24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

3:00 pm, Tokyo
Naru, Nephrite, Jadeite, Zoisite, Kunzite

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Naru ran up the harbor walk after getting off the bus, panting for breath. Most of the other passengers from the bus were following her. She came to a crowd of what looked like hundreds of people standing in four long lines. Up at the front of the lines, she spotted a long folding table with Nephrite and his friends standing behind it. She ran past the lines, ignoring the people who called out for her to get in line and wait her turn. Would Nephrite and the others even be able to talk to every single one of these people in three hours? Looking at the length of the queues, Naru didn't see how it would be possible. She hoped that whatever power or being had given Nephrite and his friends this second chance at life would accept good intentions in place of completed tasks.

She got to the table and ran around behind it to where Nephrite stood. "It's working!" she said breathlessly. Then she laughed at herself a little. "But I guess you already know that. My mom remembered the big sale at the store when a monster tied her up in the basement and pretended to be her."

"Have you come to accept our apologies on her behalf?" Nephrite asked.

"Well, that, and she's going to send you a bill for damages to the store."

"What about you?" Nephrite asked. "What about the photography shoot, and the Diamond Ball, and the night I had you steal that jewel? I owe you apologies for those."

"You died saving me. That more than makes up for anything else you did. I'm here to help you, if there's anything you need me to do, and to watch you succeed. I couldn't just stay at the store, not knowing what was happening."

He looked down at her for a long moment, as though until right now he hadn't quite been able to believe that she had forgiven him for the things he had done. Then he smiled. "Thank you. If you can help with the paperwork, that would help us get through this faster."

"Sure!" Naru took a place at the table and shuffled through a stack of papers already there.

Zoisite came over to stand beside her and cleared his throat. "Before we continue, I, ah... I have one more thing I need to do."

Naru and Nephrite both turned to look at him. He was looking down, shuffling his feet and twirling a lock of hair around his finger. "What is it?" Nephrite asked.

"I, ah, I'm... I'm sorry for what I did to you. To both of you. It was terrible, and... I'm sorry." His face was bright red by the time he finished.

Naru studied him. Was "sorry" enough for what he had done? Was he really sorry? The tawny-haired man glanced quickly at Nephrite then at her, then looked down again.

It didn't matter, Naru decided. What was done was done and now Nephrite was back. And if Zoisite apologizing was part of what he had to do to get his own second chance at life, who was she to refuse it? Just saying the words had taken a huge amount of courage and humbling himself, she could tell. "I know," she said. It was almost as hard for her to say that as it had been for Zoisite to say he was sorry. But as soon as she did, something tight and hard inside her seemed to loosen and then dissolve. "He's back now, so it's cool."

"Water under the bridge," Nephrite added.

Zoisite flashed them both a brief, relieved smile, then returned to his place on Kunzite's other side. "Next!" Kunzite called out.

When each person in line got to the table, they told what incident or incidents they had been involved in - Naru wasn't the only one who had found herself ensnared in more than one Dark Kingdom plot, though no one had been involved in as many as she had - and received their personal apology from the General or Generals who had been in charge. Each person also received five thousand yen as reparation or as a down payment on greater damages and the refunds owed, while Naru recorded their name, address, and how much money was still owed to them. The five thousand yen wasn't much, but most people seemed pleased to get even that much along with an apology for incidents they had completely forgotten about until today. Only a few people tried to demand all their money right then, but the Generals explained that they didn't have enough money at the moment to repay everyone in full and the people in line behind them told them to let it go and be patient like everyone else, and they eventually accepted the token payment.

The next few hours flew by, but the lines never seemed to get any shorter. The pile of money in the cashbox below the table started to grow alarmingly small. "Can you get more money from your bank accounts?" Naru asked Nephrite.

"Yeah," Jadeite said. "Didn't you go to a lot of trouble to make sure the money was available?"

"I already took out the most I'm allowed to for one day," Nephrite answered. "I think tampering with the ATM to make it give me more money would break the rules."

Naru tried to imagine what would happen if they ran out of money and there were still people wanting reparations. She supposed a lot of people would be polite about it and just accept the IOU and the apology, but there were bound to be some people who weren't happy with it who would make trouble.

In the distance, Naru could see smoke from fires and hear a lot of sirens. It looked like Sailor Moon, Tuxedo Mask, and the other Shenshi had their hands full dealing with all the monsters that were being stirred up by so many people gaining their memories of the other reality. She hoped the monsters wouldn't destroy too much of the city, and wondered if Nephrite and his friends would be held responsible if they did.

Umino appeared at the front of the line in front of Nephrite. Naru's heart sank; she'd done what she had to do, but she still felt bad, and she hoped Umino wouldn't make a scene with Nephrite right in front of everyone. "Umino-kun..." she said.

"I've been thinking about what you said, Naru-chan," he said. "And I think you're right. We would each be happier with someone we can work together with on achieving our goals. I talked to Asuka-san and she said she would introduce me to some of her friends from the Girl Power Science Club. I think I'll find someone just right for me there." He grinned at Nephrite, and Naru was glad he was too clueless - or was he just too self-confident? - to realize how outclassed he was. "I hope Naru-chan is the right girl for you, because I'd hate for her to have to go through the difficulty of breaking up with someone else." With that, he stepped out of the line.

"Umino! What about -?"

"I'm not worried about any of the rest of that. One day the two of you can take me and my new girlfriend, whoever she is, out for some spicy shrimp. Your treat, and we'll call it even."

"Okay, thanks!" Naru called out as he walked away. Then the next person came to the front of Nephrite's line and Naru began taking down her information.

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury