Ever since writing Remembering the Innocence, I've not been able to get Urahara out of my mind.

Nila101, Scatter Hyourinmaru, Superfan209, Guest #2 (wish I know your name!), and lazyfoxlover, thank you for taking part in the ByaRen quiz fic! I don't know how many of you are Urahara fans (except Nila!), but I hope you'll find this story entertaining.

The door slammed shut and shuddered along with the door frame for a good five seconds before settling down. Yuzu and Karin were out getting ingredients for dinner, so Ichigo didn't have to worry about startling the girls.

He was bloody tired. Sick of answering the same question every day, sick of seeing the smiles that were laced with worry and pity. Did they really expect that if they asked "How are you?" more frequently, the answer would suddenly change one day? He knew his friends were only trying to help, but there was nothing they could do to help him cope with this.

It had been eighteen months since Aizen fell. Eighteen months since he lost his powers. Eighteen long months since he saw Rukia, Renji, and all his other shinigami friends. He supposed they could come visit him in gigai form, but he knew that would only prolong his sorrow and drag out the process of his supposed "healing".

Ichigo snorted. How does one heal from having such a big chunk of your soul ripped out like this? Certainly, he had gladly paid the price at the time. He knew, as Tensa Zangetsu's blade sank into his chest, that he would be losing a part of himself in his bid to achieve the final form of his zanpakutou. And he had not hesitated.

But he had not expected this to be so difficult. Every time Ishida suddenly bolted from the classroom, using the lame excuses of a stomach ache, or some invisible ailment that required immediate medical attention, Ichigo's jaw would unconsciously clench. In frustration or envy? Or perhaps it was jealousy. He didn't know anymore.

"What I want to protect is different from what you want to protect."

Tensa Zangetsu's voice echoed in his mind. Sometimes he would lay awake for hours at night, just rolling those words over and over in his head as though doing so would somehow summon the spirit of his zanpakutou. He still remembered the sadness etched in Tensa Zangetsu's face. It had been a difficult farewell.

There was one other thing that grated on his already-frayed nerves. He hated to admit it, but every time leaves rustled over his head, or when a stray piece of paper flew past on his way home, his heart would race, and a jolt of excitement would lance through his body. His eyes would light up in desperate hope even though he knew it wasn't possible. And he would imagine Rukia, standing on a branch looking down at him.

Perhaps they did check on him. He wouldn't know. Heck, they could be standing right beside him now for all he knew. He had lost his spiritual power so thoroughly that he could not even feel the slightest trace of reiatsu anymore. He no longer saw spirits, nor hollows.

He had told the others that he was grateful for the normalcy in his new life, yet he knew that a part of him yearned for the return to his former, more turbulent, more complicated life.

His father had steadfastly refused to speak of the events, acting as though he never appeared in front of Ichigo in shinigami form. After being brushed off for the third time, Ichigo decided to let it go. He had hidden it for fifteen years, he could easily continue to hide it. Perhaps he thought that talking about it would cause more grief for his son. But all Ichigo wanted was a chance to feel connected to that world again.

Or did he? Did he really want to hold on to those painful memories? Ichigo sighed as he landed on his back on his bed.

"Ichi-nii!" Yuzu's voice snapped him out of his thoughts.

Huh, he hadn't even heard the front door opening and closing. Apparently even his human senses had dulled. He wondered briefly if it was a side effect from losing his powers, but dismissed it with a scowl. He was simply distracted by his daydream. This was getting unhealthy, he admonished himself.

"What is it, Yuzu?" he called from the top of the stairs.

Yuzu's cheerful face appeared. "What would you like to eat for dinner today, Ichi-nii?" she asked, her eyes gleaming with affection for her brother.

Ichigo tapped a slim finger on his chin and pondered, more for show than the actual need of thinking about food. "Curry?" he asked, flashing a smile at his little sister.

The girl's light blond hair bobbed in the air as she nodded. "I'm so glad that I got those carrots, then!" she said. Then, turning to the direction of the kitchen, she called out to Karin. "See! It's a good thing I didn't go to that shop with you!"

Ichigo's eyebrow cocked inquiringly.

His sister noticed his expression and explained, "Karin insisted on going to that weird store on the way back, but I wanted to buy more vegetables, so I didn't go with her."

"What weird store?" Ichigo frowned as he descended the stairs. Poking his head around the corner of the wall separating the staircase and the living area, he casted a curious look at his dark-haired sister. He wasn't nosy by any means, but it was different when it came to the girls.

Karin rolled her eyes. "It's not weird," she grumbled, stuffing a bag of tomatoes into the fridge roughly.

Ichigo crossed his arms over his chest. His unspoken question was clear.

"It's nothing," his sister mumbled under her breath. "I ran out of some supplies."

Ichigo's eyebrows shot up even higher, but he recognized the stubborn look on Karin's face. She took after him more than he would like. When he sported an expression like that, it meant that the discussion was over. So instead of probing further, he shrugged. "As long as you keep out of trouble," he said, then he reached out to ruffle Karin's hair. The girl scowled.

Inwardly Ichigo decided that he would find out for himself what this "weird store" was, even if it meant having to sneak around following Karin for several days. He couldn't have his sister getting involved in anything suspicious now, could he? Spirits and hollows aside, there were plenty of other dangers lurking in this world, especially for innocent young girls like his sisters. Dangers that he could protect them from.

Keeping his thoughts to himself, he helped Karin put away the rest of the groceries while Yuzu put on her apron. Watching Yuzu bustle about the kitchen in a motherly manner made his lips curl up in a rare smile. They were the only reason this whole thing was bearable. Had he been completely alone in the world, he would have lost his mind long ago.

I'm not alone, Ichigo corrected himself fiercely. He forced himself to think of Inoue, Ishida, and Sado. Even if they could not help him now, they had gone through so much together. It was just unfortunate that they were no longer walking the same path.

I'm not alone.

To be continued...