24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

6:00 a.m., Tokyo

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Usagi and Mamoru's apartment took shape around Naru. Her stomach lurched from the sudden magical jump in location, and she swallowed back a wave of nausea. Nephrite was holding her in his arms, like he had that night more than three years ago. How could she ever have forgotten that feeling of warmth and safety and strength? But Sailor Moon had said it was her fault, not Naru's, that Naru had forgotten. Naru wondered if Sailor Moon was going to explain what she meant.

"Are you ok?" Nephrite asked. "If you've never teleported before, it can be kind of a shock to the system."

"I think I'm ok," Naru answered. Her stomach did seem to be settling down after the initial jolt.

He set her down on a chair and sat on the floor next to her as the Senshi and Tuxedo Mask transformed into their everyday appearances. Usagi sank back onto the couch and closed her eyes, looking absolutely exhausted. Naru looked at the other girls, recognizing them as the new friends who had gradually taken her place in Usagi's life. Mizuno Ami, the smartest girl in school who still had never looked down on anyone who didn't do as well as she did; Hino Rei, the fiery-tempered young priestess from the Hikawa Shrine; Kino Makoto, the tall girl who had always stood up for those who were being picked on; glamorous but ditzy Aino Minako.

Was she jealous of them? Maybe she had kind of resented their crowding her out of Usagi's life, but now that she knew the truth, she found she couldn't be jealous of them. They had a hard job and had to face a lot of danger and hardship during a time in their lives when most girls were only worrying about test scores and boyfriends. Still, she wished she had their power; she wished she could have fought back against all the monsters that had attacked her over the last three years. If she was a Senshi, maybe she could have even saved Nephrite.

She looked at him, still finding it hard to believe he was alive again. How had that happened? He had really died; she had felt him fall still and cold and lifeless in her arms before he dissolved and floated away. She remembered now that all she had wished for in those first awful days after he died was that somehow, some way, the past could be changed so that he wasn't dead.

And then he had come back to life, but she hadn't known him. When she was lying in the street, terrified, while Nephrite protected her from the monsters with his own body, all she could think was that he had come back and he had seen her with Umino and she hadn't known him. Why had he still come to help her after that? Did he really love her, even if he thought she didn't love him?

Makoto, who Naru remembered now was a really good cook - everyone had always drooled over the lunches she brought to school - went into the kitchen to prepare breakfast for everyone. Usagi finally seemed to regain her strength, and sat up on the couch where she'd collapsed with Mamoru. "Ok, Naru-chan, I owe you an explanation. What happened was, at the end of our fight against the Dark Kingdom -"

"The evil organization Nephrite was working for?"

"That's right. Him and some others. At the end of our fight against them, we - Tuxedo Mask and the other Senshi and me - we all died."

"Died?" Naru stared in shock at her friend. "But - you're alive!"

"I know. That's because as I was dying, I wished with all my heart that we could just go back to living a normal life. The silver crystal -"

"The one Nephrite was looking for?" Naru asked. "You knew where it was?"

"Not when Nephrite was around. The heart of it was hidden inside me, but it didn't appear until later. It was my jewel, with my Moon Princess powers inside it. Anyway, when I made that wish, the silver crystal moved the Earth into a different reality so it was like the Dark Kingdom war had never happened. Except for me and the other Senshi, and Tuxedo Mask - we just lost our memories, but we still had our powers."

Naru was trying to follow this. Moon Princess? "So it was like Earth's reality got split in two, with Nephrite and you guys and everything that happened in one half, and everyone else in the other half?"

"That is one way of putting it, I suppose," Ami said.

"Okay," Naru went on, thinking as she spoke. It was confusing, but in a weird way it made sense. "I think I must have been in both of those realities, or caught somewhere in between. Maybe that's closer to how it was for you guys. You still had effects from the old reality, where that fight with the Dark Kingdom happened, but you also existed in this one. I had times when I knew there was something I had forgotten, I just had no idea what it was. And then tonight, when I remembered, that was like I made a bridge between the two realities."

Ami sat up straighter and looked more alert. "Naru-chan, what time was it when you remembered?"

"Um..." She tried to remember; her brain was all foggy after so little sleep and so many shocks and emotions. "About 2:00 or a little earlier, I think?"

"That was just before the first monster attack," Sailor Moon said.

In a flash, Ami transformed into Sailor Mercury. A visor with faintly-glowing numbers and symbols crawling across it slid across the top half of her face, and she started tapping on a small device like a calculator. "If only I could get a live read from another monster like those..." she murmured.

"I'd be just as happy if you can't," Minako said. "I'm worn out from fighting."

"And we haven't even had a chance to do what Nephrite asked us to do," Makoto added.

"What was that?" Naru turned to Nephrite; only now did it occur to her how strange it was to find him hanging out with the Senshi. They had been terrible enemies before - except at the very end. It looked like the Senshi really had forgiven him.

"I asked them to try to find a way to reverse what had happened to remove us - me and the rest of the Generals - from everyone's memories."

"Why? Does it have anything to do with why you're alive again?"

He nodded. "It does. Jadeite, Kunzite, and Zoisite -"

"Zoisite? Isn't he the one who killed you?"

"Yes. But he didn't always hate me, and now we're in a situation where we need to let go of our old grudges and work together. We've been given the chance to win our lives back. One of the things we have to do is make amends to people who were harmed by our schemes when we were working for the Dark Kingdom. We tried - or at least, I tried, but no one remembered me or anything that had happened. How do you apologize to people who don't remember you or what you did? So I asked the Senshi to try to make things the way they were before, to restore our victims' memories of us."

"We knew it wouldn't be easy," Sailor Mercury said from behind her computer visor, "but it might be even more problematic than we anticipated."

"What do you mean?" Usagi asked.

"According to my data, which is incomplete so I can't say one hundred percent for certain that I'm right, but it looks like those monsters are actually the shadows of things that have happened since the silver crystal re-set Earth's reality and, to put it simply, will un-happen if we are successful in shifting Earth back to that other reality track."

"You mean," Usagi said, "like all the babies born since then won't have been born? Me and Mamo-chan won't have gotten married? Teams that won championships won't win them after all?"

Sailor Mercury continued tapping on her handheld screen. "It's hard to say exactly which events would have happened anyway, unaffected one way or the other by the fight against the Dark Kingdom. I suspect that most babies born in the world, to use your example, would have been born whether that fight happened or not. But perhaps there are people who, for example, would have met each other in the chaos that night when Beryl attacked Earth and gone on to marry and have a child, who never met in a world where that never happened. Likewise, it's possible that people who might have been kept apart by those events met and married each other in this world and had a child."

"I get it," Usagi said. "So some things that would have happened in a world where the Dark Kingdom war happened didn't happen, and some things that wouldn't have happened in that world happened in this world."

"Um, yes," Sailor Mercury said. "Simply put, yes. And these monsters, these shadows of those things, it's as if they're trying to protect their own existence by preventing us from changing reality."

"What about me going with Umino?" Naru said. "Did that only happen because he was there for me after Nephrite died? Or would we have started going together anyway?"

"You and Umino started dating before the final battle against the Dark Kingdom," Rei pointed out. "So it's part of that other world. So something must have happened in this world to make you two get together here."

"Except she was caught between the two worlds, so maybe that came over with her," Sailor Mercury said. "I wish I had more time to study this."

"Which reminds me," Nephrite said. "Is there a place where Naru-chan and I can speak privately for a few moments, Chiba-san?"

Makoto came out of the kitchen carrying a tray. "You can go in the kitchen; I'm done in there."

"Thanks." Nephrite stood up, and Naru followed him into the kitchen. Her head was spinning from all the talk of different realities and what happened in one and not in another.

Once alone in the kitchen, she and Nephrite stared at each other. She didn't know what to say. She had dreamed of this moment in the months between when he died and when she lost her memories of him; she had longed for this impossible moment when, somehow, he was alive again. And now that he was here, she had no idea what to say. "I missed you," she finally said.

"I missed you, too, in the place where I was. There was nothing to do there but remember, and regret..."

"What did you regret?" She almost didn't want to know; if he regretted saving her, which was what had gotten him killed, she didn't want to know.

A long silence passed. "Another thing I'm supposed to do to earn my second chance at life is to win your heart," he finally said. "I thought that would be easy - I thought I had already won it, but then I saw you with that boy... I'm also not supposed to commit any more wrongs. And stealing you away from him would be wrong. So, I guess I need to know how things stand between the two of you. Are you happy together? If you are, I don't want to interfere."

Her head spun even more. "We... I'm not happy. I can't say if Umino-kun is happy, but I don't know if I'm really what he wants. He has all these plans, you see. He knows what university we're going to go to, and what we're going to study, but none of it is what I really want. It's like he's trying to make me into what he wants me to be, instead of accepting me the way I am. I figure he wouldn't do that if he was really happy with me."

"Maybe he just wants what he thinks is best for you."

"Or what's best for him," she said, resentment rising up inside her again. "Anyway, I was already thinking about breaking up with him, especially after I saw you and realized that I knew you even though I didn't remember you and started thinking again about how my life seemed all wrong."

"I don't want you to break up with him because of me. It might violate the conditions I have to meet, and... well, I don't want to make anyone else unhappy. I've had enough of that in my life."

"It isn't just because of you. For a long time I felt like something was wrong with my life, like it wasn't the life I was supposed to be living. And nothing Umino did made me feel any better about things. I guess he means well, but he doesn't know me. He knows what he wants me to be, and maybe he knows what would be best for me if I was the kind of person he wants me to be, but he doesn't know me." Her voice rose with her frustration; she made an effort to calm down. "And anyway, I think he likes someone else better than me, only he doesn't realize it or maybe he just doesn't want to admit it. Maybe he's afraid he'll hurt my feelings if he breaks up with me. So I was thinking about saving him the trouble. We should try seeing other people, that sort of thing. Know what I mean?"

"I think so. What you're saying then," Nephrite said carefully, as though wanting to make sure he had it right, "is that you were thinking he'd be happier too if he was free to be with this other girl?"

"Asuka-san. Yes. She has way more in common with Umino than I do, they like the same things, have the same goals, think the same things are important. He'd be happier with her, and I'd be happier not trying to be someone that I'm not."

"Then," he said, his voice getting softer, "I'll tell you that what I regretted most was not having the chance to do this." He drew her in front of him, and cupped the back of her head in his hand, tilted her face up towards his, and kissed her.

Before, she had hardly even dared imagine what it would be like to kiss him, even in her deepest, most secret daydreams. What were the chances that it would ever really happen? Now she knew it was everything she had always thought a kiss should be. His mouth was firm yet gentle and warm against hers. He pulled her closer against him. Though he was much taller than she was, he bent down just right so that she didn't have to strain her neck to reach him, and they fit together perfectly, her curves pressed against his firm, muscular build, with no awkward bumping or shifting around for a more comfortable position. His kiss was much more confident than Umino's shy yet aggressive little pecks on the lips or cheek.

She was beginning to accept that Nephrite's life must have been much different from what she ever would have imagined, and he seemed to have had a lot more experience kissing than she had. Which was strange, because he had told her, that night he had died, that love was unknown in the Dark Kingdom. Had he had a life before he joined that evil society? What was it like? Had he kissed a lot of girls then?

She found that she didn't care how many other girls he had kissed, as long as she was the one he was kissing now. He held her even closer and pressed the kiss more deeply, until it felt like they were breathing the same air and the same heart was beating within both of their bodies.

And then her stomach growled, interrupting the mood. He pulled away from her just enough to look into her eyes and smile at her. He had such a beautiful smile. "Now that that's settled," he said, "let's go have some breakfast."

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