The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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All Over Again

Present Day
Quedlinburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany


“Elinor wasn’t joking about this place always being a dump,” Ivan thought to himself, his face twisting at the smell that hit him. Ivan and Lula were making their way through the old kitchen, the disgusting scent of rotting food hitting their noses made Ivan’s stomach churn and Lula’s eyes water. Even though the scent was overbearing, Ivan almost questioned if it was actually the stench making his stomach sick or if it was the feeling of dread that had been weighing on him ever since he left Elinor alone in the room with Carter.

He couldn’t quite shake the feeling that something was bothering her and he wondered if that something was him. Maybe he read her intentions from the previous day wrong, wondering if he allowed himself to get too caught up. He would have pondered over these thoughts longer had it not been for the sound of Lula clearing her throat, bringing his gaze to the woman.

She was staring at him with those soft brown eyes that could penetrate his soul, the look that crossed over her face was the same knowing expression that she always wore before she’d lecture him or give him words of encouragement. Outside of Elinor, Lula was the only other person that could see through him.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Lula questioned him softly, her head tilting slightly as one of her dark locks fell into her face.

Ivan frowned at the sight of Lula’s hair falling in front of her face, reminding him of the many times he had brushed Elinor’s hair behind her ear. He imagined that Lula already knew what was bothering him.

“Does Elinor seem off to you?” he asked her, his voice sounding tired as he released a sigh.

Lula shrugged, her arms crossing over her stomach softly as she thought back to the moment before they left the room. After a few seconds of silence, she nodded her head slowly.

“I think she’s finally grieving,” Lula admitted, lifting her hand to tuck her hair behind her ear. “I mean, you said that she lost her father, her mother… she’s lost her whole family, her community. I think being here is a reminder of all that she’s lost.”

Ivan looked relieved for a second before his eyes grew dark just as quickly. He hated that she had to even be here, to face all of this. Mostly, he hated that she didn’t want him near her while she was struggling with this.

“That damn machine ruined her whole life,” Ivan growled, clenching his fists tightly as he clenched his jaw.

Lula pursed her lips, her eyes wandering over Ivan’s tense frame and angered expression. She couldn’t help but feel that he felt the same as Elinor did. A thought quickly crossed her mind, bringing her eyes back up to Ivan’s.

“I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the machine ruined her entire life. Sure, it has made her life more interesting. But without Wells sending her forward, she would have never met you,” Lula reminded him, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “I think you provide a sense of normalcy for her, something that is constant and never changing. You make her happy.” Lula tilted her head to look firmly into Ivan’s eyes. “I think she makes you happy, too.”

Ivan smiled weakly, opening his mouth to respond to Lula but the sound of the building slightly trembling around them quickly captured their attention as a haunting sound echoed through the old building.

Lula glanced at Ivan with concern, her eyebrows raised slightly as her mouth hung open in surprise. She almost questioned Ivan when she realized that he was staring beyond her with a horrified look on his face, his eyes wide.

“Whittaker,” he mumbled quietly, glancing at Lula cautiously. “I think they’re here for the time machine.”

Lula tried to form a response, her mouth gaping at Ivan as she tried to gather her thoughts. An unsettling feeling washed over her at the thought they had left Carter and Elinor with the time machine.

Ivan placed a reassuring hand on Lula’s shoulder as he pulled a gun from the inside of his jacket, his dark eyes locking with Lula’s timid stare.

“It’s going to be fine, just stay behind me,” he explained softly, grateful to see her nod in response. Ivan quickly brushed by Lula, making his way towards the room they had last seen Elinor and Carter.

The closer they got to the room, the stronger the unnerving scent of smoke had gotten. It hung in the air like the dread that hung heavily in his chest, leaving him to wonder if he would ever see Elinor again. The last time he remembered feeling this level of anxiety was when they returned from 1924, his fear eating at him until he arrived home, making sure that she was safe in his arms. He knew that feeling was going to continue eating at him again and it wouldn’t stop until he was sure that Elinor was alright.

Brackston and Layla arrived at the door about the same time as Ivan. They didn’t even have to say anything to one another to know that something bad had gone down. The looks they traded with one another pretty much confirmed that.

Waiting for Ivan’s quiet signal, the four travelers quickly exploded into the smoke-filled room, Brackston, Ivan, and Layla all ready with their guns pointed directly at the machine as Lula lingered in the hallway, her eyes squeezed shut as she braced herself for the sound of gunfire.

Layla’s eyebrows knitted together at the sight of a relatively empty room, her gaze flicking over to Brackston’s face with concern as he stared around the smoke filled room with a confused expression on his face. The two glanced at each other questionably, opening their mouths to make a comment when the sight of Ivan stepping forward with his gun trained on someone quickly caught their attention.

“Turn the hell around,” Ivan growled, his voice seething with anger as he tried to make out who was standing in the shrouded smoke that filled the room. Ivan had the unnerving feeling that whoever they were, they were the reason that he couldn’t feel Elinor’s warm presence in the room.

Whoever it was, they were standing directly next to the machine, their posture tense as they raised their hands slowly. Ivan was about to raise his voice to command them to turn around again but the person was already turning to face them slowly.

Confusion settled over the room as Carter’s crestfallen expression met their gazes, his lips slightly parted as he breathed heavily. Carter barely raised his eyes to address the three members of his team standing before him before he glanced back down at the floor, his mouth clamping shut as he swallowed hard.

“Carter?” Brackston mumbled, his eyes narrowing as he stared at the soldier with a curious glance. “What the hell happened?”

Lula carefully poked her head into the room as soon as she heard Brackston mutter Carter’s name. Relief washed over her at the sight of him in one piece, her heart leaping before his dark gaze quickly brought back that feeling of distress, causing her eyes to flick around the room cautiously as she looked for one other figure.

“Guys,” Lula’s voice quivered, bringing their attention to her as she cautiously made her way into the room. “Where’s Elinor?”

Ivan’s expression twisted from a look of confusion to a look of pure horror, his eyes quickly wandering the room for any sight of her. His eyes lingered over the room for any signs of the woman when his gaze fell upon the time machine, where he noticed that the door was latched firmly shut. He could have sworn that that door was open before they left the room…

A realization crossed Ivan’s mind as he quickly lowered his gun, his eyes filled with a burning intensity as he crossed the room. His hands yanked the door with an incredible force, his eyes burning as he started coughing due to the smoke that poured out of the chamber. His heart sank at the sight of the small, empty room.

Ivan turned his gaze from the empty machine, his eyes falling on the visibly tense, pale, and awfully quiet Carter. His hands shaking slightly, he gritted his teeth as he tried to swallow the anger that was clawing up inside of him.

“What the hell did you do?” Ivan questioned, his tone dripping with hints of anger.

Carter stared at his feet silently, pressing his lips tightly together as he searched his mind for an easy answer. After letting Ivan stew in silence, Carter finally opened his mouth to answer. “I did what she wanted me to,” Carter admitted, his voice weak.

Brackston met Layla’s gaze with concern, the two trying to figure out what that meant exactly but they were quickly distracted by the sight of Ivan lunging at Carter.

Ivan roughly grabbed Carter by the shirt, his fists tightly holding onto the material as he slammed Carter against the side of the chamber, the sound echoing through the eerily silent room. Ivan could see that Carter was nervously glancing between Ivan’s face and his fists, no doubt wondering if he was about to be pummeled.

“What the hell did you do?” Ivan repeated again, his tone menacingly soft as his grip tightened on the soldier’s shirt.

Carter glared back at Ivan, his fists clenching at his side as he gritted his teeth. Carter was surprised that he could feel the threat of tears lingering in his eyes.

“She asked me to help her escape,” Carter explained, shaking his head slowly. “She said she needed to leave and that she needed someone to work the controls out here. She gave me very brief instructions on what to do.”

Ivan was overwhelmed with the heavy feelings of confusion and rage as he reflected over Carter’s words, every moment he pondered over them brought him seconds away from placing a blow against Carter’s jaw. The soldier was constantly against him but Ivan never would have imagined that he’d go this far. It was one thing to be ridiculed, to constantly be put down but to have his life interfered with? Ivan slowly raised his fist, his hand shaking as he bit back the emotions he could feel rising to the surface. He knew he was somewhere between nearly breaking down and nearly punching Carter. He knew he would have done it to Carter too, if it wasn’t for the gentle feeling of someone’s hands grabbing hold of his arm.

His wide, angry eyes darted over to whoever had grabbed hold of his arm, a low growl rising from within as he glared threateningly at the person. He was slightly surprised to see Lula standing beside him, her usually soft eyes glaring at him darkly, her lower lip trembling. The sight of her visibly shaking as she stared firmly into his eyes almost brought back those frighteningly broken emotions to the surface.

“That’s enough,” she muttered through clenched teeth, her eyes staring intensely into Ivan’s. She could see that he was struggling with what decision to make, his eyes flicking between her face and Carter’s. Swallowing hard, Lula’s face softened as she glanced firmly into Ivan’s gaze. “Ivan,” she begged softly, her voice pleading as she gripped tightly onto his arm. “Please, let him talk.”

Ivan swallowed hard, his hands shaking under Lula’s soft but firm gaze. The last thing he wanted to do right now was to let Carter talk, when he already knew what had happened. Carter betrayed them all and the last thing any traitor should have been offered was the right to speak. Ivan growled, finally giving into Lula’s pleading stare, releasing his hold on Carter’s shirt as he backed away slightly.

Lula lightly let go of Ivan’s arm, her gaze lingering softly on Ivan’s for a moment to make sure that he was okay before she flicked over to Carter’s face, her jaw clenching as she glared at him seriously. “What happened here, Carter?”

Carter’s eyes grew glassy as he glanced at Lula, his mouth hanging open slowly as he tried to figure out how to answer her question. Having all of their eyes lingering on him as they waited for an answer made it so much more difficult to answer. Pressing his lips together, Carter shook his head slowly.

“I told you already... Elinor wanted this,” Carter admitted weakly, his voice shaking as he leaned the back of his head against the metal of the machine. “Elinor wanted… She said she needed to leave. That she needed my help to leave in the time machine.”

“You heard Tesla,” Lula snapped firmly, her hands shaking as she glared at Carter. “That machine is unstable, Carter! Elinor lost her memories, Tesla ended up stuck between realities because of this machine.”

Lula lowered her gaze from Carter’s, tears flooding her eyes as she tried to figure out a way to further respond. Her thoughts were quickly muddled with the range of emotions that were washing over her. She could hardly believe the words that flowed out of Carter’s mouth. She was almost thankful that she didn’t have to respond again as another voice interrupted the tense moment that was taking place around them.

“Are you even sure that she wanted this?” Brackston asked darkly, his voice surprisingly shaky as he glared at Carter.

Carter glanced over at Brackston, his eyes wandering over Brackston’s expression. He could see that Brackston was struggling to hold back his own anger as Layla’s hands soothingly held onto Brackston’s arm.

Brackston’s eyes locked with Carter’s as Brackston licked his lips nervously. “Are you sure that this wasn’t exactly what you wanted? I mean, you never wanted to go on the Circleville mission in the first place, you thought that everything about this was all just some giant joke,” Brackston snapped, his eyebrows furrowing together as a realization crossed his mind. “You’ve never exactly trusted her, Carter. You treated her the same way you’ve always treated Ivan, like she was some sort of problem that wouldn’t go away because she was a threat to you.”

The room fell into a heavy silence around them, leaving everyone to remain frozen in their places as the reality of Brackston’s words settled over them.

Carter glanced around the room quietly, taking in the expressions of everyone that stood around him. Lula was visibly upset, tears silently streaming down her face as she softly hugged herself to keep herself from shaking. Ivan stood a short distance away, his eyes filled with a bitter darkness that Carter had not seen before. He thought if he lingered his gaze on the man any longer, it would provoke him to attack again. Brackston and Layla stood a couple feet away, silently staring at Carter with blank expressions. Layla was leaning her head against Brackston’s shoulder, fighting back tears that were filling her eyes. He could quickly see that he was losing everyone.

“Hold on,” Carter spoke firmly, glancing at everyone around him as he raised his hands slowly. “Before you all decide to throw me off a damn cliff, let me show you something…” Carter’s voice trailed off as he reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone.

Everyone’s eyes lingered on him skeptically as he unlocked the device with a shaking hand before he carefully handed the device out to Lula, who took the phone gingerly in her hands.

She was surprised to see that it was a video of Elinor on his screen, her eyes looking directly into Lula’s soul. It was obvious from the expression on Elinor’s face that something was bothering Elinor. Lula could see that the video was taken just moments ago, for Elinor was wearing the clothes Agent Simone had given her before they left for their mission. She almost questioned if she should play the video when she felt someone step beside her. She was surprised to see Ivan’s shaking hand reached over her shoulder, where he softly tapped the screen so that the video would play.

Ivan scowled at the sight of Elinor in the video, his heart sinking as she stared into the screen with tear filled eyes and a weak smile on her face.

“Hello team,” Elinor began softly, a heaviness to her voice before she scoffed slightly. “You know, Brackston told me to call you that one time. I thought it was silly at first but as time went on, I realized that you guys are a team as well as a strangely dysfunctional family.” Elinor shook her head, glancing down at her hands. “If you’re watching this video, it either means that you all found out that I’m gone and you’re flipping your shit on Carter when I gave him no choice but to help me out or it means that you’re all trying to grasp at why I would do this. To make a long story short, this is why.”

Brackston and Layla had made their way over to watch the contents of the video, their expressions matching Lula’s surprised gaze as Elinor suddenly held up a key that hung on a chain around her neck. Their gazes all flicked up to Ivan’s face, where he continued to stare at the screen darkly.

“In case you’re all wondering… This is the key that Whittaker has been searching for all this time. Leave it to stupid Wells to hide it in one of the most ridiculous places, inside the arm of a stuffed bear named Teddy,” Elinor chuckled weakly, dropping the key as her face grew serious, her eyes locking with the phone screen. “We already know what lengths Whittaker is willing to go to get their hands on this thing. They’ve stolen nearly everything out from underneath me and I know they would have gone further. So, to keep you all safe, I made Carter do this and I gave him no choice. So if you want to take your anger or hurt out on someone, you can take it out on me.”

Ivan sucked in a breath, the sound catching Lula slightly off guard as she glanced up at Ivan carefully. “I’ve seen enough,” Ivan grumbled as he turned to look out the window of the room.

Lula paused the video for a second, her eyebrows knitting together as she watched Ivan lean his head against the window.

Ivan took in the quiet streets of Quedlinburg below him, struggling with the rise of emotions that were trying to claw their way out. He was trying to make sense of Elinor’s words, of her reasoning for such a drastic decision. His anger he felt towards Carter suddenly shifted into a deep anger for this entire unfair situation. He thought that they were okay, that this was his second chance of getting back everything he had lost once before.

It wasn’t with his wife or his daughter but with someone who was just as important. Whittaker had stolen everything from him once before and because of Whittaker, he lost everything again. The thought made his heart ache as he suddenly realized how foolish he was, believing that he deserved a second chance. He placed his head into his hands, closing his eyes to try and hide away from his feelings as the sound of a familiar voice called out his name.

His head perked up at the sound of Elinor’s soft voice, his eyes gazing around the room as he searched for Elinor. Disappointment washed over him as he realized that voice was only from the video on Carter’s phone, his face turning red at the sight of everyone watching him with mournful expressions.

Lula stepped towards him slowly, glancing up at him with her tear filled eyes as she carefully held out the phone for him. “I think she’d want you to see this.”

Reaching out slowly, Ivan took the phone into his shaking hands as he tapped the screen so that the video would continue to play. He hated how even though she wasn’t here, Elinor’s bright blue eyes with traces of green could still see through his aching soul.

“Hey Hurricane,” her voice filled the room again as she tried to give a soft smile to the phone screen. “You’re probably wondering… ‘What the hell was she thinking?’ If I’m going to be painfully honest, the main thing I was thinking about throughout the process of this entire decision was you,” she admitted softly, her hands nervously fiddling with the key around her neck. “You know, I can’t honestly remember the last time I felt safe enough to be alone with a guy, let alone safe enough to allow myself to fall in love with someone again,” she paused for a moment, tears softly filling her eyes as she tried to blink them back. “If I had to do this all over again, I wouldn’t ask for anything to be different. Loving you for the time that I had you and being blessed for the short period that I was able to know you was more than I could ever ask for. Which is part of the reason why I made this difficult decision. After losing my parents, my family, my home, our…”

Ivan watched with a heavy feeling of dread washing over him as Elinor bit back a sob, her eyes falling to her lap before she continued. “...our baby,” she cringed, softly glancing back up at the screen. “I really couldn’t stand the idea of losing you, too. So, if you’re watching this, Ivan Hayes, know that I’m truly sorry for the hurt and the pain that I have brought into your life but know that I love you deeply. My only hope is that you can find someone who is truly deserving of what you have to offer them.”

Ivan wasn’t aware that the video had stopped, his thoughts racing with everything she had poured out to him over the course of that video. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the thought that she firmly believed her vision was true enough to risk time travel or that she truly believed that he deserved better. As far as he knew, there would never be anyone else better. A soft hand lightly gripped his arm, drawing him out of his dark thoughts as he flicked his gaze over to the person.

Lula stared up at him with a tear filled gaze, her eyes wandering over his face. It pained her that she had to stare into the face of this man and watch as he faced the same level of pain and grief all over again.

The grief of losing the woman that he loves and their only child.

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