24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

2:00 pm, Tokyo

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Nephrite braked the car hard next to the curb outside the neat, attractive Kayama home, and he and Usagi got out. "Wow, what a great car!" she said for about the tenth time. "You're not a very good driver, though, Nephrite. You should obey the traffic laws!"

Nephrite grinned at her. For a former enemy, Chiba Usagi was a pleasant and cheerful person to spend time with, and she had kept him entertained with stories of things she and Naru-chan had done when they were younger. "I didn't get in a wreck, did I?" he said.

"Well, no, but just barely." She scowled at him, but it wasn't a very convincing scowl.

They walked up to the front door and Usagi rang the doorbell. She had called a while ago, when Nephrite had first asked her to come with him on this visit, and the door opened right away to reveal Mrs. Kayama, with Mika standing slightly behind her. Mika was holding a cracked and mended doll that Nephrite remembered well; it was the one he had planted his youma Jumeau in.

"Sanjouin-san," the mother said. "Usagi-san called and said it was important - I apologize for not remembering you yesterday -"

"It wasn't your fault; no apology is necessary," Nephrite said.

"As Usagi-san instructed, Mika got that old doll out, and we remembered your commission for more dolls, although something about the memory was very upsetting to her. But I remember that you were kind enough to take such an interest in her doll-making - I'm sorry, I've forgotten my manners. Please come in and sit down."

The furniture in the living room had been replaced since the day Nephrite had sat in that room three and a half years ago. He hoped that meant that Mrs. Kayama's dollmaking business was thriving. He didn't know if there was a Mr. Kayama around, or if Mrs. Kayama had to support her and her daughter by herself.

"I'm afraid I had an ulterior motive at the time," Nephrite said. "I planned to exploit you daughter's dollmaking talents for my own profit. The demands I placed on her were far too intense for a child her age, so it's no wonder she became upset. I have seen the error of my ways, and I would like to offer a sincere apology to both of you. I would also like to offer to pay reparations for any dolls that were damaged during the incident and any counseling that was necessary in the aftermath of my actions."

Mrs. Kayama didn't say anything for a moment, but just stared at Nephrite, wide-eyed. "Oh," she finally said. "That's - that's very kind of you, Mr. Sanjouin. The details of everything that happened with my daughter are still unclear, but a number of valuable dolls were damaged or destroyed. If you'll give me some time, I'll make an inventory of the losses and send it to your office."

"That would be fine." He took out one of the business cards that were still in his wallet. "I am currently seeking new offices, but you can call me at this number." He handed the card to Mrs. Kayama, who looked at it then set it down on the table.

Mika, who had sat silently the whole time, clutching the doll, suddenly said, "Mama, it was so scary!"

"I know, dear," Mrs. Kayama said. "Everything's all right now. And Mr. Sanjouin is being very kind."

"Again," Nephrite said, "I do apologize for all the trouble you went through." How evil had he been, he wondered, to prey on a child? He resolved that, should he and the others get their lives back, he would donate to services for children who had been traumatized.

"Thank you, Mr. Sanjouin." Mrs. Kayama rose to let him and Usagi out. "It was nice to see you again, Usagi-san. Congratulations on your marriage. I hope your brother will come visit us sometime."

Usagi rubbed the back of her head in embarrassment as her cheeks grew pink. "Thank you! We're very happy. And I'll tell Shingo to come see you!"

"Please do!" Mika said, blushing as well.

Nephrite and Usagi returned to his car. "Well," Usagi said. "That went well, I thought."

"They did remember, even if it wasn't every detail," Nephrite said.

A beeping sound went off, and Usagi took what looked like a bright pink cell phone out of her purse. "Yes? Oh, cool! That's good." She hung up.

"You said some monsters appeared while I was making my other visits?" Nephrite asked. Usagi's conversation tended to bounce around like a - well, like a tennis ball in a beginners' game.

"Yeah," she said. "But between us and the other generals, we kicked their butts! And Rei-chan told me just now, someone remembered Jadeite from the cruise."

"So it seems to be working." Nephrite looked at his watch and turned on the radio. "It should be just about time for our announcement to air," he said. "We paid twice the going rate for time on all the TV and radio stations in the area; they'd better play them on schedule."

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury