I don't own Bleach or its characters. Hello everyone! My goodness, I feel like it's been forever. Life has definitely been keeping me busy. This chapter is the culmination of 15 minutes here, a half an hour there, a man I really need to get this updated, and finally~ a college snow day! But I think it all came together rather nicely, and I hope you do enjoy. Hopefully I can update soon, and with news of our little one's sex! I find out (provided it chooses to cooperate) in a couple of weeks!

Chapter Six: The Hunt

Ichigo made sure he wasn't going to be awakened by the blue haired bastard in the morning by setting his alarm clock for quarter after four. Said alarm was now jarring him from a fuzzy dream that he couldn't remember much about, except that it contained a figure with disarming blue eyes and surprising blue locks. Ichigo reached over and ripped the alarm clock cord from the socket with one hand, the other hand clasped over his face in disbelief. That idiot was manifesting in his sleep; he just couldn't escape him.

He shoved himself out of bed, sighing as he remade the bed. It was a chore because he slept fitfully, tossing and turning, making a tangled mess of the sheets and comforter. He told himself it wasn't because the eyes in his dream were on him subtly all night at dinner, gleaming with humor and something else he wasn't ready to analyze just yet.

Ichigo had showered the night before, so he padded over to the closet to get dressed. He went down the stairs and joined everyone at the table, sitting next to Weiss who was piling both their plates with breakfast. Weiss grinned shyly when Ichigo thanked him, hyper aware of those icy blue eyes on them.

Ichigo was half way through his breakfast when Grimmjow finally spoke.

"So, berry boy, have you ever hunted before?"

Ichigo finished chewing and answered, "I've never held a gun in my life."

Yammy snorted into his coffee, Grimmjow arched a brow and Nnoitra snickered.

Ichigo scowled and reached for his orange juice.

"Why do you ask?"

Grimmjow leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms.

"There's a mountain lion killing off my horses, and I intend to find it and kill it, pronto. The more people there are on the hunt the better, especially when dealing with a big cat. I wanted you and Weiss to ride out with us, but I don't particularly like the thought of someone coming that can't shoot."

"I can handle myself," Ichigo retorted, his eyes narrowing.

"And I can have his back," Weiss volunteered.

Grimmjow crossed his arms, leaning back in his chair.

"I'm responsible if you get hurt or worse. I think you two should just stay behind."

"Awww, come on Grimm! I never get to do anything cool, you always leave me out!" snapped Weiss. "You know I can shoot, you and Pa taught me. Ichigo won't get in the way; he can stay right by me."

Grimmjow scowled, but seemed to mull it over while taking a sip from his coffee.

"Fine, when you finish morning chores, we'll all ride out, that is, if Ichigo can ride a horse."

"Actually, I can," Ichigo replied. "I spent a few summers in upstate New York on a therapy ranch for mentally handicapped kids, and learned there."

Grimmjow arched a brow and returned to eating. Ichigo saw a lazy grin spread across Stark's face, and wondered if he should be worried about it. Weiss was grinning and tucking in, eager to finish chores and actually be included in something the adults were doing. Ichigo wondered just what he had gotten himself into.

Weiss and Ichigo raced through the morning chores while the crew saddled and shoed their own horses. Weiss informed Ichigo that Grimmjow had saddled a horse for him in Pantera's stall. Ichigo almost laughed as he watched Weiss sprint off to saddle his own buckskin colored horse by the name of Mystro. His grin faded as he walked to Pantera's stall, uncertain he wanted to spend any amount of time alone in Grimmjow's presence.

He scowled when he saw the horse Grimmjow had chosen for him. He had nothing against the horse itself- it was a beautiful golden color with light cream colored mane; a beautiful palomino. However, it was about 16 hands high and Ichigo had never mounted a horse that tall before. Grimmjow's nefarious grin had Ichigo thinking he had done this on purpose.

"This is Titan, Ichigo. He's gone on hunts before when my Pa was alive," he gave as explanations for his choice.

"Honestly, I've never gotten on a horse this big," Ichigo commented, crossing his arms and seeing no way around it. He was almost certain he'd kick the poor horse mounting it near side the way he learned.

"I can give you a leg up," Grimmjow said smugly.

Ichigo glared at him for a moment and then sighed, dropping his arms. He walked over and gave Titan a few friendly pats, and the horse gave a content sigh. Ichigo placed his right hand on the saddle and took up the reigns in his left, looking to Grimmjow expectantly.

Grimmjow squatted down; forming a cup with his hands for Ichigo's left foot. Ichigo placed his foot there.

"On three," Grimmjow said, and Ichigo nodded his consent.

Grimmjow counted to three, surging upwards with Ichigo's full weight in his hands. Ichigo, though prepared for the count, was not prepared for Grimmjow's underestimation of his weight and therefore staggered and fell backwards, cursing loudly as Grimmjow's reaction time snapped in, catching Ichigo bridal style before he met the floor in the most unpleasant of ways.

Ichigo glared angrily up at Grimmjow, who was trying very hard not to laugh.

"I'm sorry," he chuckled, "I didn't realize just how solid you are, berry boy."

"I'm not a damn feather, you dumbass!"

"Yeah, I see that," Grimmjow said, jostling Ichigo in his arms to make his point.

The reality of being held in Grimmjow's arms set in, and embarrassment flooded Ichigo's face with a crimson flush.

"Put me down!" Ichigo snapped, using anger to cover up his embarrassment.

Grimmjow snorted at him and just let go; had Ichigo not have been quick about it and braced himself by holding fast to Grimmjow's biceps he'd have been on the ground right on his ass. He leaned into Grimmjow's body as he caught his bearings on solid ground, trying and failing not to notice the hardness of Grimmjow's muscular body. He stepped away quickly.

"You're a real asshole," Ichigo spat as Grimmjow smirked at him.

"Try again? I won't drop you this time, now that I know the food you eat really sticks with you somewhere," Grimmjow joked, enjoying how Ichigo was getting angrier by the second.

"Fine," Ichigo said, exasperated.

They tried again, and this time Ichigo braced more of his weight onto the saddle, so he wouldn't topple backwards. Once he was steady, he pushed off Grimmjow's hand and swung his right leg over Titan, settling gently in saddle. His feet found the stirrups, and he adjusted himself into position. He felt a large hand on his back, pushing.

"Sit up straighter," Grimmjow commanded him. Ichigo glared at him but did as he was told, knowing full well he'd pay for his slouching at the end of the day if he chose to be disobedient.

Grimmjow normally rode out at the head of the party, but he let Nnoitra and Ulquiorra go ahead, taking up next to Stark behind Ichigo and Weiss. Grimmjow kept an eye on Ichigo, secretly pleased on how well he handled Titan and his posture never slipped. Guess he wasn't lying when he said he'd ridden before, Grimmjow mused to himself.

Stark watched Grimmjow's face from the corner of his eye as his boss stared at the orange haired fellow in front of him, guiding Pantera on autopilot as he seemed to be preoccupied. Curious, because they were going on a hunt and the last thing his boss would ever do was be preoccupied. But since they weren't quite there yet, Stark tipped his hat to shield his eyes from the sun and let it be.

Grimmjow was indeed preoccupied. He couldn't stop thinking about the guy fate had blown into his life. Ichigo wasn't really like anyone he'd met before, so quick to get mad and tell Grimmjow just where to stuff it. Just about everyone in this town respected and feared him, like his father before him. Hell, only a few of his own crew were willing to risk their jobs by telling him to fuck off and really mean it.

And then there was the issue about how good Ichigo felt in his arms, against his body. He was hard with lean muscle, but his hair and skin was city boy soft, not dried out and worn down by hard work. There was something about the light in those honey brown eyes, something in the way he treated people, especially Weiss, which intrigued Grimmjow and made him want to know more. Grimmjow wanted to know what he tasted like, what he looked like completely naked, and furthermore, what kinds of sounds would he make when…

Shit, he thought to himself, shaking his head. I'm seriously losing my damn mind.

They rode out past the pastures, into the forest leading toward the mountains; following a light trail of blood left behind on the ground from the horse Stark and Grimmjow had to put down the night before. They decided to leave it as bait, and sure enough, the lion took it. But instead of just eating it then and there, it seemed to drag a large chunk of meat off with it.

They rode for what seemed like forever, having to stop often when the blood trail got sparse, but Stark said that indicated they were getting closer. Ichigo's back was starting to ache from years of not being on a horse, and he was a little apprehensive about meeting a mountain lion face to face. He had the awful feeling of being watched the farther they rode.

The snap of a branch in a thicket up near Ichigo's right drew his attention. The others looked in the general direction, but immediately disregarded it as a low snarl ripped through the quiet. Ichigo's eyes snapped forward to see a snarling mountain lioness stalking toward them, winding through the trees. Nnoitra and Ulquiorra moved cautiously around the way it was coming on either side to flank it from behind and drive it toward Grimmjow, Stark, and Weiss.

She snarled loudly, her fangs glinting in the sunlight as the men tried to line up a shot. The thicket of Ichigo's interest rustled, its grasses trembling and shaking. Something was back there, and Ichigo really was hoping it wasn't a large male cat. Morbid curiosity and utter lack of regard for self preservation had Ichigo moving Titan toward the thicket, despite that he was unarmed. He kept one eye on the lioness as he inched the horse slowly closer.

The lioness was distressed, yowling angrily as Nnoitra and Ulquiorra charged at her from behind, and she darted from her cover into the open. Ichigo peered into the thicket, gasping at what he saw there and quickly dismounted Titan- or rather gracefully fell from his side yet landed on his feet. Before he could scream, the sound of a gun and the fatal yowl of the cat rang through the trees. Cries of triumph followed.

Grimmjow couldn't have been more proud. Weiss had lined up his shot and fired a clean hit on that bitch lioness that was eating his horses. Rounds of congratulations were being exchanged as everyone dismounted and approached the carcass warily. Nnoitra poked it cautiously with his gun, and then his boot, the body lying still and lifeless. Grimmjow looked around for Ichigo, frowning when he spotted nothing but legs and boots poking out of a thicket.

What the hell? Did he get scared and try to hide in a bush? Figures city boy couldn't handle it, he thought with a smirk as he sauntered over, Stark a few steps behind.

What he found was Ichigo in the middle of the thicket, ever so gently stroking the tan and gray heads of two baby kittens; mountain lion kittens.

"Looks to be only a month old," Stark commented, peering over Grimmjow's shoulder.

Ichigo gathered them gently in his arms, causing them to mew and whine pathetically.

"Now what?" he demanded angrily, scowling daggers at Grimmjow. "You guys killed their mom, now they'll die!"

"Good!" snapped Grimmjow, crossing his arms. "Those things grow up to be horse murderers, Ichigo. They eat my horses, which is how I make a living, and provide jobs. The less there are out here, the better."

"You cannot mean to tell me," Ichigo said lowly, his voice trembling in anger, "that you'd leave these babies out here helpless to die because you came along and disrupted nature? How often do they come after your horses? Are you seeing that rapid of a decline in livestock? I've only been here maybe a week and so far you've lost one horse. One!"

"I cannot believe I'm having this conversation with you! Of course you wouldn't understand, how could you, you fricken' save the planet city boy! This is how it works out here in the mountainous country!" Grimmjow shouted.

"I'm not leaving them to die," Ichigo stated, setting his jaw and staring at Grimmjow as if he dared the man to demand otherwise of him. Grimmjow's nostrils flared in anger as stared back at Ichigo. Ichigo didn't waver, he didn't blink. He stared right back into those eyes, pleading on the inside with everything he had. Eventually, Grimmjow turned on his heel and stomped his way back toward the kill.

"Come on," Stark said quietly, reaching out and taking one of the mewling babies from Ichigo. "You and I will head back and see about what we can do for them."

"Thank you, whispered Ichigo, cradling the fluffy baby to his chest and following Stark from the weeds without one look back, although he felt the heat of angry, piercing blue eyes on his back.

End chapter. Dawwwwwwwwwww! Have you ever seen pictures of baby mountain lions? They are absolutely darling! I wonder what's to come, two baby mountain lions on a horse ranch...how does that work? Reviews and comments always appreciated! XD