24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

9:00 am, Tokyo
Nephrite, Jadeite, Kunzite, Zoisite

* * * * * * * *

Nephrite sprinted up the sidewalk towards the bench where he had sat with the other Generals the evening before. He shouldn't have fallen asleep; precious time had gone by without him thinking of a way to make their apologies and reparations without making things even worse. And now he was late. He glanced at his cheap new watch again; it read 9:03.

But when he reached the bench, there was no sign of the others, so he sat down to wait. He was a little worried about where they were, but also just as glad they weren't there yet. He wasn't looking forward to telling them about the complications he had run into in trying to get the Earth back onto the other reality track. He could only hope that Zoisite wouldn't decide to kill him again on hearing the bad news. He wondered how they had done in their quest to win enough money to pay what they owed, and if they had made any progress in the personal matters they were supposed to deal with.

At least things looked better for him where Naru was concerned. She wanted him, and she had been thinking about breaking things off with the young man she was seeing anyway. All she had to do was find a way to let him down gently, and that didn't seem like it would be too hard. Especially if the boy was already interested in another girl.

But none of that mattered if he couldn't do the other things he had to do to win his second chance. Again he wracked his mind looking for possibilities besides moving Earth back to the other reality and disrupting so many innocent lives. He couldn't blame Sailor Moon for her desperate desire, as she was dying, to have the chance to live as a normal girl again, but it was certainly making things complicated now.

As he stared discontentedly out across the harbor, movement caught the corner of his eye. He looked to see Jadeite, Zoisite, and Kunzite, still clad in their rented evening wear, walking towards him. They didn't looked especially happy. Damn. Worry twisted in Nephrite's stomach. The night of gambling must not have gone as well as they had hoped. He moved over on the bench to make room for the three of them, and they dropped down to sit slumped and silent.

"How'd it go?" Nephrite asked.

"Wonderfully, until the end," Jadeite growled.

"At the last casino, some very nasty men interrupted our fun and took us into an office to talk to an even nastier man, who had the nerve to accuse us of cheating," Zoisite said. "We weren't, of course."

"We should have gotten out of there sooner," Jadeite said, "but we were doing so well, and..."

"Lady Thetis was there," Kunzite said.

"Oh?" Nephrite said, surprised.

"The casino was members-only. She happens to be engaged to the majority stockholder, so she got us in," Jadeite said glumly.

That explained Jadeite's unhappy expression, at least in part. "And you didn't want to leave until you'd had a chance to talk to her?" Nephrite asked.

"I guess that was the idea. And we just got carried away with winning. Thetis also convinced the casino manager to let us leave with the money we'd come in with, but we had to forfeit everything we won there. We were doing so well, I probably had enough to pay for those two jets and the three buses, but now... And Thetis is engaged, so that's that, and when I asked her to forgive me, first she laughed at me and then she said she'd have to think about it."

"That's rough," Nephrite said. He really did feel bad for his friend, which felt strange considering the scorn and the cutthroat competition between them in the Dark Kingdom.

"How are things going here?" Kunzite asked.

"Mixed," Nephrite said. "Naru-chan remembered me -"

"How?" Zoisite asked.

"I'm not sure. It seems that she was caught between - I'll have to explain. I did locate Sailor Moon, and she explained to me what happened, why no one remembers us. She and the other Senshi were killed in the final battle against the Dark Kingdom. As she was dying, she made a wish that she and the other girls could have a chance to live a normal life again, and the silver crystal granted that wish by making it so that the war against the Dark Kingdom had never happened."

"So, reality split into two different streams," Kunzite said.

"Exactly. One where the things we did happened, and one where they never happened. Apparently Naru-chan was so deeply affected by what happened that she remained partly in each reality stream, as you put it. But everyone and everything else transmigrated over to this reality."

"That's all well and good, but the important thing is, what can we do about it?" Zoisite asked.

"Sailor Moon said that she thinks the silver crystal can move Earth back to the reality where we existed. But it would take a lot of energy for her and the other Senshi to be able to do it while putting a dimensional bubble around themselves so they won't die again."

"They seemed like very energetic young ladies to me," Kunzite said. "So have they done it yet?"

"They were preparing to when we were attacked by monsters. The fight was difficult, and drained them. And then it happened again."

"Youma?" Zoisite exclaimed. "If I get my hands on whoever's controlling them... How dare they interfere in me getting my life back!"

"Not youma." The words came slowly from Nephrite's mouth; he really didn't want to have to tell them this part. "Ghosts. Of the things that happened in this reality that will un-happen if we go back to the other reality. When Naru remembered and slipped back into the reality stream where the things we did happened, that let the first of them loose. To protect their own existence, it appears that they're trying to prevent Earth from switching back to that other reality. The Senshi don't have enough strength to fight them and move Earth to the other reality at the same time. And..." He took a deep breath. "It's been three years. A lot has happened in that time. I feel like it would be wrong of us to undo the things that have happened - good things, families formed, children born, things achieved - just for our own benefit. I'm afraid it would be the sort of wrong we were ordered not to commit."

The other three stayed silent for several minutes. "Well, now what?" Jadeite finally said.

"I'm sick of tiptoeing around these humans!" Zoisite burst out.

"Peace, Zoisite," Kunzite said.

"No! I won't be quiet about this. I want my second chance. I want -" He looked at Kunzite, then looked away, blushing. Still not meeting Kunzite's eyes, winding a lock of tawny hair around one forefinger, he said, "I want a chance to do things better than before. Even better than before we joined the Dark Kingdom. I want a chance to show... to show that I care about things besides power."

"Zoisaito," Kunzite whispered.

Zoisite sprang to his feet to face Kunzite. "I know I acted like that's all I was interested in. I was afraid to show more of my real feelings, because I knew I'd be mocked. Because I thought you were too strong, too cold, too in control of yourself to be interested in foolish things like love for the sake of love. But now -"

Zoisite stopped to catch his breath; spots of color from some intense emotion other than embarrassment had appeared high on his cheeks. "I have the chance to say it now, and I may never have another chance, and if I have to spend eternity in damnation after today, at least there's one regret I won't have - that I finally told you - I love you, Kunzaito-sama. I've always loved you, and I always will, no matter what. Even if we get our lives back and you're never any more than a - a bartender, or a doorman, I'll still love you and want to be with you. I'll still want you to succeed and become great at whatever you do, but for your own sake, so that you can be happy. Not because I only care about success and power. And there, now I've said it, and now I have no regrets, no matter what happens or what you have to say in return." He stood there, breathing hard, staring hard at Kunzite as though daring him to reject his declaration of love.

"Zoisaito-sama," Kunzite whispered He stood up and took Zoisite in his arms. "What you've said, it's what I always dreamed of hearing, but I was afraid ... I was afraid I would treat your tender heart unkindly because I felt unworthy of it, because I wasn't as strong as you thought I was."

"You are worthy, Kunzite-sama, just the way you are."

Kunzite bowed his head down towards Zoisite's, and their lips met. Jadeite looked away in one direction and Nephrite looked away in the other. Nephrite was glad Kunzite and Zoisite had resolved their personal business in a satisfactory manner, though he would rather not watch them kiss. But he felt bad for Jadeite. He himself had had his own success in love, but it looked like Jadeite was going to be left out. If Thetis wouldn't even accept his apology, what chance did he have of winning her heart?

Finally, Zoisite and Kunzite sat down again. "Well," Jadeite said, sounding a little sour, "I'm glad you two worked that out. At least this little venture back on Earth isn't a complete failure."

"What about you, Nephrite?" Zoisite asked. He still sounded a little breathless and there was a new, gentler, warmer note in his voice that Nephrite had never heard before. "You said that the girl remembered you?"

"She did. She -" He glanced at Jadeite, feeling bad about flaunting his good fortune in front of Jadeite. "She wants to be with me. She and the young man we saw her with aren't happy together. Or, at least, she isn't happy. He wants her to be someone she isn't, so presumably he isn't completely happy with her, either. And she thinks there's another girl he likes better. She was thinking about breaking things off with him anyway, so she's going to find a way to let him down as gently as possible so that there's no harm done."

"That's great, Nephrite," Jadeite said in a flat voice. "I really mean it."

And I'm sure Thetis will come around, was what Nephrite wanted to say, but it seemed hollow, meaningless. He was sure of no such thing.

"How exactly did the girl come to remember you?" Kunzite asked.

At first Nephrite was just glad of Kunzite's tact in changing the subject. Then he realized the importance of the question - how did Naru get her memories back? "I don't know. It happened during the night, when she would have been at home, asleep, but she didn't give me any details."

"If we know how she remembered," Kunzite said, "maybe we can figure out a way to help everyone else to remember without having to actually move the Earth from one reality to the other."

"Sailor Mercury said that Naru had bridged the gap between the two tracks, or streams," Nephrite said, thinking. "That released the monsters, the ghosts of things that would unhappen if Earth moved back. If we could find a way to bridge the gap long enough for people to remember, but ultimately still keep Earth on this track, maybe that would do it. More of the ghosts might still escape and attack, but if we had the Senshi to fight them while we did what we have to do... It just might work."

"Not that it matters," Jadeite grumbled. "Sorry to be so gloomy around all you happy lovebirds, but we still don't have enough money to cover refunds and damages. At least I don't. And Thetis will probably never speak to me again. I guess the rest of you can have your happy lives without me. Just don't forget me when I'm in hell, ok?" He was slumping in his seat with the most depressed look Nephrite had ever seen on his face.

Nephrite, Zoisite, and Kunzite all looked at each other. Without even having to speak out loud what they were thinking, they nodded at each other. "We are a team," Kunzite said. "The four Guardians of Prince Endymion of Earth. The four Generals of Queen Beryl of the Dark Kingdom. The shitennou. We stand together, or we fall together. Together we will find a way for all of us to live, or we'll all be damned together."

A tiny voice in Nephrite's head, sounding like Naru's voice, cried out, No! He pushed it back. If he could abandon his friends, his brothers, was he worthy of her? Could he find true happiness with Naru-chan knowing that the others were damned?

And, maybe, this was part of the test, to see if they could set aside their own selfish desires for the sake of the others.

Jadeite looked at each of them in turn, and they each nodded to him, showing their commitment to what Kunzite had said. Then he nodded too. "We stand together, or we fall together. Even if it looks hopeless, I'll do my best and won't give up."

All four of them clasped their hands together, sealing their oath as friends, brothers, and fellow shitennou. "Let's go talk to Naru-chan," Nephrite said.

* * * * * * * *

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury