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Breaking Down Barriers, Chapter Six

Be prepared for a shift in... mood.

Chapter Six - Murky Waters Ahead

Gill inclined his head into the touch, squinting to see past the rancher's shoulder. "You mean we're going to... climb that thing? How in the world are we going to--"

Ivan clicked his tongue and reached into his back pocket. He retrieved a green token that resembled a four-leaf clover. It shone dully in the light pouring in through the cover of the large tree above.

"Just trust me, okay?" the brunet said, slipping an arm around Gill's waist. He had the mind to think of struggling, but Ivan had always been a little bit intrusive and it's not like it wasn't nice or anything. Blue eyes glanced at the confident rancher
and he felt a little bit comforted that he looked so... sure.

A tongue flickered out to wet dry lips and Gill nodded, leaning some of his weight onto Ivan to signal that he trusted his body with him. Ivan's lips stretched into a smile as he flipped the coin in the air, probably just for show, and started up the rainbow. It was surprisingly sturdy under their feet, and the blond was tempted to stomp his feet just to make sure it wouldn't give way like he thought it would.

As they progressed from the base, the arch of the rainbow seemed to fan out, providing more space to walk around. Gill supposed it was so they wouldn't fall down from such a high peak, but he couldn't even see past the clouds that littered the air below them. The fluffy white blobs floated around them, obscuring his vision of the area past the rainbow. He wondered how Ivan could put up with crossing this thing often.

And before Gill could look down again, they were nearing solid ground. He stumbled when he stepped foot on lower ground, his footing unbalanced. Strong hands caught him by the waist, righting his stature. The blond blinked at Ivan, watching him walk past as if it hadn't happened.

Fixing his collar, Gill straightened his back and took a look at his surroundings. Quiet waves lapped the edges of a small island, trees littering the grassy land. A squirrel whizzed past, squeaking as if it were surprised to see him. Bushes and other low vegetation rose to his knees as he walked past, absorbing the serene scene silently.

"I've... never seen this a place like this before," Gill murmured, his voice low as he joined Ivan at the base of another rainbow. The space near the spectrum of colors was relatively empty compared to the other side, spared the shade and cover of trees. From his position, the view of the ocean was vast and never-ending, spanning out into the horizon in a mass of blue.

"Yeah, I figured that you've spent your whole life on the island," Ivan replied, his head turned towards the swaying waters. "Alan's tree is a more open spot, less cluttered, but it's more private here. No one can access this place except for me."

Gill turned his eyes back to the rancher and saw him flip that green coin again, a small smirk playing at his lips.

Private, huh?
Gill thought, taking a seat by Ivan. The brunet moved so that he could swing his legs off the edge of the island, his boots moving close to the sparkling surface of the water. It took him some effort to slide across the grass to mimic Ivan's position. I wonder what he has planned.

He felt almost sorry for Elli, being stuck alone in the Town Hall. It would definitely be unfortunate if they were gone all day, but for once, he wasn't entirely opposed to using his time for something other than work.

Bottles clicked and the sound of papers rustling beside him caught Gill's attention. Ivan had placed a bag between them and was currently removing its contents. A tall bottle of tomato juice was pulled out and Gill could already feel his mouth watering, the sight of the red drink stirring his stomach. Next was a packed container of ratatouille, followed by a paper bag that encased the food inside it.

"Here," Ivan said, offering the ratatouille to Gill, "This is yours." He licked his lips as he unwrapped the paper covering another dish. "And this is mine."

Chancing a peek, Gill could see more objects inside the bag and figured that it was dessert.

Beside him, Ivan bit into a sandwich, wolfing down a large portion of it easily. Gill shrugged and ate his food as well, a comfortable silence falling on the pair.

Once the food was packed away and the dessert - chocolate pudding and chestnut pie; Gill had never guessed that Ivan was a good cook - was gone, Ivan stood up and stretched long limbs, twisting his arms behind his head. Gill decided to join him, giving him a curious look when he began to strip off his clothes.

"I-Ivan?" the blond stammered, immediately averting his eyes to the floor, "What in the world are you doing?"

A chuckle rang in his ears as the rancher smirked. "Going for a swim. Don't worry. You don't get to see all of me yet."
His face started to heat up in an embarrassed flush as Ivan tugged off his boots and set them beside his shirt, which he had folded up neatly. It was becoming harder and harder to keep his eyes away from the toned rancher, especially when he heard a zipper being undone.

You can keep it together, Gill!
he thought, balling his hands into fists at his side, Just a little longer!

"Geez," Ivan drawled, folding his hands behind his head, "There's no need to act like a little girl, I'm sure it's nothing you haven't seen before. I mean, all the important stuff's hidden."

The blush staining his cheeks darkened and Gill allowed himself to look at Ivan. Brown eyes stared off at the ocean, his head turned, giving a good look to a thick neck. Gill's gaze dropped from his clavicle to his chest, the toned muscles moving as the brunet dropped his arms. Next was his stomach, chiseled finely but not bulging, a fine line of hair trailing under his--

"Okay," Gill hissed, lifting a hand to rub at the back of his neck. "I'm getting a little carried away, aren't I."

"Yeah." Ivan's tone was sarcastic, but a faint flush betrayed his detached demeanor. He glanced at the blond and asked, "You gonna join me or what?"

A feeling of inadequacy rose in his chest and Gill worried his bottom lip between his teeth. Drawing his shoulders to his ears, the blond was tempted to say no. In a flash, Ivan was only a few scant inches away from his face, his hands hanging limply by his sides.

"Come on," the rancher urged, seemingly unaware of his self-consciousness, "It'll be fun. You and I both know that you need a little loosening up." A slow smirk crossed his face and he added lowly, "And as much as I love those clothes on
you, don't you think it'd be nicer with them off, too?"

Gill could feel his eyes widen to a state that it was uncomfortable, his gaze becoming unfocused as he looked over Ivan's shoulder. They shrugged as the rancher gave him a light pat on the head before disappearing under the water with a splash.

Hurriedly, the blond unbuttoned his shirt, letting it fall to the floor in a black pool around his feet. The vest came with it, joining the black fabric in a swirl resembling a cookie. He shimmied out of his pants quickly, and as he was untying his shoes, he received a wolf whistle from the man in the water.

"Shut up!" Gill exclaimed, slipping out of his shoes. Thoroughly embarrassed, he took a few tentative steps towards the water. He knew how to swim; Ozzie had taught him how. But he wasn't sure if the water was cold or dirty or--

"Hey!" Ivan grabbed his ankle and pulled him in swiftly, managing to avoid hitting his head on the shore of the island.
Up to his shoulders in water, Gill realized that the waters were shallow, so he waded over to where the brunet had resurfaced.

The rancher did a few backstrokes, his body moving gracefully in the water. Blinking blue eyes, Gill admired him a few feet away, looking through his lashes. They moved away from the island to deeper waters, allowing them more freedom to swim around.

With a content sigh, Gill moved to float on his back. Water lapped at his chest, his ears, almost splashing over his eyes with a sudden wave. He couldn't see him, but the blond could sense Ivan hovering near his shoulder and prepared for some sort of attack. Brown hair disappeared under the surface and he held his breath, but refused to show any other outer signs of wariness.

He couldn't say he wasn't surprised when he felt a pair of slick, strong arms wrap around his waist, pulling him deeper into the water. It lapped against his chest, sending chills down his spine after having been dry for a moment. Surprise grew to something akin to embarrassment and hopelessness as Ivan drew him against his chest, placing his chin on his shoulder.

Gill opened his mouth to protest, but the rancher shushed him with a soft hiss of breath just by his ear. Another shiver made its way through his body, passing by the blood that was heading to his face in a heated blush.

"Just enjoy this, will you?" The blond could just hear the smile in his tone. "Unless, of course, you want me to stop."
His hands flew to the forearms gripping his middle, his fingers holding them in a vice grip. He wanted to say something, he wanted to tell him that he was not enjoying this, let go... He didn't want to admit to liking what the brunet was doing to him, that was surrendering--

"Come on, Gill, just relax." Ivan's husky tone of voice made him shudder. "You should take that stick out of your ass for once. And I'm not making a suggestive joke here."

Calming his hands, Gill sighed in resignation. Wet, blond hair mingled with brown locks as his head rolled back onto the rancher's shoulder. "I do not have a stick up my ass."

"Yes, you do," Ivan retorted, slipping an arm away from Gill's relaxed grip, "You want me to pull it out and show you?"

Just as quickly as he had reeled it away, the blond snatched Ivan's arm and replaced it around his stomach. An indignant blush colored his face as he spat in reply, "That will not be necessary."

The rancher nuzzled his nose against Gill's neck, producing a wave of goosebumps in his wake. "Hmm... You're so pale. Don't you ever see the light of day any more?"

"Excuse me if my work does not involve me spending time outdoors," Gill replied, leaning his head away from Ivan to allow him better access to his skin. The brunet took the invitation heartily and kissed his pulse, eliciting an immense shiver to roll down his spine.

"God, you're sensitive," Ivan mused quietly. Something wet and warm slid across his skin and Gill shuddered again. He figured that it was his tongue and nodded, words abandoning him. The responsive hum vibrated against his back as Ivan continued to move his mouth across his neck, stopping right under his ear to suck gently. Gill could feel his eyes start to flutter until he realized what the rancher was doing. Pushing away, fear lit up blue eyes as he stared at Ivan, holding a hand to the spot on his neck that he was certain had a red color to it.

"Y-You!" Gill had to congratulate himself on such an articulate exclamation. "This--! It's going to show!" And he was definitely sure he didn't have a shirt with a collar high enough to hide the spot. If he did, he would have to find it and get rid of it immediately.

The rancher grinned wolfishly, swimming away in a fit of splashes as he called back, "Just marking my territory!"
Gill growled indignantly. Territory?! They weren't dogs for Goddess' sake! He swam after Ivan, pushing to catch up to the man who'd managed to escape somewhere far away. Without goggles, he couldn't see him, so it took a good amount of effort to find him yards away from the edge of the island.

Panting, the blond stared at Ivan, his anger cooling down. He treaded silently, seething at the apologetic expression the rancher held as he, too, treaded a few feet away.

Why would he bother to "mark his territory"? It wasn't like... It wasn't like there was someone else trying to win his affection. There was no one but Ivan, so why would he... A blush climbed its way up his neck as he replayed that last thought in his mind. No one but Ivan, there was no one but Ivan for him.

"I didn't think you'd be so upset, Gill," the brunet said lowly, his eyes trained on the slowly rippling water in from of him, "I... If it makes you feel any better, I'm... sorry." A bitter smile graced Gill's features as he witnessed one of Ivan's sorry attempts at an apology. He looked like he longed to rub the back of his neck, but both of his hands were occupied to keep him afloat. The rancher smiled nonetheless, a bit of smugness lacing his tone as he added, "But I have to say that the hickey suits you, pretty boy. Gives you an air of mystery, like, "I've been intimate with someone last night, and I'm not trying to hide it" kind of thing."

Gill's eyebrows drew together and he frowned, wondering why he would even say that. But a more prominent question was floating around his mind and it was just dying to make itself known. Humoring his troubled thoughts, the blond asked quietly, "Why would you want to mark your territory?"

Ivan smiled in response, though it was unusually soft, as if he liked the way his question sounded. "To be honest, I was joking around when I put it like that," he replied, moving closer, "But since you sound like you're so desperate to have an answer, I'll tell you why I would bother. Firstly, I'm sure that you enjoyed it."

The blond's frown deepened, yet he stayed silent as he had no objections to his statement.

Smile widening, Ivan continued, "And on my part... Don't you think that it... It shows what's mine, you know...?" As he
spoke, the rancher's tone of voice grew quiet, wistful, almost, as if he was having difficulty getting the words out of his mouth. Gill stared at him scrutinizing, deciding that it wasn't that he didn't want to say the words, he was just... hesitant. Like he wasn't sure if he was in the right place to say what he was saying. It was so unlike him to be soft-spoken that Gill felt the desire to rid him of that expression, to stop his uncertainty and soothe him.

But just because he wanted some form of familiarity restored. Right?

"Ivan," the blond said curtly, holding out one hand. The rancher tilted his head in confusion at him, giving the outstretched appendage a quizzical look. With an impatient sigh, Gill grabbed one of Ivan's waving arms and swam towards the island, where the water was shallower. He had to physically drag him there, and when they arrived, he begrudgingly wrapped his arms around his shoulders, enveloping him in a wet hug.

Much to Gill's surprise, Ivan's shoulders tensed under his touch. Slowly, he felt the rancher's hands rise to his chest, pushing him away gently. Brown eyes were downcast, and he caught a glimpse of Ivan's tight-lipped expression before he turned away.

"...Don't trust... self..." the brunet mumbled, most of his sentence lost with the wind. A feeling of hurt settled in his chest, mixing with bemusement to create a fine blend of frustration. What was wrong with him? The one time Gill initiates physical contact and he shies away from him.

"What do you mean?" In a low murmur, the blond's words sounded unintentionally harsh, but he couldn't find it in himself to correct it.

Hair that usually shook with his head stuck flat with moisture against his ears as Ivan shook his head quietly. "It's nothing. Don't worry about it."

The frustration was growing into full blown anger when Ivan decided to skirt around the question, deflecting a perfectly valid inquiry nonchalantly. "Nothing? You..." Gill balled his hands against his sides and fought the immense urge to slam them against the surface of the water. "Why did you... Is it because I... touched you? Is it different when I touch you than when you touch me?"

Ivan nodded his head, refusing to turn around.

"How?!" This whole relationship thing was getting complicated. But it isn't my fault! He's being so... insufferable! "Am I not allowed to touch you? I thought that's what you wanted!"

Despite Gill's doubts of the possibilty, Ivan's shoulders were drawn closer to his ears. The water around him wavered and Gill had to squint just to make sure he was seeing correctly. Ivan, all powerful Harvest Goddess saver and king of indifference, was... shaking?

"It is... I..." A slow, hissing exhale of breath passed throgh the brunet's lips, the sound echoing in Gill's ears amongst his angry heartbeat hammering like there was no tomorrow. "Do you... really... want to know?"

This is unbelievable!
"Of course I do! Why else would I ask?!"

"It's different when you... When you shows signs of... Reciprocating," Ivan muttered, his voice trembling just as much as his body was. Which, although it wasn't as much as the blond exaggerated, was a lot. "It's safer when I... Safer to know that there's no way I can... Get..." The next word was barely audible, sounding as though it took every ounce of strength in his body to choke it out. "Hurt." He took a deep breath and continued, the clenched fists that he had dropped to his sides showing his determination, "When you allow room for a relationship, you allow room for pain. It just... Didn't hit me until now."

"P-Pain?" Gill stared at Ivan's back, at the tight, rigid muscles that twitched with his arms. He had never witnessed the man being so... vulnerable. So open. Was that the incredible strain that was making him so tense? It made sense, and the thought tugged at his heart. "What in the world are you talking about?"

A quivering laugh streamed from the rancher, the humorless chokes empty as they drifted into the air. "I brought you out here to tell you about it... But I never imagined it would... Be so... Hard. I guess I underestimated myself." Finally, Ivan turned around, his brow furrowed and a painful smile pulling at the corners of his lips. "What I mean... to say is... I wanted to tell you about my e-ex, Duncan."