24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

8:00 am, Tokyo time
Casino #5, somewhere in Europe
Jadeite, Kunzite, Zoisite

* * * * * * * *

Jadeite shifted in the uncomfortable chair. His butt was falling asleep. He wished the rest of him could fall asleep, too; his eyes were gritty from lack of sleep, and he couldn't think straight any more, and his body was exhausted. But the chair was too uncomfortable, the casino manager's questions too relentless, oh, and there was the small matter of his own personal goon twisting his ear with every answer that the manager found unsatisfactory. Which was every answer. His ear felt twice its normal size and like it was on fire.

"I told you," he said again, speaking extra slowly to keep from shouting in frustration; shouting only earned him another twist of the ear. "We're psychic. We can't help it; it runs in the family. We can't turn it on and off; it's just part of how we think. Ouch." The goon twisted his ear again as the manager rolled his eyes.

"There's no such thing as ESP, or being psychic, or any of that nonsense. Just tell me how you were cheating, and we can put an end to this."

"It's a fool who denies what's right in front of his own eyes," Kunzite said in a menacing voice, earning himself another twist of his own ear. He hissed a Dark Kingdom curse that would have gotten him much worse than a twisted ear if the security guard had understood what it meant.

"It's just the way we are," Zoisite added. "Like my cousin Mr. Jade said. All those other gamblers out there, I'll bet you that most of them have some sort of a similar gift or talent. The successful ones, anyway."

"That's right," Jadeite said. "Haven't you ever heard any of your own guests talk about 'gambler's instinct'? Or 'gut feelings'? It's all the same thing; we're just honest enough to call it what it really is."

"That winning instinct is based on years of experience playing," the manager retorted. "There's nothing 'magic' about it. And if there was such a thing as magic, using it here gives you an unfair advantage. And that, by my definition, is cheating."

"We didn't mean to cheat!" Zoisite shouted. "Ouch! Get your hands off of me, you miserable -"

"Mr. Cherry," Kunzite said in a warning voice.

Zoisite got control of himself, though Jadeite could still feel his temper simmering. "Our intention wasn't to cheat," Jadeite said. "We didn't think that what we were doing, what just comes naturally to us, would be considered cheating. But we do apologize." Kunzite grudgingly added his apologies to Jadeite's, as did Zoisite after a stern look from Kunzite. "There," Jadeite went on. "We admitted what we did, and we apologized. Let us go, and we'll never bother you again."

"Very well," the manager said. "But first, there's the small matter of your dishonestly-obtained winnings. You will turn over all of your house chips and vouchers to me, and then we will let you go."

"But what about the ones we traded our own money for when we came in?" Jadeite protested. "We can keep those, can't we?"

"Consider it a fine paid for cheating, and be grateful I don't turn you over to the police."

"What?" Jadeite, Kunzite, and Zoisite demanded. "But that's our money, not yours!" Zoisite added. "Ouch! Dammit, get your hands off of me!"

Jadeite rubbed his ear where his own goon had given it another twist. "This is robbery!"

The manager gave him a grin that had nothing friendly about it whatsoever. "You know what they say about honor among thieves."

Jadeite looked at Thetis, who had sat silently through the whole debacle. "Thetis!" he begged in his final appeal.

She gave him an exasperated look, but she turned to the man behind the desk and said, "Now, Charles, remember, as embarrassed as I am to admit it, they are personal friends of mine. Let them keep the money they came in with."

With a sour look on his face, the manager sighed. "Yes, madame. Show me your receipts for the money you originally exchanged, and hand over the rest."

"But we -" Zoisite started to protest.

"Hush, Zoi - Mr. Cherry," Kunzite said. "All things considered, this gentleman -" There was a slight but definite sneer in Kunzite's voice as he said the word "- is being extremely generous."

Reluctantly, the three of them showed their receipts and counted out the gambling chips and vouchers they had to return. "Perhaps we can simply buy our grandmother a postcard of the island we were going to purchase for her," Kunzite said. Jadeite thought that was a nice touch.

"Be sure to write on it that I send her my greetings," Charles said.

Once Charles and his goons had verified, through careful counting and an objectionably thorough patdown, that Jadeite, Kunzite, and Zoisite were indeed only leaving with the money they had brought in, the three of them were forcibly escorted by the security guards through the large main room of the casino, out the lobby, and through the front door. Thetis had followed them; as she was about to go back inside with the goons, Jadeite grabbed her hand. "Thetis, I have to talk to you."

"Haven't you embarrassed me enough for one night?" She tried to pull her hand away, but he gripped it more tightly.

"Thetis, look, it's important." He glanced at Nephrite's watch. There were only a few minutes left before they had to meet Nephrite back in Tokyo. "This won't take long; I don't have much time."

She sighed. "Well, all right. Make it good."

"Come on, let's get out of the way." Several people were trying to edge around the group to get to the entrance of the casino. Still gripping her hand, he led her to a secluded area off to the side of the entrance. Zoisite and Kunzite followed them, keeping a discreet distance.

"Okay, what's this all about, Jadaito?" she asked.

"It's a long story, what happened after the Senshi destroyed you, but basically, I died, or something, and so did Kunzite and Zoisite and Nephrite, and the Dark Kingdom was defeated. Beryl and Metalia were destroyed."

"I knew that," she said. "I learned as much when I was released from the half-death I was in and allowed to resume my life."

"We've been given a second chance, too, but only just yesterday. Or something like that." The time-zone hops had left him confused as to what day and time it was in his current location, but according to Nephrite's watch, he had come back to Earth about fifteen hours ago. A very long fifteen hours ago, it seemed like. "But we have to earn our second chance. One of the things we have to do is make apologies and reparations to everyone we hurt during our operations for the Dark Kingdom. You were one of those people, and I want to tell you that I'm very sorry for what I did to you. For leading you into the Dark Kingdom in the first place -"

"It was my choice to follow you. A stupid choice, but still, it was my choice."

"I shouldn't have allowed you to make that choice. I should have done whatever it took to keep you from following me. All I can say is that I wanted to share with you the things Beryl was offering me. It's no excuse for my own greed and ambition and stupidity, though, and I'm sorry. I'm also sorry that I let myself forget what we had once had between us, and that I neglected you, and that I allowed Beryl to turn you into a youma, and that I used you and your feelings for me for my own purposes. And I'm especially sorry that I allowed the Senshi to destroy you."

"Don't be sorry. It was because of the way I was used and deceived that the powers that be, whoever they are, decided I deserved a new chance at life."

"I see." A giant burden of regret lifted from Jadeite's mind. The harm he had done had turned out to be for her benefit. "The other thing I have to do is earn your forgiveness. Do you forgive me?"

This time she didn't laugh. "It isn't that simple, Jadaito-sama."

He sighed and looked down. "What must I do?"

"I don't know." She raised her other hand and showed him what he had somehow managed to not see before, a ring mounted with a giant diamond on her ring finger. "I have already given my promise to another. He happens to be one of the principal shareholders in this casino."

Jadeite's heart sank, and cold disappointment settled into the pit of his stomach. That explained why her vouching for him and the others had carried weight, and why she had been able to tell the manager what to do. Doing his best to hide his dismay, he asked, "What does that have to do with me apologizing and you forgiving me?"

"Is that all you want from me, my forgiveness?"

He was on dangerous ground. Showing vulnerability was the way to get your throat - or your heart - torn out. The greatest rule for survival in the Dark Kingdom had been to never show weakness. But things were different now. This wasn't the Dark Kingdom. He couldn't bully his way into what he wanted in this new life. "It isn't all I want from you. But if it's all you can give me, or all you see fit to give me, I'll do my best to be content." He was very aware of Zoisite and Kunzite watching him, even though they were pretending not to.

"I see," she said. "I'll have to think about it."

"So." He looked at Nephrite's watch. It was nearly 9 in the morning in Tokyo. "We have to get back to Tokyo now. We're supposed to meet Nephrite in just a few minutes. If you want to find me, come to the harborside walk, near where the cruise ship sailed from. You can still teleport, can't you?"

She nodded. "Of course."

"We only have nine more hours. I'll watch for you."

She nodded again, then drew her hand away from his. He let her go, and she stepped back. Jadeite saw her watching as he, Zoisite, and Kunzite linked arms, gathered their energy, and teleported.

* * * * * * * *

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