24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

3:30 am, Tokyo time
Jadeite, Kunzite, Zoisite

* * * * * * * *

Jadeite took a break from his game and strolled through the brightly-lit, glittering, crowded casino. Though the exteriors were widely varied and the colors of the uniforms on the staff changed from place to place, the casinos themselves all looked pretty much the same inside. At least to him, they were starting to blur together. This was, what, the fourth they'd been to tonight? The fifth? He couldn't quite remember, and it wasn't just because he'd been drinking more than he had in... well, a long time. Centuries.

He thought about it. No, this was definitely the fourth casino. The third one, they'd had to leave in a hurry when Zoisite got jealous of a card dealer who was flirting with Kunzite. A male dealer; Zoisite didn't seem bothered by women flirting with his lover. Probably because he didn't see them as a threat.

Jadeite wasn't sure why he was wasting money on drinks anyway. The energy of greed and lust and luck was more intoxicating than any alcohol. He reveled in the lights, the sounds, the games, the rich, idle people dressed in the heights of elegant fashion with nothing better to do than fritter away large amounts of money they likely hadn't even earned themselves, or if they had, they hadn't had to work very hard for it. For a lot of the men, it was probably a matter of being born to the right father; for a lot of the women, it was likely a matter of sleeping with the right man. It was just as well, he thought, that at least some of the wasted money was going to a good cause -- specifically, his, Zoisite's, and Kunzite's chance to have their lives back.

He spotted Zoisite at a table and stood to watch for a moment. Four or five women clad in revealing silks and satins, dripping with jewels, hovered around him, clinging to his arms and toying with his hair and laughing as they encouraged him to keep playing. Jadeite wondered if Zoisite was irritated by all the female attention. But no, he laughed and flirted back, looking far too pleased with himself and the situation. He wouldn't be taking any of them up to a room in the casino's plush hotel, which was likely what most of them were hoping, but attention was attention, and Zoisite could never get enough of it, especially if it came in the form of lavish admiration. Jadeite wondered what Kunzite would think of the scene. Then he saw Kunzite at another tale, not too far off, also surrounded by fawning women. Kunzite did look slightly irritated; probably because they were interfering with his concentration.

The two of them would probably have a good laugh about it later on, Jadeite decided.

He himself had also been surrounded by eager women as he played and won. But in his mind their faces all blurred together into one face -- Thetis's. He couldn't get his thoughts off of her. He had to find her and persuade her to forgive him, but he had no idea where she was or how to find her. At one point he'd been so distracted by thoughts of her that he had lost a game, and not on purpose either.

Speaking of which, it was probably time to move on before their winnings started to raise suspicion. They weren't cheating -- at least Jadeite knew he wasn't, and he imagined the others, knowing what was at stake, weren't cheating either. Was it their fault they just seemed to have an acute sensitivity to the energies of the cards and dice and other accoutrements of the games, and for the emotions of the other players? Jadeite preferred to think of it as a talent, which they were perfectly justified in using just as every other successful gambler in the establishment was using their own abilities the very best they could.

Jadeite signaled to Kunzite and Zoisite, indicating for them to meet him in the bar as soon as they were finished with their games. Then he retreated to the bar himself, finding relief in the darker, quieter atmosphere. The beverages on offer here were mostly the same as in the other places where they'd been, with only a few regional or thematic novelties related to the specific casino and its location. He allowed himself another shot of the same expensive whiskey he'd been indulging in all night, making sure to nibble on the miniature pretzels offered in a crystal bowl on the bar to keep the alcohol company in his stomach; they had decided that eating dinner in a casino restaurant would cost too much money and time.

He wished he could find Thetis. He wished he could get her out of his mind. Did he really want another chance with her, or did he only want to find her in order to check that task off the list he'd been given? Their original love affair had been so long ago that he had a hard time remembering very much about it. Had he really cared for her, or had it mainly been a matter of lust? There had been enough emotion on her part to induce her to follow him into the Dark Kingdom. Had he returned her feelings? It seemed to him that if he had really loved her he would have done anything to keep her from following him. On the other hand, he had been convinced that joining Beryl was the right thing to do, that by doing so he would gain everything he had ever wanted. Had those desires included Thetis? Had he wanted Thetis to also share in the glory and power and treasure that Beryl had promised him and the other Guardians? In that case, he wouldn't have pushed her away.

It bothered him that he couldn't remember. He tossed back his drink and finished another as Kunzite and Zoisite came into the bar and ordered their own drinks. Jadeite pushed the bowl of pretzels over to them. "Make sure you eat something with that. We've still got several hours to go."

Zoisite's martini this time was purple, with a crystalized flower floating on top. He ignored the pretzels. Kunzite ate a handful as he sipped his red wine. "How are we doing?" he asked.

Jadeite counted out his winnings on the bar. "Not bad. I have eleven times what I started out with."

"Only eleven?" Zoisite asked. "I've got fourteen times as much money as I started with."

Kunzite finished counting out his own winnings. "Twelve."

Jadeite tried to add the figures up in his head, and gave up. Maybe they could do it, just maybe... Zoisite probably didn't owe nearly as much as he and Kunzite did; his biggest cost was likely going to be reimbursing the owners of the cat he'd mentioned for some vet bills. Maybe he could be persuaded to split his extra with Jadeite and Kunzite. Nephrite had given him the money expressly for the purpose of paying off his debts; it wouldn't be right for him to keep the extra for himself. Jadeite would share his extra with the others, if he had any extra. At least he thought he would.

He wondered how Kunzite and Zoisite were progressing on any personal business they were supposed to resolve. They smiled and flirted and touched, and teased each other about all the beautiful women who'd been fawning over them, but there was still an air of something remaining unsaid hanging about them. He hoped they would get around to saying it soon; the tension was starting to irritate him.

They finished their drinks, cashed in their winnings, and left the casino. Outside, Zoisite and Kunzite walked arm in arm, pointing out features of the extravagant landscaping to each other. At the sight of them, a sharp longing stabbed through Jadeite. A memory came to him of him and Thetis, walking arm in arm as Kunzite and Zoisite were doing now. They were walking along a beach at sunset -- or was it sunrise? and Thetis was telling him about the amazing life beneath the sea. She had always had an affinity for the sea, and had even invented magically-aided equipment, similar to modern scuba gear, which would allow a diver to go deeper than ever before, for longer periods of time. He remembered how his fear at her bold excursions had warred with his fascination with the things she discovered and shared with him.

Again the three Guardians found a secluded place where they could consult the travel guide. Again Jadeite tried to get Thetis out of his mind, to clear his thoughts for the next jump. It was getting more difficult every time. "What about that one?" Kunzite suggested, pointing to a picture on a page in the guide.

An elegant old building, somewhere in Europe, less flashy than the other casinos they'd been to. "That looks --" Then another photo caught Jadeite's eye. Another elegant old-world building. Without even seeing the description beneath the photo, a strong instinct inside him told him that was where they needed to go. "Actually, that one," he said, pointing to the photo.

Kunzite and Zoisite looked at the picture he was pointing to and read the description. Kunzite whistled. "We'll never get in there."

"Even I've heard of that one," Zoisite added. "He's right. There's no point in even trying."

"That's where we need to go," Jadeite said. "I just know it. We'll figure out a way."

Zoisite shrugged. "If you say so."

"I suppose it can't hurt to try," Kunzite added. "If it doesn't work, we can always go somewhere else."

"All right, then." They fixed the photo of their destination in mind, then linked arms and teleported.

* * * * * * * *

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury