24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

4:00 am, Tokyo time, somewhere in Europe
Jadeite, Kunzite, Zoisite

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Jadeite, Kunzite, and Zoisite materialized in front of the casino they had chosen as their next destination. This building was older than the others they had been to by at least a century, and what it lacked in modern glitz and sparkle, it more than made up for in old-fashioned elegance and class. The cars pausing to let out people coming to frolic the night away, and the people themselves, possessed a level of elegance and polish that outdid even the high-rolling patrons at the other casinos.

"They're never going to let us in here," Zoisite muttered again.

"They have to. I know they will," Jadeite insisted. "I know this is where we're supposed to go next."

"It won't hurt to try," Kunzite said, though he sounded doubtful. "If they don't let us in, we can always go somewhere else."

"Unless they have us arrested for being too low-class," Zoisite said.

"Jadeite, perhaps," Kunzite said, linking Zoisite's arm more securely in his. "You, my love? Never. You are the epitome of high class."

Zoisite simpered while Jadeite flashed an obscure Dark Kingdom obscene gesture at Kunzite. "Yes, Kunzite-sama, I see exactly what you mean," Zoisite said. He hesitated. "But, Kunzite-sama, if you were arrested and I wasn't, I would gladly go to jail with you."

A brief moment of silence passed, during which Jadeite almost felt like the thing that was simmering beneath the surface between them might finally come out into the open. Then Kunzite said, "My love, are you saying I'm not high-class enough either?"

Zoisite looked taken aback, as though afraid Kunzite had completely misunderstood his meaning. Then the troubled look cleared from his face and he laughed. "You're not as bad as Jadeite, Kunzite-sama, but no one compares to me, of course."

"Of course they don't, Zoi-chan."

Zoi-chan? Jadeite didn't know whether to be glad that Kunzite and Zoisite were making progress or to throw up.

No one seemed to be selling or taking tickets outside the casino; instead, the patrons simply walked in the front door, which was guarded by two doormen in rich-looking uniforms in a military style about two centuries old. Jadeite, Kunzite, and Zoisite all looked at each other. Their scavenged tickets didn't look like they would be of any use here. The three of them would just have to bluff their way in. "Well," Jadeite said, "as the humans say, here goes nothing."

Kunzite and Zoisite nodded.

They walked up to the front door of the casino. The two doormen looked them up and down while Jadeite's heart pounded and all three of them tried to look like they belonged there. Jadeite didn't know why it was so important that they go into this casino; he only knew that this was where they needed to be.

Finally, the two doormen nodded to each other. They stood aside, pushing the doors open as they did so, and Jadeite, Kunzite, and Zoisite entered the casino.

The light in this venerable establishment was just as bright as in the other casinos they'd been in, but somehow softer and warmer. If those weren't real candles in the enormous, elaborate crystal chandeliers hanging from the carved and gilded ceilings, they were doing an excellent job of imitating real candlelight. The deep red-and-gold patterned carpets were plush, the walls were covered with richly-textured fabrics. The overall effect was to mute all sound. A pair of heavy doors made of reddish wood separated the lobby from the main part of the casino.

At a big desk made of the same reddish wood, a snooty-looking, tuxedo-clad man cleared his throat discreetly as the three of them headed for the doors. "Gentlemen," he said in a voice so uptight it sounded like he might be strangling. "Your invitations, please."

Jadeite stopped short. He'd known there had to be a catch. "Invitations?"

"We weren't aware that we would be required to present invitations," Kunzite said in his most arrogant voice.

"Invitations are required for entrance. Unless, of course, you gentlemen have a membership?"

"Of course. A membership. How may we go about obtaining a membership?" Jadeite asked.

A nasty little smirk came onto the desk clerk's face. "Memberships are by invitation only."

A group of people who had come in behind them laughed. In the most quiet and polite way of course, but they were still laughing. Jadeite tried not to let it irritate him. "How may we -"

Zoisite pushed his way past Jadeite to the desk. "Do you know who I am?" he demanded.

"No," the man at the desk said.

Behind Jadeite, Kunzite muttered, "Miserable human -"

Jadeite felt Kunzite beginning to gather energy to attack the man. He elbowed him to stop him, then gently shoved Zoisite aside. "I'm afraid there's been some sort of misunderstanding," he said in a firm but polite voice. "We have an important engagement here this evening."

"If you will tell me your names, I will see if you are on our guest list for the evening."

Now what? Jadeite wondered. How was he going to bluff his way through this one? He refused to admit defeat, but he couldn't think of what to do next. Say, Oh, I'm sorry, we mistook this for the casino on the next block? If this was Las Vegas, that might work, but it wasn't. He stood there with his mouth gaping open, at a complete loss for what to say while the people behind them tittered and whispered.

Then a familiar female voice exclaimed, "Jadaito-sama?"

Jadeite's mind went blank with shock. He looked around to see Thetis approaching the desk from the direction of the casino hall. She was wearing a shimmering strapless silk gown only a few shades lighter than her hair. Jewels glimmered and sparkled at her ears, neck, and wrists. "Th - Thetis -" he stammered.

"It's all right, Monsieur Belmont," she said to the man at the desk. "Mr. Jade and his friends Mr. Stone and Mr. Cherry are personal friends of mine. Unfortunately, I neglected to tell them that if they ever wished to come see me here, they would have to fight their way past such a valiant guardian of the gateway as you are."

The man at the desk blushed redder than Queen Beryl's hair. "Ah. Of - of course, Madame LaMer," he stammered. "I apologize greatly for the misunderstanding. Please, I hope you will forgive me."

"Certainly," she said, smiling graciously. "Come." She walked over to Jadeite and tucked one arm around his elbow and the other hand into Zoisite's elbow. "I apologize for the inconvenience, my dear friends. Now, come with me and join the fun."

She led them through the great doors and into a casino room that made the other ones they'd been in look like cheap videogame arcades. Elegant carved chairs upholstered in lush velvet and rich leather, gold brocade draperies covering the walls from the high arched ceiling to the thickly carpeted floor, niches in the walls holding classical statues and antique vases, enormous chandeliers dripping with crystals that sparkled with a million rainbows...

A dozen smaller rooms opened off the the main hall; peering into them, Jadeite saw they were every bit as luxurious as the main casino room. Even Kunzite was staring at the rich, opulent elegance. Nephrite would have loved this, Jadeite thought. It was about the only thing he could think, stunned as he was by the richness around him and Thetis's sudden appearance. He didn't know if he was about to be forgiven or blasted to the bottom of the ocean.

"Now, Jadaito-sama," she purred as she led them across the great hall, "why don't you tell me what in the hell you are doing here?"

The edge in her voice put him back in familiar territory. "I might ask you the same thing, Madame LaMer," he answered.

She smiled smugly. "The powers that be, whoever they are, decided I should have a second chance at life after the Dark Kingdom fell. Seeing as how I was deceived in love and betrayed to my death by those who had made impossible promises to me, I was given a second chance at life, provided I meet one simple condition. To atone for the broken dreams caused by our little cruise ship scheme, I must devote my renewed life to making sure that people are able to truly relax and enjoy themselves."

"I see," Jadeite said. "The powers that be, they didn't happen to say anything about forgiving me, did they?"

She laughed. "Here is where you may exchange your money for the counters that are used in this establishment." She gestured at the room she was leading them towards, that opened off the hall. "Feel free to try all our various games and see where fortune is smiling on you most brightly tonight. Enjoy yourselves, and I will speak with you again later. For now, my duty is calling me." She left them and walked towards the back of the great hall, where a closed door led to what were presumably offices. Jadeite couldn't take his eyes off of her shapely backside beneath the slinky, clinging gown.

"Well," Zoisite said. "That was unexpected."

"Fortunate, though," Kunzite said. "She got us in here. And Jadeite is a step closer to completing another of his own assignments."

"I'm not so sure about taht," Zoisite said. "When you ask someone to forgive you and they laugh, that usually isn't a good sign."

"Oh, shut up," Jadeite muttered. "Come on, let's get to work." They headed for the row of banker's windows in the room that Thetis had led them to. Maybe while he gambled, he thought, he could figure out another way to bring up the subject of forgiveness that wouldn't get him laughed at or drowned.

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury