time I checked, that’s not the kind of thing the evil bad guys send out a PSA for.”

Ivan squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing his forehead as he tried to gather his thoughts. “I lowered my guard and I shouldn’t have. I let her talk me into sneaking out when I should have put my foot down. She would have been upset with me but at least she would have been safe,” Ivan explained.

Brackston frowned at Ivan’s comment but kept quiet. He wondered what all went down after the two of them wandered out of the theater. He could tell that whatever had happened, it weighed on Ivan’s mind. It was heavy enough to put him on edge. “What were you two up to, anyways? There’s no way that it took as long as it did for you two to wander to her place just so she could pack a couple of things,” Brackston declared, eyes focused on Ivan.

Ivan thought over Brackston’s question, running through his thoughts on everything that happened after they left the movie theater. “We went to see the bookstore,” Ivan replied honestly, the thought leaving a sour taste in his mouth. It hadn’t even been that long since it happened, but it felt as if ages had gone by since then as the result of so much going down.

“Oh,” Brackston said simply, his voice quiet. “I bet that was one hell of a sight.”

Ivan nodded in agreement, focusing back on telling the story about the evening. “She was a bit torn up about seeing it in that condition, to the point that she opened up about her past and what led her to take Keystone over.” Ivan’s gaze grew distant, his expression softening before he continued on. “After that she told me she wanted to get some things from her house, so she took me to this grand 18th century house. She seemed proud in showing off her house but the reality of her situation seemed to set in, and she expressed concerns about what life in the lab would look like.”

Brackston nodded slowly, keeping silent as he kept in pace alongside Ivan. Brackston understood what that felt like. He remembered the uncertainty of piloting the time machine and their first mission, how it changed everything about his entire life. He was thrown into it gradually and it was still difficult, he couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for Elinor. To lose nearly everything only to give up what little bit she had left for a life in a dark, dingy lab? The thought made Brackston cringe.

Ivan took Brackston’s silence as an encouragement to continue, not realizing that Brackston was battling with his thoughts. “I told her that life in the lab wouldn’t be so bad. I mean, she’d have you and me to hang out with, that there were opportunities to do things like play board games, read books, she even suggested that maybe I tell stories about our first time travel adventure.”

Something shifted in Ivan’s expression, something Brackston couldn’t quite pinpoint. Ivan’s normal scowl or neutral gaze was replaced with a soft, vulnerable stare. Ivan seemed to be lost in whatever moment he was replaying over in his head. Brackston could have sworn that he almost thought he had seen a small, sad smile tug at the corners of Ivan’s lips but Brackston figured his mind was playing tricks on him. “Well? What the hell is that look about?” Brackston questioned, his eyebrows rising questionably. “Don’t try to dodge my question, either. I saw that look on your face.”

Ivan licked his lips nervously, keeping his sight on the path ahead of them. “What is there to tell?” Ivan countered, shrugging his shoulders. “I told her that I thought of something else we could do. She glanced at me, and I just…” Ivan’s voice trailed off as he swallowed hard, before he glanced down at his feet. “I kissed her.”

Brackston nearly threw his fists triumphantly into the air but decided that now wasn’t the best time for that. Instead, he glanced over at Ivan with a wide grin on his face and a playful light in his eyes. “It’s about damn time!” Brackston exclaimed, shaking his head. “I’ve been rooting for you two since the moment I saw you look at her.” Brackston narrowed his eyes at Ivan, his smile fading. “However, Elinor has become like a younger sister to me. I swear, if you hurt her…”

“You’ll kill me?” Ivan finished, glancing at Brackston questionably.

“Something along those lines,” Brackston chuckled, grateful to see that his joke at least brought a small smile to Ivan’s once dark glare. “What? I can try!”

The moment was short lived, however. Ivan’s smile melted into a frown as the reality of their situation settled back into his mind. “What if she’s already dead?” he asked finally, his voice heavy. “Whittaker, Autumn, knew that I had feelings for her. What if they killed her just to get to me? To us?”

Brackston frowned deeply at Ivan’s statement, a sinking feeling washing over him at the mere thought. He couldn’t stomach the thought of anything happening to Elinor, especially not the thought of something as cruel and permanent as death. The thought made Brackston’s heart pound. “Elinor’s strong,” Brackston began, glancing over at Ivan. “I also know that she’s pretty clever. If anyone could figure out a way to keep alive, it’s Elinor Elsner.”

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