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Breaking Down Barriers, Chapter Four

Man, I sure do love to twist characters. At least HM characters aren't that deep, anyway.

Chapter Four - Early Morning Mist

Plink!
The sound of a bobber hitting the serenely green surface of the lake water filled his mind, the red and white item floating motionless on the murky water. Brown eyes stared sleepily at the end of the fishing line, watching for shadows of oncoming fish as they swam around the water unaware of the world above them.

Using his left hand, Ivan reached up to rub at his eyes, a yawn escaping his lips. He woke up early to catch some fish, something he liked to do if he wanted to think.

Though my mind isn't fully functional at this time of day, it's fine with me, I suppose. Gives me alone time
, he thought to himself, pursing his lips.

Beside him a bonfire crackled every now and then, the flames close enough to give him warmth in the early morning, but not close enough to cause any harm. The brunet was startled when an eggplant fell in, the purple vegetable disappearing behind the dancing red embers. He raised his eyes to see purple ones, wide awake and smiling.

When he realized who it was, Ivan released a small breath of relief. "Jesus, Chase, you scared the crap out of me."

The blond chuckled at his reaction, taking a seat beside the rancher. "Yeah, well, it's not the most assuring thing to see fire outside your window at four-thirty in the morning, is it?"

"What the hell are you doing awake at four-thirty in the morning, anyway?" Ivan asked, turning his head to face him. The smell of the eggplant was starting to become more prominent, the wafting smell filling his nose.

Chase produced a small stick and stabbed it through the vegetable sitting in the fire, removing it from the hot flames. "I could ask you the same thing," he replied, bringing the eggplant to his mouth and blowing on it. Steam filled his peripheral vision as the rancher turned around to reel in a fish.

Swinging the line back, Ivan held up his catch and examined it. It was an eel. He smiled at the fish as he imagined the profit it would bring in as he dropped it into his rucksack.

"I've done this before, Chase," he stated, throwing the bobber back into the lake. "You're just never awake when I do. I know you need your sleep 'cause of those late night shifts at the bar."

The chef mumbled something incoherent in response, looking at the floor with a small blush on his face. To make himself seemed occupied, he took a bite out of the grilled eggplant attached to the metal stick he was holding, lifting his gaze to stare at the bobbing end of Ivan's fishing line.

"If you catch any Char, could you give me some?" the blond asked after swallowing. He turned his oddly colored eyes to the rancher standing beside him, who nodded absently at him. "Uh, I mean, if you don't mind." Ivan nodded again, biting his lip as the line moved a little.

Ivan saw him take another bite of the eggplant and proceed to chew slowly. He was envious of how clear and awake his eyes looked, knowing that he himself probably looked tired as hell.

That's only because you were out feeding that bear again,
he thought to himself, tugging on the line again. Aaaaaand then you spent another three hours trying to figure out what to cook with your leftover crops and thinking about pretty boy again.

"...I mean, she's being a pain in the ass about it," Chase spat in annoyance, apparently finishing up a story he had been telling. "Have you ever tried her cooking? It's like eating sand mixed with hot pepper seeds."

The rancher shook his head no when he realized that the chef had been talking about his coworker, Maya, an orange-haired girl that he greeted every time he passed the Inn. She was a bubbly person, and that was probably why Chase had so much to complain about. Smiling to himself, he felt the rod in his fingers jerk away from him, signalling a fish on the other end.

"But I'm just glad that she's found someone new to pester," Chase added, his voice a little bit wistful. "That tailor-shop girl, Candace. I think she has a fascination with shy people."

Grunting with exertion, Ivan managed to nod again as he reeled in his line. It snapped back to him faster than he thought
it would and he found himself taking a step back. He glanced down to inspect the fish and saw that it was a Char. He threw it softly at Chase, a smirk lighting up his face when the blond fell back in surprise.

When the chef gathered his wits again, he shot a heavy glare at his friend and said, "Thanks for that. I've always wondered what it was like to have slimy fish scales thrown at my face."

"Hey, you're the one who asked for it," Ivan replied, settling down on the yellowing grass that crunched under his feet. Beside him he could see Chase staring at the fish, tilting it back and forth as its flopping slowed a little. A grin broke out across his face as he lifted his metal stick and stabbed the char mercilessly.

"God, you are such a sadist sometimes," the brunet said, amused by Chase's brutal attack. The blond in question was currently wiping the stick on the grass beside him. "It's no wonder you don't have any friends."

"Hey, I resent that. I may not have any friends, but I do help disabled people all the time. Like right now, for example-- Ow! Sonofabitch, that hurt!"

Ivan grinned at him, leaning back on his hands as he relaxed a little. Stretching his legs out onto the grass, he tilted his head back and closed his eyes, enjoying the feeling of the newly risen sun shining on his face. Sounds of rustling grass told him that Chase was mimicking him, laying back onto the floor below.

When he opened his eyes again, the rancher saw Chase staring skywards, his face blank but eyes deep in thought. He must have felt Ivan's gaze settled on him, those purple eyes sliding over to look at him instead.

"You never told me why you came here so early," the chef said, moving his arms to fold his hands on his stomach. "Is this your private time, or something?"

Ivan smiled and dipped his chin in a small nod. "Yeah, I guess you could call it that." He looked to the small plants resting on the lake's surface as his smile faded. "I'm here because... I wanted some time to think, you know? ...Things are happening."

Chase closed his eyes again and sighed, shaking his head against the grass. "Don't beat around the bush, Ivan. Just go ahead and tell me, I know you're dying to tell someone what's on your mind."

"Jesus, you've known me for only three weeks and yet you know me so well," the brunet mused, pulling his legs up to his chest. He rested his head on his knees, refusing to look at Chase's curious eyes. "You know Gill, right...?"

"Yeah," the blond drawled, pursing his lips in thought. After a brief moment of him humming in contemplation, his eyes widened and he whipped his head around to look Ivan straight-on. "Wait a second. You don't mean...?"

Ivan nodded slowly before closing his eyes and shaking his head. "I don't know how you guessed it so quickly, but yeah, I do mean... that." He opened his eyes and leaned over, playing with a strand of grass next to his boots. "Is it obvious that I'm... you know...?"

The blond shrugged, blades of grass wrinkling under his wake. "Well, not really. I just kind of assumed that because I don't think you have any other reason to take time to think about something that wasn't as important as something like that. If you hadn't mentioned the guy's name, I would have thought that it had something to do with the farm or the Harvest Goddess." Chase paused for a moment, drawing in a breath, before adding, "Besides, it's not like you're close to any girl or something. I know Elli works at the Town Hall as well, but even I know she has a boyfriend, too. Some doctor guy. Makes wonder why she works here when she has a doctor as a boyfriend on the mainland."

"She's staying with a relative, so she might actually be repaying her, or something. And that doctor works in a small town, I don't think he charges a lot," the rancher replied, closing his eyes against the glare of the sun reflecting off the water beside them. He frowned at the spinning spots and flashes behind his eyelids as he sighed. "Thing is with him, I don't know what to do. Let's say that I've had... bad experiences with these kinds of things, you know?"

The chef pulled his lips into a lopsided frown and took a moment to examine his friend. His brow was furrowed and his mouth was pressed into a firm frown, forehead pressed into his knees.

"Hey, if you need to talk about this or something... you can, you know, go ahead..." the blonde murmured consolingly, reaching out to place a tentative hand on the rancher's shoulders. Ivan was tense under his fingers, and his heart clenched at the image.

Ivan sighed, lifting his chin to sit on top of his knees as he stared at the murky waters of the lake. His head bobbed as he spoke. "My favorite thing in the world is to nurture things into the most grand outcome they could ever reach. That's why I became a rancher, you know. And Gill... He was just fucking bursting to do something. He was like a kid dying for attention, so I had to answer him... and he just... I dunno. He grew on me." He shrugged, closing his eyes again. "I just don't know if it's... safe. He's still a bit naive, and I don't want to break the poor thing."

Chase pursed his lips. He wasn't too big on the social game, so he didn't have much to offer. Ivan knew this and appreciated his attempt to soothe him.

"Well, just do what you think is right," Chase suggested, knowing that the words were lame as soon as they left his mouth. It left a sour taste on his tongue, his face twisting into a grimace, "Just... I dunno. I think you know whether or not you'd be doing the wrong thing, just because you read people so well."

The rancher offered Chase a wry smile, tipping his chin at him. "Thanks for that, Chase. You know, you're not as bad at giving advice as you think you are."

The blond shrugged, rolling his eyes. "Oh, sure, that's what you say. It's more of your kind of thing, though, so I kinda picked up a few things..."

They exchanged grins. Ivan exhaled loudly and flopped back onto the grass below him, relaxing his back muscles after
being curled up for so long. He lifted dark eyes towards his best friend and said, "Wish me luck...?"

Scoffing, Chase joined him on the floor and replied in a mocking tone, "I don't think you need it...?"

Ivan laughed and punched the chef on the arm affectionately. He felt that maybe he could confront Gill about the whole thing, his shoulders lighter as he smiled at Chase.