A/N: A while back, I said there was a whale wandering in the back of my head. Who would have thought Sado Yasutora would be riding it?

Special thanks to IVIaedhros for reminding me how much I love Chad.

She is taller than he remembers her. Her manner of dress, simple yet comely—to him—is a far cry from the top and shorts she sported when he first remembers her. Of course, in his earliest memories, she is an eleven year old girl.

Her hair is longer and there is a distinguished swath of gray caressing her cheek. Her frown is adorable. Why is she frowning? He does not know. He only knows that he could stand and watch her all day long, with that scowl and in that skirt that exposes a toned, slender calf. As she moves in her crisp pace toward the house he follows, all the way up to the door before she closes it in his face.

Sado Yasutora stands at the closed door, his surprise melting in to hurt, curiosity, then realization. She closed the door on him. Not because she was angry, which had been the case each of the last dozen times she'd done it. She had no idea he was there. Or, even with her sensory abilities, willed him not to be there. Because it would mean he is really gone and their life together, which had spanned the better part of fifty years, is over.

And it is over.

As Sado sinks to the concrete steps, it all flows back into him. He forgets every day. How many days has it been? He does not know. He understands that there was snow, wafting to the ground in wide, cotton-like flakes. He remembers it was dark. And he was laying down. He can almost feel the IV embedded in his left arm. But when he brings his wrist to his face, there is only the trace of it, already fading. He shakes himself and returns to that sterile, enclosed place, where his wife has her hand on his brow, smoothing his thinning hair and saying things, soft things in a voice barely a whisper. "I love you. Goodbye." He takes a deep breath, rises, and begins to pace. This is how it is. How can it be? How can he be leaving her when he only just found her? How can half a century be reduced to something that barely lasted the blink of an eye?

But the trees are just beginning to bud. Spring has returned and he's here to see it, just not the way he wanted to. He had wanted to go back to Mexico with his wife. He had wanted to do so many things. Things he'll never be able to do now. Never again. Never.

He feels himself being pulled, a sensation he has fought on a nightly basis for the better part of three months. He looks down at the chain on his chest, notes that there are less than three links left. He hasn't much time. Why has he held on for this long? Oh. For the sake of the woman who just shut the door in his face. He sits back down and resists the urge to put his face into his hands and weep.

"So you know now, don't you."

It was not a question. Sado looks up into the shiny young face of his brother-in-law. Shockingly orange hair and a scowl that has been plastered on his face for what feels like centuries. "Chad, you have to let go. It'll be too late and I don't want to force you, but I will."

Sado blinks very slowly, drawing in a deep breath. "Is that a threat?" he asks quietly.

"No," Ichigo says. "Can't you tell I'm begging?"

"For whose sake?" Old habits die hard and Sado knows his best friend better than anyone. It must have taken considerable restraint for Ichigo to have waited so long for his buddy. For as long as he has known him, Sado has been aware of how possessive Ichigo can be. But the answer Ichigo gives surprises him.

"For yours," the shinigami says. "I will never allow you to become a hollow."

"You know what I am. What will you do when Sereitei says I am too much like a hollow as it is and will not let me in?"

Ichigo grits his teeth. "I'll deal with it. And when Karin comes, you'll be there to greet her."

Sado gazes at him, feels his eyes narrow as they examine the young, exuberant face that is still so familiar. He believes his words. Believes.

Sado remembers that he has walked many miles and fought many battles with only his belief in Ichigo to sustain him. He has trusted him this long. A little farther is really nothing, nothing at all. Even as he feels the tingling of the character on his forehead and the world falls away, he looks back at the closed door. Just a little farther, just a little longer. He chooses to have faith. We'll see each other again.

P.S.: There's more to this than meets the eye at first glance, I promise you. To be continued. . .