24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

4:00 am, Tokyo

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Nephrite was abruptly awakened from the sleep he'd finally fallen into by a bright flashing light and the sound of an alarm. Immediately, he was on his feet, along with the rest of the Senshi and Tuxedo Mask, who at least had regained enough energy to transform back into their battle forms. A quick glance at his watch told him he'd been asleep less than an hour.

"What is that?" Sailor Moon exclaimed.

Tuxedo Mask ran out onto the balcony of the apartment. The lights and sirens were from emergency vehicles down on the street. "It's more of those monsters!" he said. "They're attacking the building across the street!"

"We have to help them!" Sailor Moon cried out. The other Senshi called out their agreement, and in a flash the five young women and Tuxedo Mask disappeared from the apartment. Nephrite stood alone for a moment, dismayed. This battle would burn up what little energy the Senshi had managed to recover, further delaying their attempt to move Earth back to the other reality. In a brief moment of frustration, he thought that whatever was happening outside could wait; let the humans deal with their own problems.

Then it hit him how selfish he was being. People's lives were at stake; people who were being attacked for no reason and who were incapable of defending themselves against a threat like this. He focused his own energy and teleported.

In the street, everything was chaos. Half a dozen of the dark, spiky, flame-eyed monsters were tearing through parked cars and sending balls of flame into nearby buildings. A fire truck arrived; three of the monsters slashed it into scrap metal with their blades of dark energy before the firefighters could get out. The firefighters, cut and bleeding, ran from their ruined truck, carrying a firehose. One of the monsters shredded the hose with a single swipe of its talons.

As Sailor Moon began preparing her ultimate attack, the Senshi launched a coordinated barrage at several monsters that were clustered together. It staggered them, but they didn't fall. Before the monsters could recover their balance, Nephrite fired a hasty starlight attack at them. It was a weak attack, but enough to drop three of the monsters to the ground. A red rose flew down from where Tuxedo Mask stood perched on top of a streetlight. The rose's stem pierced a monster's chest, right where its heart might be if it had a heart. The monster shrieked, then dissolved into shadow.

A second rose flew through the air towards another monster; it swatted the missile aside and went back to beating a police car into a crumpled heap of metal. Nephrite wondered how many roses Tuxedo Mask had, or if he could conjure up as many as he needed. He shot more balls of starlight towards that monster, distracting it, and a third rose hit its target. The monster stiffened and screamed as the rose pierced its chest, then it turned into substanceless shadow and drifted away.

The surviving monsters turned their attention to Nephrite and Tuxedo Mask. Nephrite dodged two blades of dark power; still, one of them took several strands of his hair with it. Another blade cut the light pole Tuxedo Mask was standing on in half; the young man leaped from the top as it toppled to the ground, and landed lightly on top of the next light pole down. That one met the same fate as the first pole; Tuxedo Mask jumped across the street. He zigzagged back and forth as the monsters attacked the poles he was standing on, managing to avoid being felled but also unable to throw any more roses.

The Senshi had recovered enough to ready another round of attacks. They fired at the monster that was chasing Tuxedo Mask down the street, and managed to distract it enough that it couldn't avoid the falling light pole it had just cut in half. The top of the pole fell on the monster, knocking it to the ground. Tuxedo Mask took advantage of the brief break in running for his life to throw another rose and destroy that monster.

Three down, three more to go. Nephrite looked around to see if any others were hiding in the shadows, but didn't see or sense any more. Of all the nights for someone to decide to attack Tokyo...

The thought gave him pause. This couldn't possibly be a coincidence. Was there some power somewhere that very much did not want the Guardians, the shitennou, to return to life?

That moment of hesitation nearly cost him his life. He ducked just as another black energy blade whizzed over where his head had been. At that same instant, Sailor Mars shouted some words and flung a small scroll of paper at the monster that had attacked Nephrite. The scroll stuck to its head, making it freeze in place long enough for Tuxedo Mask to impale it with another rose.

Nephrite fired another starlight attack at one of the two remaining monsters while Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus distracted it and the other one with more of their attacks, allowing Tuxedo Mask to destroy them with two more roses. Then, before any of the humans who had taken cover or been hit during the monster attack could recover and start asking questions, the seven of them - Senshi, Tuxedo Mask, and Nephrite - teleported back to the Chibas' apartment.

They all collapsed, breathless and worn out from the battle, into chairs or onto the sofa or floor. Nephrite sat down heavily in the chair where he'd been sleeping. Though they immediately transformed back into their normal appearances, the Senshi didn't seem quite as tired after this battle, thanks to Tuxedo Mask's roses, which had proven so effective in destroying the monsters, and Sailor Moon hadn't had to unleash her ultimate attack. But neither were they making any progress in gathering the energy they would need to move the Earth from one reality to the other. A third battle would delay the process even more, to the point where the Senshi would be unable to help him at all before the deadline. He looked at his watch - it was after 4:30 in the morning. Less than thirteen and a half hours to go. He hoped Jadeite, Kunzite, and Zoisite were making more progress than he was. Not that it would matter how much progress they made if they couldn't get Earth shifted back to the reality that they had been involved in.

Again the thought of stealing energy crossed his mind, and again he dismissed it, though it was harder this time. It was starting to look like he would never get that second chance with Naru-chan. If he stole energy, he would forfeit his chance. If he didn't steal energy, and the Senshi were unable to return Earth to the reality that held him and the other Generals and the memory of the wrongs they had done, he would also fail to win that second chance at life. It was no use, he almost decided. He should just resign himself to his fate.

Then the memory came into his mind again of Naru's heart-rending cries as his body dissolved in death and his spirit drifted up to the place where it had lingered between life and the afterlife for three years. He would do anything to dry those tears and erase that pain - even if it meant he would still lose her to the boy she loved now. At least, he had to tell her that he really had cared for her.

No. Not just cared. He chided himself for being a coward. Tell her that he really had loved her. That he still loved her.

And that he loved her enough to let her go if that was what she wanted.

There was still more than half of the allotted time remaining, he reminded himself. And Sailor Moon had remarked earlier that it seemed like the shifting process had already started somehow. There was still hope, and if he gave up now, he didn't deserve that second chance.

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury